Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

January 6, 2006


Host: Michael Grant

Journalists Roundtable


  • Donít miss HORIZONís weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the weekís top stories.
Guests:
  • Howard Fischer - Capitol Media Services
Category: Journalists Roundtable

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Michael Grant:
It's Friday, January 6, 2006. In the headlines this week state lawmakers preparing for the new legislative session which begins on Monday. Among the priorities for the New Year are tax cuts and a pay raise for state employees. Secretary of state Jan Brewer announced she was running for re-election but her announcement was disrupted by protesters. And Tom Horne calling on aid to help students pass the AIMS test. Good evening. I'm Michael Grant. This is the journalist round table. Joining me to talk about these and over stories are Howie Fischer of capitol media services, Dennis Welch of the "East Valley Tribune" and Robbie Sherwood of the "Arizona Republic". Monday marks the start of the new legislative session at the state capital. This week legislative leaders laid out their priorities for the upcoming session, which includes tax cuts and a pay raise for state workers. Robbie, what dud house speaker and senate president say their priorities were in that regard?

Robbie Sherwood:
Well, they threw out some reasonably bold proposals out of the Arizona chamber of commerce legislative preview luncheon. And I think they were looking to steal a little thunder from governor's state of the state speech on Monday which is going to be putting her own versions of the same thing. They put out what they called at the time the promised largest pay increase percentage-wise in state history. It's at the time they thought the largest was 4.5\%. They then revised it and found the largest was 8\%. Now calling it the largest in a generation. But a fairly substantial and long awaited pay employees for state employees. And a fairly substantial tax cut. They gave a number --

Michael Grant:
With details unspecified. But 250 million?

Robbie Sherwood:
Right. Probably predicted a combination of property and income tax cuts, people's property values are going through the roof because of the real estate market. The state has a way of paying some money to help hold that down for school districts and things like that. That's probably going to be the strongest proposal.

Michael Grant:
Howie, there's obviously a strong sentiment I think in both caucuses that you need to clean up some of the for lack of a better term accounting gimmicks that we've used the past three sessions when we weren't quite as flush with money. I've heard estimates that that cost you 400, 450 million, somewhere in there. If you put that together with 150 million in pay increases, 200 million in tax cuts, dangerously close to the top number.

Howard Fisher:
You're assuming they're going to fix all of them. Some are going to be reversed. For example one of the things the legislature did is decide that we owe money to schools about 190 million. If we pay it in July it goes into the next fiscal year. That's a one time -- it takes money to put things back. That will be fixed probable. There is some sentiment to fix a problem where retailers have to make two estimated sales tax payments in June. So bringing money back into the vehicle license tax for highway construction. But like the state lake improvement they say, you don't need any money in the first place so we're not in any rush. But of that money talking about 5 million they believe is one time money. In other words we had a bubble in terms of state income. Some of that is corporate income taxes which are very volatile.

Michael Grant:
Capital gains?

Howard Fisher:
Capital gains.

Michael Grant:
From housing boom.

Howard Fisher:
And even construction. The taxes on construction. So some of this is not repeatable. But assuming 350 million of it is repeatable, that goes into the box that Robbie's talking about. Tax cuts, new programs more money for full day kindergarten and maybe the Flores case of English language learners.

Michael Grant:
And also one that may be a priority is $100 million figure for border security. Are we talking a length of fence, bodies in patrol cars, what? Cars equipment? >>

Howard Fisher:
If it's fence and technology you can do that with your one time money. But one of the things representative Russell Pierce is talking about is adding 100 new officers to the department of public safety many of them to be specifically aimed at stopping and rounding up people who are here illegally. Much the same as a gang task force. That has to be ongoing money.

Michael Grant:
Dennis, welcome to the show.

Dennis Welch:
Good to be here.

Michael Grant:
Good to see you. Some indication that maybe the governor is going to propose a 7.5\% pay increase for state employees. Republican leadership at 5\%. Do you think we're going to have a bidding war throughout the session on just how much of an increase state employees are going to get?

Dennis Welch:
I think it's by the nature of who are these people are. Janet is a democrat and the republicans are always looking to starve the beast as it were and keep costs down from government. So naturally I think you are going to see some friction there. But I really don't know how much you're going to see.

Michael Grant:
As usual are we getting very many glimmers on what the governor's going to be talking about Monday in the state of the state?

Robbie Sherwood:
She gives you a few teases. I think she's going to come out with border security stuff to either rival or match what the republicans are. She'll be giving more details in her speech about what she's going to do. Like I said, the pay increase. One thing you want to say why you might want to go to the higher end, this is a little funny here but 1.7 of anything they give is going to be eaten up by another increase to state firefighter funds for employees. If they don't give that they're going to lose that much money.

Michael Grant:
So it knocks the net down.

Robbie Sherwood:
Right. So if you give them 7\% they'll clear 5.

Howard Fisher:
One of the things we're expecting to come out and we haven't seen detail that the has to do with health insurance. Arizona has a large percentage of people uninsured. They make too much not to qualify for access, which is at the federal poverty level but in jobs where either the employer doesn't provide health insurance or not making enough to get that sort of health insurance. So the governor has been looking at things. One of the things we've seen in the fast is they have something called healthcare group which is an arm of access which does a stripped down health program. But I think the governor is also looking at something broader to try to close that gap. Because to the extents that these people get healthcare on their own, less likely to spend on when they get sick and call on access.

Robbie Sherwood:
I predict the governor will do two things. Stick to her strength, which is education, all day kindergarten, the things that are popular proposals of hers that she was repeated every year and then try to shore up her weak spots. It's an election year. That would be the immigration thing. I think she's going to come out strong money wise to put some money behind it. Last year the things she vetoed on she took heavy criticism for. She called them unfunded mandates. Put some dollars behind it you can't call them that.

Michael Grant:
Dennis, first order of business for the legislature has to be how are we going to avoid those fines from the federal court on the Flores case. Is their plan of attack to simply pass again and send to the governor the bill that she vetoed along those lines?

Dennis Welch:
From what I've heard it's going to be similar. They'll say, we did our job last year. She was the one who vetoed this. Certainly it's one of those bills they sent up along with other bills that she vetoed last year that the republican leadership wants to send up and force her to sign and set the tone for the coming session.

Howard Fisher:
One of the issues, as Dennis has seen we both spent time with the leadership and the governor is we're not just talking number differences here. We're talking about a philosophical difference. The republicans want to have a grant program or each school district identifies the money it has, identifies federal aid it has and then comes back to the state. What the governor wants and the price tag to could be $1,200,000,000 is more of we give every school a certain amount of money for every Spanish language child they have.

Robbie Sherwood:
The Republicans want to put a bill on our desk before the fines start kicking up, which is $15,000 a day starting day -- after the session. If it looks similar to what was vetoed last year with a few tweaks around the edges to guarantee some funding down the road, then the question becomes, does she veto it again and risk taking the blame for fines that start escalating and going on down the line, or does she do something like signing it I don't think is going to happen. Does she let it go into law without her signature, put it before the judge and risk him sort of vetoing it himself or perhaps accepting it and making her look bad for taking a whole year --

Howard Fisher:
That's not the point. She risks nothing by letting the judge veto it. That's the best part of it for her. If the judge vetoes it.

Robbie Sherwood:
You're assuming he will. What if he says, this is a good plan? Technically the judge doesn't veto.

Howard Fisher:
No. Judges just say, no, try again. You're right. But it will go into accept or veto. But this is an interesting risk for the governor. She is presuming based on her veto message last year that this bill, this proposal is not going to meet judicial muster. Of course our question to her is, when did you get your robe? If in fact she believes that, then fine. Send it to the judge with a letter. Here's why I'm not signing it and here's why where I think it's flawed. Judges are not stupid. They read these letters, too. And maybe Judge Collins says, well, the governor is not such a dumb woman. Maybe I'll take her logic on it. Obviously if it gets sent back by the judges unacceptable she's in the catbird seat. If as Robbie points out the judge says, well, you know, this isn't a bad start. At least put some money in there. Then the governor is going to have to explain to all of us, why didn't you sign this last year?

Robbie Sherwood:
There could have been some help on the way for these kids who have been really waiting since 1992. Some of them have graduated and gone on to get this aid.

Michael Grant:
But no question the legislature is going to act in the 15-day window.

Robbie Sherwood:
Yes. No question about that. I think that for the sake of their own reputations wants to have something on her desk before the fines start kicking in.

Michael Grant:
Let's talk about a few of the proposals that we know about so far that the legislature will be kicking around. Dennis, senator wearing is proposing a new system for repeat dui offenders?

Dennis Welch:
It would be new for Arizona but certainly not new for the country. 23 other states have adopted a similar bill in which repeat offenders, those already convicted of a dui, their legal blood-alcohol level would be lowered if they were pulled over for any reason from .08 to .05. So that means if pulled over and they have a blood-alcohol level of .05 they could be hauled away and charged with a dui.

Michael Grant:
I understand that charged with an extreme dui down to if you've got alcohol on your breath you're in deep do-do in technical terms.

Dennis Welch:
In technical terms, yes.

Howard Fisher:
Let me ask the question because you got to talk to senator wearing. We sit around this table, mike and I longer than we care to remember. Each year there's a new dui bill. What makes senator wearing believe that lowering the BAC for a conviction on people who have a problem is going to make a difference?

Dennis Welch:
Well, he says -- he points to other -- got to point out that he's been working with MADD, mothers against drunk drivers and he points out that other states that have passed this legislation have seen the decrease in the number of drunk driving fatalities.

Robbie Sherwood:
Do other states have the extreme case where basically if you sniff a wine cork that you're getting taken in?

Dennis Welch:
Some do and some don't. They'll point to those other statistics and say, since they put these measures in place we've seen a decrease. I haven't seen the statistics but that's what they'll tell you.

Michael Grant:
Speaking of DUI, the supreme court approving a new process for processing dui cases?

Howard Fisher:
This is an interesting situation because DUI's for the most cases are handled in justice courts and city magistrate courts. There's no real standard out there, so some courts are very good and some courts are very slow. Chief justice Ruth McGregor of the Arizona Supreme Court says, look, we need something that guarantees swift and sure justice. It's good for the defendant and for the state. And so what she's done is set some guidelines to say, we are going to have 90\% of all cases handled within 120 days and something like 98\% win 180 days. Which is fairly aggressive given that delays occur. Now, this technically is not a deadline. But what she's doing is putting in some other mandatory things to make us get there. For example, citations have to be with the court before the arrest or the citation was issued. Also you're going to have a pretrial conference within 30 days with the defendant there, with the attorneys there so everyone can look at their calendars and say, we can all make it on this date. Because what happens all too often is that suddenly somebody says, well, my witness can't make it or I have a conflict, your honor, on another case. And it slows up the whole process and gums up the system.

Michael Grant:
Robbie, speaking of things that will be recycled from last year, one of those vetoed bills was the tuition tax credit for corporations.

Robbie Sherwood:
Yes.

Michael Grant:
The governor indicating this year that, well, hold it. We're starting from ground zero on that where we picked up last time?

Robbie Sherwood:
Right. She's not necessarily a supporter of that now, although she agreed to it, was arm-twisted into agreeing to that as part of the budget deal last year. And she's saying that, well; we're back at square one. That's not to say that republican's leaders won't insist on her taking that back once they get close to a budget again. She's just saying she's not a lock on it. But to make a statement like that only makes them madder than they already are.

Howard Fisher:
And what's fascinating is that she vetoed it last year because it was a five-year program but the republicans sent it up to her with a five-year review and then it keeps going. She wants a five-year sunset. Going to send it to her with a five-year sunset after she's out of office.

Michael Grant:
Do the fast math here.

Howard Fisher:
That will be governor brewer. For her to now say, you gave me exactly what I want but I don't want it, it comes down to the promises made, promises kept.

Michael Grant:
When the legislature resumes next week, we're fairly certain it will, state representative David Burnell Smith will be fighting to keep his office. He of course has been ordered to give up that seat for violating campaign finance laws. However he is appealing that ruling. This week smith was removed from the house appropriations committee. Dennis, why?

Dennis Welch:
He'll tell you he didn't get the boot. He'll say that they made the decision to clear up some conflict of interest that he sits on another committee that he'd rather be on the federal mandates committee. And to avoid that conflict of interest they said, hey, we're going to replace you with Doug Quelling. He said he actually asked to be taken off that committee last year because the workload was too heavy.

Michael Grant:
Okay. And the real story?

Dennis Welch:
That may be the real story. But they do say, both speaker and Mr. Smith will say it has nothing to do with his legal problems.

Michael Grant:
Incidentally, what's the status, Robbie, currently on where he is in court trying to remain in office?

Robbie Sherwood:
Well, on Monday -- as if there weren't enough going on -- there will be oral arguments in the court of appeals on his case. One of the arguments that his attorneys are going to make -- he's going to be at the legislature making a show of, look, you're not getting rid of me. But his attorneys are going to be they're arguing that he should get legislative immunity. Not speaking -- this is another new twist that came up. He's saying he asked for this hearing. Expedited -- this is his appeal and he gets there and they say, well, wait a minute. Legislature is in session. You can't serve me on this. You should postpone this until after the session, maybe around the time I'm running for re-election. The attorney general's office made a very forceful argument against that.

Michael Grant:
This is like the United Nations guy that can't get parking tickets in New York city?

Howard Fisher:
The funny part about this is for the court to decide the immunity. It's not immunity from being prosecuted for crimes or anything else it's just that you can't be served with anything during the session. But for the court to decide that they have to decide the case. If in fact the attorney general says, you forfeited your office when you can't appeal on time, which is the issue before the court of appeals, then up so factor you're not a legislator. Legislator. So if the court rejects the idea of immunity they decide he's know longer a legislator.

Robbie Sherwood:
One of the arguments is a, you're not even a legislator. But two, you asked for this hearing. If it were up to us we wouldn't be having this hearing. You'd just be gone.

Michael Grant:
Okay. Bill Brotherton, Jack Harper? What's going on there?

Dennis Welch:
Well, yeah, Bill Brotherton is calling for an ethics investigation into how Jack Harper is handling voting irregularities in district 20. Jack Harper secured a deal with the new times in which the new times agreed to pay elections expert.

Michael Grant:
Expert witness.

Dennis Welch:
To come down and look at the ballot boxes and try to decide what went wrong. Brotherton thinks that Harper is basically running out his subpoena powers.

Howard Fisher:
What's interesting about that is the expert would not have had access to the voting machines but for the subpoena. Harper tells us, the expert is working for me even those new times is paying him directly. So, being who we are, we call up the editor to the new times and say, so, when the guy files his report are you giving it to Harper and everyone else as a public record? Rick Barr, bless his heart says, no, it's our report. Read next week's new times and maybe we'll give it to jack. Which backs up Bill Brotherton's contention that the legislative subpoena was issued to benefit a private entity, in this case the new times.

Robbie Sherwood:
Credit to the Capital Times for the story where senate president Bennett intervened and talked to the voting expert himself, who apparently hasn't been paid yet, and has worked out a deal to, look, we at least get it at the same time as your client the new times on this. So that might actually make Brotherton's complaint go away. If it actually does belong to the senate and you're not just running out subpoena power to provide one media outlet a scoop.

Michael Grant:
Is it possible that the New Times check is in the mail to this guy?

Robbie Sherwood:
Yes, we're going to speculate.

Howard Fisher:
Having gotten NEW times checks when I was an employee there -- I'll tell you what. And I heard the same thing about this deal. Now, here's what's going to be interesting. If we pick up the phoenix weekly next week and there's a story in there and we haven't seen it, jack might as well pack his bags. Because if the Senate President doesn't boot him his constituents may.

Michael Grant:
Speaking of things ballot like, secretary Jan Brewer announced she's running for re-election. That was not breaking news but protestors showed up.

Howard Fisher:
This is one of those wonderful things. I love people who listen to talk whether it's right or left. Charles Goyette is a local host and he announced that morning that Jan is going to be running for re-election. By the way, the state just cut a contract with a few businesses like Debold for touch-tone voting machines. Remember the head of Debold being beholden to the republicans and whether these machines can be hacked and not leave a trace. In Leon county, Florida they decertified the machines after he said they were hackable and don't leave a trace. These protesters show up with a handmade sign saying Jan is holding up the elections. And she gets flustered and said, yes, there was a cut check to Debold. They met all the state conditions. The other issue is that what happened in Leon county, Florida is the election officials gave hackers access to the machines to see if they could be hacked. In Arizona nobody has access to the machines, they meet the tests, and the machines will in fact leave a paper trail so you can recount them. She doesn't see any problem.

Michael Grant:
I guess the real issue here is, does this issue give new legs to the campaign or not?

Howard Fisher:
It finally gives legs to the campaign. The skip rims campaign has been all but visible. Here's a former phoenix mayor saying he's going to parlay this into an issue.

Michael Grant:
Talking about campaigns, Avondale mayor Ron Drake this week indicating he's going to resign from that office and run against Raul -- that's an uphill climb.

Robbie Sherwood:
Yeah. This is a puzzling decision. I admit I don't know a lot about mayor drake because I live completely on the other side of the world in northeast mesa. But I do know something about that legislative district. Greg will be running as a republican. He's got some problem with Graholva's leadership. Demographics there are two to one democrat, heavy Latino population. Last election when Graholva emerged the voters seemed to be in love with him. He's an incumbent. Not like the looks of things maybe if he's principle running on principle and he makes some arguments it might be interesting. This is beyond an uphill climb.

Howard Fisher:
Certainly. In an off year election it's usually the minority party who does better. That's the issue of people who think they can take on people like Ramsey and Hayworth. I don't know if that's going to move anything. But the other part of the demographics is, look at the way the map is drawn. This is central and west side of Tucson essentially out the border to Yuma and comes back and takes a piece of western Maricopa county. There are basically 12 people that get to vote in this district. I don't know where he thinks the I.D. is going to take him.

Michael Grant:
The maps came up to the United States supreme court. They decided to let stand the court of appeals ruling that had overturned judge fields' ruling on the legislative map.

Howard Fisher:
It's not a big surprise. The court of appeals says that when judge fields declared the legislative maps invalid he decided more attention should have been paid to the question of whether districts were politically competitive. He determined in his ruling that was coequal to everything else. What the court of appeals has said is, a there were some procedural errors in what you did. B, take another look at this case in terms of could they have been created with competitive -- if nothing else was harmed -- take a second look? It doesn't mean ultimately the districts won't be either changed or kept the same, but the Supreme Court didn't see any particular reason to get into this and start monkeying with it.

Robbie Sherwood:
If you're the chairman of the Democratic Party, Harry Mitchell, this is some pretty distressing news going down the lines in 2010. They are already disadvantaged in senate. They could be 20 to 10 by the end of this election if the races turn out that way.

Michael Grant:
Analysts, thanks very much. If you want to see a transcript of tonight's program, visit the website at www.azpbs.org. That's going to lead you to transcripts and upcoming shows.

Producer:
The governor gives off her state of the state address. And the legislature will be funding programs for English learners. The governor and lawmakers also must decide what to do with a huge budget surplus. The governor's state of the state address and reaction Monday on Horizon.

Michael Grant:
And Tuesday we'll have the republican leadership on. Thank you very much for joining us on a Friday edition of Horizon. I'm Michael Grant. Have a good weekend. Good night.

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