Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

January 25, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable

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  • 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
Ted Simons:
It's Friday, January 25th, 2008. In the headlines, the latest on the employer sanctions law, and how much it's going to cost to teach children English in this state. A look at the issues the state legislature tackled this week, and we'll dig deeper into the Cronkite/eight poll that shows John McCain and Hillary Clinton leading in Arizona. That's all next, on "Horizon."

Ted Simons:
Good evening, I'm Ted Simons, and this is the "journalists roundtable." joining me tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl of the "the Arizona Republic," Mark Brodie of KJZZ radio, and Paul Davenport of the Associated Press. Well, we learned this week how much it's going to cost to teach children English in this state. Mary jo, sounds like it's going to cost a whole lot.

Mary jo Pitzl:
A big chunk of change, according to the school superintendents. They came to the capitol on Wednesday, released a report and talked to lawmakers. By their calculations it's going to be about $304 million a year to properly educate students in English.

Ted Simons:
Shock waves?

Paul Davenport:
It put that issue back in front of the legislature. They had passed a law in 2006, revamping how the state deals with those programs. Then it's been mired in court, and it's been on the back burner with the budget and all the other priorities and non-priorities in this session. But then all of a sudden you have about 100 superintendents show up at the capitol in the middle of the week, and frankly, they did a pretty good job of buttonholing individual legislators and showing up in force in front of the media to get people's attention. You're about to impose a program with a lot of costs on the school districts. Let's get it out there and let's fund it.

We can talk a little bit about how it's a debatable number.

Mary jo Pitzl:
The superintendents surveyed a bunch of school districts, and heard back from 70. Based on those surveys, that's how they came up with their cost of $304 million. This doesn't follow exactly the state formula that schools are supposed to follow under the 2006 legislation. The superintendents said, well, we left some things out and put some things in that the formula didn't have, because we disagree. The state formula doesn't allow us to put in the classroom space. If you expect us to educate these kids for four hours a day in English, we're going to need a place and money to do that. We're going to need highly skilled and trained teachers to handle this task. We think the salary amount will be greater. Lastly, they did not discount the federal money that comes in for basically children in poverty. The legislative formula takes that out. They say the judge -- and this thing's been in court -- the judge has said you can't back that money out, so they didn't. I suspect next month, whenever we see the results of the forums that the schools do send, the debate will start.

Paul Davenport:
and state superintendent Tom Horn has already said, as a result of what he's seen in informal talks and work sessions, he thinks the number's going to be much less. That's understandable, given the differences in approach here. There will be dramatically different numbers. The issue is now back at the legislature, I think it's fair to say.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
you asked about shock waves. Maybe nobody really knew what to say. There is almost a third of the size of the current budget deficit, not to mention about a quarter of the one they're facing for the next fiscal year, when all this bill would start to come due. And even the democrats, who generally are big proponents of English language training, they have no idea where this money is coming from.

Mark Brodie:
Different groups at the legislature might disagree on how much something is going to cost, I don't think that would surprise anybody. We see it all the time with different programs and expenditures.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
What really matters in this is what the judge says. This is before judge Raner Collins, a U.S. district court judge in Tucson, who has said the state needs to have an adequate level of funding. What the State's offered so far is not enough. This thing has been in litigation for years, and I think that's where it's finally going to get resolved.

Paul Davenport:
And the Republican majorities are the ones that crafted the legislation, and putting a lot of hope on overturning his ruling at the ninth circuit court of appeal. I think it's fair to say we'll get a ruling any week now.

Ted Simons:
Paul... Nogales, where all this stuff started in the first place, is always mentioned as an indication that you don't need to spend the kind of money democrats are talking about to achieve the rules the court wants. Can you explain that?

>> Only in the sense that nobody agrees on that.

Paul Davenport:
This is a political and legal fight. There have been changes in administration in Nogales, and results in performances from that district are have been cited by both sides in the case. The fact of the matter is, Judge Collins ruled one way, discounting a lot of what superintendent horn and the republican legislators have said. On the other hand, the ninth circuit hasn't weighed in yet.

Ted Simons:
If nothing else, It's got the lawmakers' attention down there.

May Jo Pitzl:
And when a ruling comes, or when the report comes out of the department of Education, the lawmakers are going to have to look at this. These programs are to begin with the fall semester, and there is this huge question of, where are you going to get the money for that.

Ted Simons:
And the budget is still of primary importance down there. Mark, let's go to you. Is anything happening? Can we see movement, action, anywhere?

Mark Brodie:
I think things are happening and people are meeting. The top legislative leaders are meeting with the democrats and republicans behind closed doors. In the appropriations committees, it's a similar process to what we saw the week before the session, where they're trying to deal with the budget for the current fiscal year and close that deficit. Where agency heads get up and explain why programs shouldn't be cut, and the chairman of the committees would say we're in this ridiculous budget deficit, something's got to be cut. If you're not going to volunteer stuff, we'll cut it for you.

Ted Simons:
For whatever it's worth, usually the budget is the last thing that happens in the session. This year, at least talking about it is one of the first, maybe that gets people focused a little earlier on what needs to be done.

Paul Davenport:
it could mean that when the leaders, if and when they come out with an agreement, that the rank and file legislators know more about the budget and can deal with it in a speedier fashion, and come to a resolution on it. Not a prediction, just a possibility.

Mark Brodie:
Both the house and senate are meeting all together, so they're getting the same briefing. All the agency heads are just having to do this once, as opposed to having to talk to the house and senate, where something might get lost in the middle.

Paul Davenport:
You can assume the democrats in those legislative leaders' talks are coordinating with the governor's office, so there's some indirect involvement there from the get-go.

Ted Simons:
And the treasurer is saying we're going run out of money soon?

Paul Davenport:
He gave a fiscal lay of the land. Treasurer Dean Martin said that the money the state can legally spend and expect to get is going to run out in late may, about five weeks before the end of the fiscal year. There's more money, but he doesn't have legal authority to spend it. You've got to do something by then, the Legislature, otherwise we've got, in effect, bounced checks.

Ted Simons:
that kind of thing, Mary jo, along with the fact that it's so huge no one can quite get their arms around it as yet, is this the kind of thing where it's so big that petty little things that might slow the process in the past might be overlooked and a compromise might be easier?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I don't think I'd venture with that kind of prediction. We've had a record number of bills introduced. Talk about distractions, I forget the number of bills. As of last Thursday they've had a record number of bills filed for that point in the legislative session.

Paul Davenport:
I think it's fair to say, there are a lot fewer bills that would propose spending money. We're talking about changes in statute, changes in policy, things like that. You're never going to get legislators to stop filing bills, they have their own agendas. There's a good possibility that won't mess with the budget too much.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And what's interesting about the budget talks and currently these negotiations are for solving this current year's budget. When they get that resolved, they have to go back and do it all over again, probably in a somewhat different way, for the coming budget year. So even though there are great hopes that they can get this out early, that's yet to be seen.

Mark Brodie:
That's been one of the debates: they have to do 2008 to fix the current year, and they have to do 2009. Do they do 2008 and then 2009 at the end of the session as usual? What you do in 2008 will greatly impact what happens in 2009. It makes sense to do them fairly close to each other so everything is still fresh in everyone's mind.


Paul Davenport:
I don't think we have an indication of how exactly it'll happen. We have heard some folks saying they are talking about both in the leadership meeting.

Ted Simons:
Also, Down at the legislature a lot of bills being talked about, at least being considered regarding employer sanctions. The business community was down there and they want certain things to happen.

Mark Brodie:
The business community was part of a committee that house speaker Jim Wires chaired. They had their last meeting on Thursday. They forwarded a set of recommendations to the legislature, completely nonbinding. Just, this is what we'd like to see happen. It was a really large document that they passed. Some of the highlights were clarifying the definition of employee, who is an employee and who is not. Who is an employer, who is not. They wanted to try to do away with anonymous complaints. If you're going to file a complaint against the business, you have to have your name and date and the county in which it's signed, to make it easier for them to comply and in their minds fairer.

Ted Simons:
And Yet, Mary Jo, there's the thought that if you mess around with this too much it could backfire.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
correct. The message came from even one of the members on the speaker's advisory committee. He said, if you mess with this too much, the initiative's going to go forward. This was launched last spring by representative Russell Pearce and former gubernatorial candidate Don Goldwater. And Mr. Goldwater has given every indication that he intends to follow through with this. It looks like the more they would like to amend the law, the more they're going to put that on the ballot. If it passes, it's going to be very hard to amend things.

Mark Brodie:
a lot of legislators say they voted for this last year to try to head off the initiative. At least if it's a bill passed by the legislature, they can see how it works and make adjustments. With an initiative, that's much more difficult.

Paul Davenport:
And then you have this committee meeting, reports on the other bills that have been introduced in the legislature already, and don Goldwater's reaction is, see, i told you so. Russell Pearce, the legislative backer, he doesn't like this one bit. I don't see there's much room for a compromise at this point on that.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
it's early in the legislative session. Judge wake, who is overseeing the lawsuit challenging the legality of this bill or this law, has promised he will rule by the end of this month, early February. I say look for after the super bowl, but --

Paul Davenport:
I think he said by the end of the month.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
that's what he's hoping for. And how he rules could affect the whole complex of things. There's just a lot of moving parts yet to come.

Ted Simons:
the anonymous complaints idea, the idea that if you use e-verify you're automatically immune. Which ones do you think stand the best chance of passing, especially with that threat looming, might not do so well?

Mark Brodie:
I think that's -- if I had my crystal ball I would be able to tell you. It's a lot about perception, as we've all said, that the supporters of the initiative and strong supporters of the law as it is, will in all likelihood try to take anything they don't like as saying it's watering down the bill, gutting the bill, taking away what the voters wanted. The voters said, we want you to do something about businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants. We did it, and now these ideas out there are going to try to water that down. It's really going to be about perception and how some of those tweaks are looked at in the community.

Paul Davenport:
I think that could be a very controversial debate, needless to say, and I wouldn't bet the ranch on either side prevailing. I think that will be a toss of the dice because you can have a lot of public involvement.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
There is what appears to be a nonstarter from some of the feedback we're hearing, this idea of doing away with anonymous complaints.
There is a group of lawmakers that say, wait a minute, that's what silent witness is, you call in anonymously. There are forms that 14 of the 15 counties are using. Those forms have people put their name -- I guess you can leave off your address.

Paul Davenport:
but even that's kind of fluid now. Some of those counties are saying, well, maybe so. A lot of this is in play.

Mark Brodie:
even if only one county takes anonymous complaints, if that happens to be Maricopa County, most of them have been in Maricopa County. I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that the majority of complaints that could potentially come out are likely to happen here, because of the number of people in businesses that live here.

Ted Simons:
We've had a couple of polls this week, including the Cronkite/eight poll, regarding the race here in Arizona. Looks like john McCain and Hillary Clinton are both doing well.

Paul Davenport:
Channel 8 came out with its poll earlier in the week and showed Clinton and McCain leading two to one over Obama. Roughly about a fifth of the group was undecided on both sides. McCain is just a little under where he was, but Clinton measurably so. A slightly tighter race in that regard. Clinton people say that governor Napolitano is going to tape a commercial, and we have both candidates already on the air on TV in this state. On the republican side, most people are saying it's probably a McCain win, due to his favorite son status.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
that's just like the "New York Times" endorsement.

Ted Simons:
it was a bit qualified, the best of what they don't consider a very good field. Still and all, that's a pretty big endorsement. The McCain steamroller seems to be rolling.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
you can debate the endorsements, and I think you can debate the importance of an endorsement from a newspaper like the New York Times in a republican presidential primary. But anybody saying that you should be the nominee is probably a good thing for a candidate.

Ted Simons:
thought it was interesting in the Cronkite/Eight poll where they asked people why you liked a certain candidate. For Senator Clinton, many liked Senator Clinton because of the proximity of President Clinton. A surprise?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
they like bill Clinton, but by three times greater they liked her experience. They cited that first. But bill is seen as an attribute.

Paul Davenport:
Arizona is sitting with a national result on something like that. Okay.

Ted Simons:
let's move on to john McCain real quickly here. As far as his national chances are, looks like in national polls McCain and Clinton are leading again. How do you think he's going to do in Florida?

Mark Brodie:
he just got the endorsement of one of the senators, Mel Martinez. I think this is one of those races that it's just impossible to tell. You look at the polls leading up to some of the earlier states, and they weren't right. So i think anybody who says this is what's going to happen, i think you need to not necessarily discount it, but maybe take it with a grain of salt. Nobody really knows what's going to happen, especially in this wide-open race on both sides, both democrat and republican.

Paul Davenport:
with a lot of fluidity, with senator Clinton beating Obama in New Hampshire, seemingly at the last minute.

Ted Simons:
We saw Senator Clinton here in town, out there in Laveenů Mark what did you hear about it?

Mark Brodie:
I heard a colleague of mine who tried to cover the event couldn't get in. It took him 20 to 30 minutes to go about a block to get up to the school in Laveen. They were turning people away, it was not possible to get in. Didn't hear that much about what was said. There was a big crowd of people who wanted to see Hillary Clinton in the high school gym.

Ted Simons:
did the endorsement of governor Napolitano of Barack Obama, is that going to be a factor in Arizona?

Paul Davenport:
according to the D.R.C poll it doesn't have that much weight. I think they said roughly 80\%, either democratic voters as a whole or likely democratic voters, no, it doesn't weigh that much. It tends not to hurt, it tends to help. I think one thing notable about Hillary Clinton's visit, I'm not saying we're not going to see more candidates, but there's a good chance we won't. There are more than 20 states in play on February 5th. We have a favorite son on one of the parties. So we may not see senator Obama here.

Mary Jo Pitzl: we were talking about that in the press room late this afternoon. The New York giants are in the super bowl, the super bowl is here. I don't know if Guiliani would come to john McCain's home state to campaign. But there is a New York senator on the democratic side, and the super bowl attracts a big crowd, including a lot of media attention. And we're a nice easy stop on your way to California with all those delegates.

Paul Davenport:
the campaign decides those things maybe 24 hours in advance at the most. If you have any interest in going to see a presidential candidate, you better pay attention because you may not have much notice.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
they're not sending out engraved invitations?

Mark Brodie:
Mitt Romney might come out to show support for his home town, the New England Patriots. It might be interesting. Maybe one of them could flip the coin at the midfield to decide who gets the wall first.

Ted Simons:
are you a little surprised? I know McCain's favorite son status. Are you surprised Romney is not doing better in Arizona?

Ted Simons:
I thought he might have done a little bit better. So far.

Paul Davenport:
and it is a multi-candidate field, so you have one candidate with a strong advantage going in, albeit some friction within the party and this and this over from the right. But he's our senator.

Ted Simons:
yeah, yeah, okay. Paul, I know you've written about this regarding the legislature, and how they're busting at the seams and seem to want new digs somewhere somehow.

Paul Davenport:
Timing is everything. They're not proposing to move the house or senate back in there, but they appointed a special advisory committee, some legislators, a lot of folks who deal with the legislature, to look at that. They've come up with some ideas for using meeting rooms and maybe some office space and stuff like that. The big idea is to build a new housing complex. But there's no money for that, so this may be an academic exercise.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
isn't that built around the idea of trying to do this in time for Arizona's centennial in 2012, to honor the 100th birthday of Arizona?

Paul Davenport:
there is some talk of using that as a leverage point on that.

Mark Brodie:
I seem to remember wanting to have a completely new complex built and ready to go and operational by the centennial year. As Paul said, right now that doesn't look possible.

Mary jo Pitzl:
that's been scaled back to try and freshen up the old building for some of these meetings.

Ted Simons:
you've got to wonder about the efficacy of trying to move working people into what is essentially a museum.

Paul Davenport:
they are short on space. Some of the meeting rooms are inadequate, some of the staff are really shoehorned into places where they can't be very productive. Water has been dripping down to the floor due to pipes corroding and stuff like that. The buildings are not holding up.

Ted Simons:
and you mentioned timing. We can wrap it up on just the idea, the mood of the state and the legislature. The mood of the country right now is a little concerned with the r word heading our way. You're feeling that among the lawmakers, too, correct?

Mark Brodie:
A little bit, especially when they talk about the budget and how bad things are and how bad things might get, not necessarily next year, but the year after that, whether or not the deficit is going to be worse than now, whether it's going to be worse than it will be for next year.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think it's -- i don't know if that message is sinking in. About a week and a half ago they held a session with the entire legislature and had some economists who advise the legislature come in and talk about things. I asked senator bob burns why they held this meeting, and he says, i don't think people get it. He doesn't think many lawmakers are embracing the idea of how deeply they're going to have to cut the budget.

Paul Davenport:
and how long the problem may last.

Ted Simons:
basically, we're going to see more light bulbs coming on over heads down there?

>> I think that's the hope.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think they'll be compact fluorescent bulbs.

Td Simons:
quickly, it sounds like the governor's message is forward progress, manage, don't cut. Maybe it still has some validity or some heft to it.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
we haven't seen any cuts yet.

Ted Simons:
Thank you very much, it's good to see you down here, as well. You managed to make it out from the cramped quarters at the capitol. Thanks for joining us. Monday "horizon" will be preempted for the state of the union address. Tuesday we begin our series on the key issues facing the state Legislature, we look at bills dealing with Arizona's illegal immigration problem. Wednesday, a look at the state budget deficit; Thursday, other bills lawmakers will wrestle with. And Friday we'll be back with another edition of the "Journalists Roundtable." coming up, a new course for the religious right: evangelical voters are rethinking their politics and purpose. That's next on "now" on PBS.org. Thanks for joining us, have a great weekend.

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