Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 11, 2007


Host: Howard Fischer

Journalists Roundtable


  • Don't miss HORIZON's weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Mary Jo Pitzl - Arizona Republic
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Howard Fischer:
It's Friday, May 11, 2007. In the headlines this week, the governor's vetoes include a bill dealing with illegal immigration, budget bills appear to be moving again in the state Senate after a delay, and we'll tell you about a state lawmaker who carries a gun into the legislative chambers. That's next on Horizon.

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Howard Fischer:
Good evening. I'm Howard Fisher and this is the Journalists' Roundtable. Joining me to talk about these and other stories are Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic, Mike Sunnucks of the Business Journal and Dennis Welch of the East Valley Tribune. Well, the governor warmed up her veto stamp again this week and vetoed seven bills, including one to ban acceptance of ideas issued by foreign consulates. Mary Jo, what's her problem with this other than she didn't like it before and she still doesn't?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
That's what I was going to say. She's seen it before and didn't like and doesn't like it this time. This is the Consular I.D. bill sponsored by Representative Russell Pearce from Mesa and it actually almost got away from Pearce. It was killed on the House floor when they didn't have enough republicans there. He was able to bring it back as a striker. It passed. It goes to the governor's desk and there it dies yet another death. Her problems with this, she says it's a good tool for law enforcement, consular cards are issued by the Mexican consul and foreign governments as a form of I.D. and law enforcement has told lawmakers that this helps them identify victims in crimes, sometimes perpetrators.

Howard Fischer:
Okay, but the real problem is that you have cities, for example, Mesa, if you want to get utilities turned on and they need I.D., they will accept a Mexican consular ID card. The assumption is the people who are using this don't have the Arizona driver's license and are not here legally. I mean, isn't really that the heart of the issue here?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
You know, it didn't come up a lot on the debate. So I don't know but certainly it's been the case that if people have used that--

Mike Sunnucks:
Well that's what the bill says that it's-- it enables illegal immigrants to come in here and get government services. A lot of the banks, Bank of America allow these, too, you can go in there and show your Mexican I.D. card to set up an account. So folks have like Pearce say it's kind of an enabler for illegal immigrants. One thing that's interesting in the governor's veto letter she kept referring to them as foreign nationals, you never saw undocumented immigrants, illegal aliens or illegal immigrants, which is what the bill is aimed at, in any part of her veto letter. It was all foreign nationals.

Dennis Welch:
Consular cards are issued to more than just illegal aliens or illegal immigrants or anybody here who is here illegally. Certainly plenty of people who are here legally can get their consular card while they're here. It's not just the Mexican consulate; it's any foreign consulate in the country.

Howard Fischer:
But one of Russell Pearce's arguments is that these are easily forged. The fact is he said that Rusty Childress who is an anti-immigrant activist, in fact, managed to get a Mexican consular I.D. card. So are they really any form of I.D. that's worth securing?

Dennis Welch:
Well, you can make that case for almost any form of I.D. I mean, we see in with driver's licenses, social security numbers, you know, press credentials can be easily forged. Back stage passes; the thing goes on and on. So I don't know why that argument would work here.

Mike Sunnucks:
The thing is, it's obviously a lot of undocumented folks use these things to establish themselves in the state to get bank accounts, utility bills, to set themselves up and establish an identity. And Pearce's argument is take them away so they can't do that, make it a little harder for them.

Howard Fischer:
Okay. Then Mike, how do we separate out the legitimate use of consular I.D. cards versus those that are here illegally? Or is that really physically impossible?

Mike Sunnucks:
It's obviously a challenge but somebody that's here on business or visiting on tourism from any country isn't going to need to set a utility bill or go and try to get government services or set up a new bank account in Phoenix. So you kind of distinguish what they are using it for. They are obviously using it to establish a life here. And it enables them.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It also might lead to more arguments for the real I.D. card which the federal government is going to bring us. A lot of states don't like it mostly because there's no money to make it happen but to have a standardized form of identification nationwide.

Mike Sunnucks:
I would assume they would take it to the ballot next year. And I would assume it would pass.

Dennis Welch:
We take everything to the ballot.

Mike Sunnucks:
This governor vetoes all their get-tough measures. That's what the republicans need to do.

Howard Fischer:
If she doesn't veto a certain number of bills a month she tightens up.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
You were acting like seven vetoes is a lot but I didn't do the numbers before I came but she's way behind her pace of last year. I think this is 11 vetoes so far and last year she set some kind of record.

Mike Sunnucks:
Give her time.

Howard Fischer:
Okay. Another veto, Jack Harper had a little bill on malicious or homeland security forces, whatever you want to call them. He said we need something in addition to our national guard. Janet didn't see it that way.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
No, she didn't. And it's interesting because Harper points to the governor as part of his reasoning for introducing this bill to create a homeland security force. Specifically, he is going back to the flap that happened in the wake of the hurricanes of the gulf coast between the Louisiana governor and President Bush, where the Louisiana governor complained that Bush took away her national guard and she couldn't control them. Harper says the states need to have a force that the state commander in chief, the governor, can control and thus he proposes this homeland security force.

Howard Fischer:
Sure. Well, Dennis, the governor said the constitution already lets her set up a militia and we don't need this and Jack is saying it really wouldn't be planned. I mean, do we really need new legislation to have the ultimate National Guard here?

Dennis Welch:
Well, as she said in her veto message, I mean, it's just redundant. She's got the authority to do a lot of these different things that Jack wants this militia to do. It's just, again, it's just, why put more legislation in there?

Mike Sunnucks:
You set up more bureaucracy and the guards in Arizona say it's already struggling with equipment because a lot of it has been sent over to Iraq. She's got a point there with the redundancy.

Dennis Welch:
Yeah, you've already got the National Guard struggling with half of the equipment necessary they need now to do their job. Now you want to create a militia?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
The equipment but not necessarily the manpower because this is another story that came this week about the equipment. But while working on that, the National Guard folks said that they have been surprised by the number of volunteers they got when they started the border effort. They thought they would get 150 some volunteers from Arizona and they got 500. So even with the National Guard ranks there might be enough to handle some of these disasters if they are to arrive.

Howard Fischer:
The other vetoes this week had to do with the plan by a freshman lawmaker named Andy Tobin to say if high schoolers can get out in three and a half years versus four, tell you what, we'll divide up that state aid, let the school district keep some, give some to the high school as scholarships. Sounds like a wonderful plan. Again, governor didn't like it.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Right. The governor vetoed that one saying that she liked the fundamental idea of using the financial incentive for kids to get out early but that the application of it would be cumbersome. How would you account for it? It could go to any kind of institution of higher learning even maybe the Mary Jo Pitzl institute of higher education and straight into my pocket without any kind of accountability. She did urge Representative Tobin, who's from Paulden up by the Prescott area, to come back with a--maybe run this idea again with a little more refinement.

Mike Sunnucks:
This kind of illustrates a problem that goes on between this governor and the legislature. They keep the cards so close a lot of times that they never seem to be able to work things out before the vetoes on these things. She doesn't seem totally opposed to the concept. They pass a bill that she doesn't like because of the reasons that Mary Jo said but they could have done some of this before and kind of avoided this, and got a bill that everybody likes.

Dennis Welch:
Also, do you need an incentive to get out of high school early? The overachievers any where they're going to work and try to get out early if they really want to. It's not like you have a bunch of people go, oh, ok, now if I work harder and go to summer school and give up all that time I can get out six months early.

Howard Fischer:
And it took you five years or something? No, I didn't say that. [Laughter] One of the bills I do want to talk about that maybe won't need a veto, teen drivers. Lawmakers after several years of trying to decide we are going to put restrictions on teens the first six months that they are behind the wheel. Tell me about what's in that bill.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Those basically two restrictions for those first-time drivers. One is that you can't drive between midnight and 5:00 a.m. and the other one is that all times you can have only one other teenaged passenger in the car with you. The only exception to that being if you've got--you can carry your siblings with you and take that burden off of mom and dad. This mirrors what's done in a lot of other states including the proponents argue a lot of Arizona's neighboring states. So it just sort of puts the state back into the main stream, this goes to the governor's desk. I think she's got until Monday to move on it.

Howard Fischer:
Okay. Is it fair to say different restrictions for the first six months of driving? Or does that just make sense because they are least experienced?

Dennis Welch:
Well, I mean, the Tribune did some stories on this and it shows that younger drivers out there are more prone to have deadly accidents out there on the road. I mean the statistics speak for themselves on that.

Mike Sunnucks:
A lot of the times the ones that get killed are not the drivers, it's the passengers. You've got kids in the car that do not have their seat belts on. And it could lower our insurance rates which are kind of high.

Dennis Welch:
And remember, driving is not a right. It's a privilege. So to put some restrictions on that as people learn good driving habits, I don't think is too out of the question.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
A lot of the restrictions are aimed at reducing the distraction factor and statistics and studies have shown if you load a car up with a bunch of teenaged kids, you're going to have a lot more problems than if it's a kid and their sibling sitting there.

Howard Fischer:
Fair enough. Let's switch gears a little bit here. We're going to talk about the state budget, filing after a five-day delay. There's been a little bit of movement on what's going to happen with the $10.6 billion budget. Mike, okay, what's been holding us and where do we go from here?

Mike Sunnucks:
Senate appropriations chair Bob Burns, a republican, was kind of holding things up because he wanted to see some private school tax credits in the bill, in the budget, in the Senate budget and they were pulled out at the last second. He says I'll let it move forward and we'll try to work this issue out when we meet with the House. The private school tax credits whatever form they come in is going to be the republicans' last card they'll play with the governor. Napolitano kind of every budget deal will come into the last second after they think they have a deal with her and say, oh did I mention, I want $100 million or $50 million for these projects? Or one of her pet projects. So this will be the republicans' last card.

Howard Fischer:
Well, in essence, these--the change in the law doesn't expand the tax credits. You can still only take out the same amount, but this just gives people more time, until April 15 of the following year. Why is the governor having such a hard time about this?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think the governor and a lot of democrats are because it extends the date to which you can give a contribution up until tax filing day. So if you are a little tight on the taxes you are sitting there on April 14 doing your taxes and you realize you have to pay the state a chunk of change, why not just donate that to a school organization of your choice rather than to the state? And they are concerned that this could drain some revenue.

Mike Sunnucks:
Well the teachers unions are big opponents of anything like this. They are big democratic constituents and they gave the governor a lot of heat when she went along with this as a compromise last year.

Howard Fischer:
So Dennis, what else is going to hang us up? Tax cuts? Who gets them? And how much?

Dennis Welch:
Well that certainly could be an issue. It's one of the big differences between the two competing proposals in the House and Senate is the size of the tax cut packages out there. I mean, the Senate version has about $7 million out there and the House version is up to near around $60 million. That's a pretty big number when you are considering how small like the surpluses are this year.

Howard Fischer:
One of the big differences of course, Mike, is the House wants a 2.5\% cut in corporate income tax rates. That's got like a $28 million price tag. How realistic is it to say we're going to throw $28 million more in tax cuts in this budget?

Mike Sunnucks:
What I think you'll see them doing-I think the House kind of upped their ante on the tax cuts when they saw the Senate wasn't going to come in very high. So you can see them cut the difference on a lot of these things. The question is whether the governor will go along with this. She's kind of threatened to veto if the Senate budget is messed around with too much.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think another point of departure and this will break along rural-urban lines as opposed to party lines is how transportation funding is doled out. There's some concern that the current budgets take money, proposals take money out of the highway fund, put it into this acceleration fund and that's basically taking--robbing some money from the rural areas and putting it into the faster freeway construction and urban.

Howard Fischer:
And that's an interesting issue because the current formula gives something like 60 some percent of the money, I think, to rural areas and then Maricopa and Pima split the difference. This turns the formula on its head. Okay, what's fair? Do you put the money where the roads are? Which is the rural areas. Or do you put the money where the people are?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
That's, I mean, that is the eternal debate and, I mean, for everybody that argues that I live in Phoenix why should I be paying for roads up to Flagstaff? I would ask, don't you go up there? Especially now that it's getting hot?

Dennis Welch:
And that's exactly what something like Jake Flake would tell somebody. I asked him that same question, he says, hey listen, the people that live here down in Maricopa county love to come out to the country. They use our roads. Why shouldn't we be able to use that money and build roads up there?

Mike Sunnucks:
One thing that's interesting about the tax issue is all the tax cuts right now are for business. You got corporate, the business property tax acceleration; R & D is in the House budget. You don't really have anything for the conservative republican base for every day people. Not doing anything for residential.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Oh, well, wait a minute.

Mike Sunnucks:
They don't do the private school vouchers yet. So you can see kind of a clash here between the two --

Howard Fischer:
But I could make the argument, and I think this is where Mary Jo is going, is that last year's two-year tax cuts included two 5 percent individual tax cuts. So there's $170 million in individual tax cuts built right in there.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
As well as property tax relief that continues this year.

Mike Sunnucks:
But that relief will run out in 2009.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yeah, but if we are talking about this current year budget, I mean, there is relief in there for individual taxpayers. Although--

Mike Sunnucks:
No new relief. It's just continuing.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yeah.

Howard Fischer:
There is one thing that the house does have that might be considered individual which has to do with these 529 college savings plans. Mike, tell me exactly how this works in terms of getting the tax deduction.

Mike Sunnucks:
I think Mary Jo knows more about that than I do. [Laughter]

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Okay, I'll wing it. The feds have set up a program so folks, people can set aside money for college tuition. Some states have opted to give-- to allow a deduction for that so more of an incentive to save. I think you can write it off on your federal taxes right now but you can't on your Arizona taxes. This would allow an Arizona write-off and House republican budget envisions doing that up to a $10 million cap.

Mike Sunnucks:
It could end up replacing some of the private school stuff they are looking at.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
It could.

Mike Sunnucks:
Yeah.

Howard Fischer:
Sure. Let me talk about something else that didn't happen, or if you will, at the Capitol this week. The House tried twice to make it harder to sue or at least hard to collect against emergency room docs for medical malpractice. I understand we are talking about clear and convincing evidence versus preponderance of the evidence. Mary Jo, sort of sort this out for us.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Right. This is a bill back for its second time from last year sponsored by Senator Carolyn Allen and it tries to raise the level, the bar, if you would, for suing for medical malpractice in emergency room situations and in disaster situations. They can't make-- it passed in the Senate on a 16-12 vote, pretty close. And in the House it failed on Monday. Representative Bob Stump brought it back for reconsideration and it lost another voter too, and was inalterably killed for the session.

Dennis Welch:
This was the bill that was vetoed last year by the governor. Probably, I mean, probably she's breathing a sigh of relief she doesn't have to veto this thing again.

Mike Sunnucks:
This has come up how many times? Three or four times.

Dennis Welch:
And this is something that Carolyn Allen gets very passionate about and she's told people privately that she hung up on the governor last year after the governor called her and tried to explain her veto.

Mike Sunnucks:
The doctors have talked about taking this to the ballot. They opted not to last time but they have tried this before in different incarnations. It's been an expensive fight with the trial lawyers who are big democratic constituents and it's well-funded and it's hard to beat.

Howard Fischer:
But one of the arguments I think has been that when you ask an insurance company if you make this change how much will medical malpractice rates go down? Nobody can say here's what's going to reduce it. Doesn't that sort of undermine the argument?

Mike Sunnucks:
Yeah, I mean, they have a hard time addressing that. The one thing of all the southwestern states we don't -- we have the least amount of protections for doctors and insurance companies, there are no caps or anything like that. And it's kind of a catch-22. Both sides have arguments. You have some frivolous lawsuits that shouldn't be there that are hurting emergency room doctors, rural doctors, folks like that, on other side you have real malpractice cases and consumer protection issues. And it's basically one of those issues where it's a catch-22.

Howard Fischer:
Okay. Let me ask about something else that's going on at the Capitol, Mike, that I know you are very concerned about because you think people are stealing your I.D. There's a new bill that's going to the governor that says, retailers, when they swipe your driver's license to check if you are of age or if buying something, can't sell that information. It would seem like this could help prevent against I.D. theft.

Mike Sunnucks:
Yeah. I got a little prop here we thought we brought. This little strip back here on my driver's license. Not a Mexican I.D. card, a driver's license right there. If I go into a department store, a bar, a restaurant, and they swipe my driver's license, using this information, they can download my address, my I.D., all that type of stuff. The bill would bar them from selling that information without my permission. And this is something that retailers, a lot of companies do these days. You sign up for anything these days, newspaper websites, department stores, always sell these mailing lists off and you end up getting marketing materials. So this would offer some protections. We will see if the governor goes along with it. I wouldn't see what her objections would be on this.

Howard Fischer:
Let's talk about something non-legislative. Dennis, there was a hearing this week at the committee that's overseeing the state veterans home, Pat Chorpenning, the former director was in. He had an idea of who was to blame for the whole mess. Well, who does he think is at fault?

Dennis Welch:
Everybody. That's the simple -- the short answer. Everybody.

Howard Fischer:
Could you give me a longer--

Dennis Welch:
A little more specific. The media is to blame. I believe the Department of Health Services is to blame and the governor and her staff are all to blame for these and apparently -- his quote was, his one-legged butt got thrown under the train on this one apparently. I mean, he really pulled no punches when he came out to talk about the experiences he had with the Arizona veteran home. It was in front of a joint legislative committee that was been tasked to look into all these things. And he really felt that he was wronged and he felt that the people that were involved in this overreacted. They felt the newspaper, the press, they overreacted by comparing this to Walter Reed, the same with the governor's folks and he said there's absolutely no comparison to what happened at the veteran home to what happened over at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C.

Howard Fischer:
Well this is really his first time to talk since he was let go by the governor.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, yeah, the governor removed him of his duties and then he resigned saying he felt there was no loyalty, no trust in what he was doing. And, you know, it's unfortunate that it took until yesterday for the lawmakers and the public to hear from Chorpenning because he really explained a lot of things step-by-step in a chronological order and you could sort of see all this doubt sort of melting away on lawmakers' faces and Co-Chairman John Nelson said, it's too bad we didn't have him at the beginning because he did lay a foundation. But Nelson said that he couldn't get Chorpenning to come and talk to the legislative committee without a subpoena early on. He was too angry, too hurt. He is, and Chorpenning is under investigation by the A.G. and the county attorney for items related to this. But I guess he lost enough of that anger that he felt he could come.

Mike Sunnucks:
He's kind of naive to think after Walter Reed with the kind of problems he had there, that people weren't going to be looking at this in every state. Everybody was looking around to see if there's care problems there and there were problems there. There was a lot of turnover, there was some nepotism going on there and he was correct. The level of care there in the buildings there obviously a lot better than Walter Reed but it doesn't erase the problems they have there and the missteps that the governor's office made.

Dennis Welch:
But his point is like listen; they took care of this within hours of that audit. Within two hours the problems that were initially identified were taken care of and he is basically said in that meeting, like, listen, those inspectors stayed there and ginned up the finds by staying there because those fines are assessed daily when they are put in imminent jeopardy. Every day those finds accrue. He said listen, after two hours they should have been out of there. We had this fixed.

Howard Fischer:
But Mary Jo, you bring up an interesting point that Pat Chorpenning came in at end of the process rather than the beginning. This started with a lot of fire and fury and accusations, okay, the committee is going to meet again. What's left for them to do or where do they go from here?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well, again, Co-Chairman Nelson wasn't going to be pinned down to what exactly they're going to do. They need to write a report. They need to get together. What flummoxed the press, we thought this was all over last week because the other Co-Chairman, Jack Harper, held a hearing and he said, well, we are done, we are pretty much wrapped up and we will write a report. I am not sure what else is to be done. Formulate some recommendations, put them in writing.

Howard Fischer:
Okay. I do want to discuss one more thing. There was a bill that went through the Senate this week, easing the fines for carrying a concealed weapon. We found out that its sponsor apparently not only has a concealed weapons permit, Dennis, but apparently brings it into the Senate with her. I mean, how does that change the tenor of the debate had you find out one of your colleagues is packing?

Dennis Welch:
You know, she may have a little more attention on the floor I guess. And we will spare the viewers all the witty puns about shotgun legislation and whatnot.

Howard Fischer:
Come on. I was counting on those.

Dennis Welch:
It's too easy.

Mike Sunnucks:
An extra weapon in their budget battle.

Howard Fischer:
Ooh.

Dennis Welch:
Thank you, Mike.

Howard Fischer:
That raises an interesting question. Theoretically we all assume public buildings, people don't carry weapons. Now we find out that one and perhaps two senators, it's not true.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Right. We found this story involved Senator Karen Johnson from Mesa who says she keeps in her gun in her purse. She doesn't take it onto the floor when Senators debate but it's there with her. In this -- this echoes, it does sort of underscore the fact that there isn't security. You can walk in the Senate building, groups-tons of people do every day, tour groups, constituents, lobbyists, journalists walk in and there are guards there and there are signs that say no weapons, but couple weeks ago that wasn't enough for House democrats. They were trying to make an issue out of security and they have asked the house speaker Weiers, to put in metal detectors or wands or at least post bigger signs. And speaker Weiers said, we are going to look into the signs thing. But securing those buildings, he says, could be difficult.

Mike Sunnucks:
I just don't think it's acceptable at all for any lawmaker to be carrying a gun into a public building. I don't think anybody should have a gun in a public building except security folks. Because even if you're leaving it in your office, that makes it available to somebody and you get a fair amount of kooks down there at city halls and at the legislature, either elected or otherwise, and you really don't want that. That's not safe. And that's not a safe environment.

Howard Fischer:
Well, the argument that John Huppenthal said is because we have no securities, maybe we do need somebody on the floor who is armed.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Yes. There's our eternal gun debate.

Dennis Welch:
But do you want lawmakers - I mean, don't we have security folks down there? Couldn't they be the ones maybe that are armed?

Mike Sunnucks:
You can have folks bringing guns--try to bring guns into City Hall, Tempe City Hall and other places and it's just a safety measure. I am sure Mrs. Johnson is a fine person. But her having a gun there leaving her office, somebody could come in there and steal that gun.

Howard Fischer:
So basically you want her to bring it to the floor with her, as I understand it?

Mike Sunnucks:
Isn't the rule that they could have a safe or a place where she could put a locker where she could put it? And that's what they should do.

Dennis Welch:
Well, most other government buildings in the valley have a lot stricter security. I mean, in like, as we pointed out already, there is none down at the state Capitol.

Howard Fischer:
Fantastic. Well, we'll tune in next week and find out who's packin' heat. Thank you. Thank you all very much and we'll--

Larry Lemmons:
--Issues that bubble up from the state legislature and executive branches and politics in and about Arizona are all fair game in Horizon's weekly segment One On One. Two political pundits go head-to-head and try not to hurt each other as they debate the pros and cons of Arizona politics Monday night at seven on Channel Eight's Horizon.

Howard Fischer:
Tuesday, the story of the Tovrea Castle and how it became a historic Arizona icon that it is today. Wednesday we'll take a look at college savings accounts. Thursday, making money in the Super Bowl. And don't forget it's Mother's Day. Hi, mom. And if mom is not happy, ain't nobody happy. So you better get something for your mama this weekend. Take care. Friday we will be back for another edition of the Journalists' Roundtable.

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