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AZ Week Notebook – February 2012

PERSONNEL REFORM: WHY OR WHY NOT?

The yin and the yang of Arizona's state personnel system:

-- Paid leaves of absence for employees appealing disciplinary procedures cost Arizona taxpayers $1.6 million in a two-year period, according to the Goldwater Institute. That's 88,000 paid hours that workers were off the job, the institute said.

-- Existing state law and procedures already cover most of the issues that would be addressed in the new legislation, including speeded-up hiring procedures, merit pay and quick discipline, according to Sheri Van Horsen, president of state employee union Local 3111.

These perspectives come in the midst of the debate over Gov. Jan Brewer's efforts to reform the state personnel system. A bill, HB2571, has passed one committee in the House and will go before the Committee of the Whole soon.

Meantime, small-government advocates are lining up on one side and union and employee association representatives on the other.

We will talk with several of them on Friday's Arizona Week, including:

-- Mark Flatten and Nick Dranias of the Goldwater Institute. Flatten wrote lengthy investigative report on governmental personnel issues in December 2010. Dranias, a lawyer, has made the case for the legislation to change the system.

-- Sheri Van Horsen, president of Arizona Local 3111 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. She has published a "myths and relaities" document that argues against personnel reform.

-- Jimmy Chavez, president of the Arizona Highway Patrol Association, which represents hundreds of peace officers and civilian workers in the Arizona Department of Public Safety. He says any changes in the personnel system need to exempt law-enforcement personnel because the current system works for them.

Those interviews will air Friday, 8:30 p.m. MST on PBS-HD6, Arizona Week.

AFSCME Local 3111 Goldwater Institute Gov Jan Brewer Mark Flatten Nick Dranias Sheri Van horsen,

REFORM COMING FOR STATE WORKER HIRING, FIRING

Gov. Jan Brewer's proposal to reform the state personnel system, allowing greater ease in hiring and firing government workers, is working its way slowly through the Legislature.

HB2571 passed the House Committee on Employment and Regulatory Affairs earlier this month and now goes to the House Committee of the Whole.

The bill would make most state employees "at will," meaning they could be terminated for any reason -- or no reason -- with little or no notice.

Proponents say the change is needed because state government is slow to react to underperforming employees, and the system makes it difficult to get rid of them in ready fashion.

Friday's Arizona Week will look at the proposed change and what it will mean for Arizona state government employees and -- just as important -- for Arizona residents.

What will that mean? More efficient government that saves the taxpayers time and money, as proponents say, or will it mean a return to cronyism in which politicians and their appointed department heads can hire friends and acquaintances and fire people they don't like, as opponents say.

We are seeking interviews with specialists at the Goldwater Institute, which studied the issue and proposes the significant changes that are largely contained in HB2571, and with officials of state employees unions and associations that are opposing the changes.

Goldwater Institute Gov Jan Brewer personnel reform unions,

REVENUE RISE DOESN'T MEAN MORE SPENDING

Arizona state tax revenues are up, but optimism is still minimal in the Legislature for increased spending.

Gov. Jan Brewer's office reports steady and consistent growth that has exceeded projections for the last six months, with the expectation that it will continue. On that basis, she wants to add back some spending for education and prisons.

"Revenues have started to rebound in the state, thank goodness," said John Arnold, director of the Governor's Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting. "We went through a very difficult time where we lost over 30 percent of the total revenues for the state general fund."

Arnold commented in an interview for Friday's Arizona Week.

Arizona Senate President Steve Pierce, also in an Arizona Week interview, acknowledged that revenues are rising, but he said not at the rate the governor's office projects. Thus, Pierce said, saving and not more spending is the prudent approach for jow.

"We would like to be cautious in the money we spend now and hold some over for next year," Pierce said. " ... We don't want to spend it right now or commit it. We want to hold it until next year."

Negotiations between the governor's office and the Legislature are expected to begin soon to work out details of the state budget.

See Arnold's and Pierce's interviews and an interview with Sen. Paula Aboud, a Tucson Democrat, tonight on Arizona Week, 8:30 p.m. MST on PBS-HD6.

Arizona state budget Budget Director John Arnold Gov Jan Brewer Senate President Steve Pierce,

FRIDAY: SEN. PRES. PIERCE, BUDGET CHIEF ARNOLD

The Arizona Senate and House Appropriations Committees have passed identical bills for an $8.8 million state budget for fiscal 2012-13. The plan does not include several hundred million dollars in enhancements sought by Gov. Jan Brewer.

On Friday's Arizona Week, we will review the situation, in interviews with the governor's budget director, John Arnold, and state Senate President Steve Pierce. Legislative reporters Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic and Luige del Puerto of the Arizona Capitol Times will comment on and analyze the situation.

Brewer proposed a budget that would increase spending slightly from the current fiscal year after revenue numbers began coming in stronger than projected.

Her proposal would provide $100 million in capital spending for K-12, a category of spending that the state has largely ignored for a few years as school facilities age and crumble.

She also calls for $50 million for adding maximum-security prison beds and staffing, $7 million for tourism promotion and $10 million for community college scholarships.

The GOP leadership has pushed a budget that excludes those items. It does include a $3.7 million allocation for increased mental health care and a $250 million rainy day fund.

Some rank-and-file Republicans are saying they aren't entirely happy with the committee-passed proposal. They and leadership note that the committee passage is a starting point for negotiating.

Arizona Budget Director John Arnold Gov Jan Brewer Senate President Steve Pierce,

BUDGET BATTLE BEGINS: BREWER VS. LAWMAKERS

Gov. Jan Brewer outlined a modestly increased Arizona state budget in her State of the State speech last month, saying the state's positive cash flow meant some deep cuts of the last few years could be restored.

Republican legislators who had hinted they wouldn't increase spending to her or the Democrats' likings expanded on that Monday by proposing a budget with no significant increases.

The biggest new item in it is $250 million proposed for a rainy day fund. Legislators say they need to squirrel away money because precarious financial footing is in the offing: end of 2013 expiration of the 1-cent education sales tax; the as-yet unknown costs of the national health care package; the possibility of a second recession.

Brewer's spokesman, Matt Benson, pushed back, saying the governor wants her increases for sorely needed programs. That would include $100 million for K-12 capital funding, $50 million for school reading programs, 5 percent raises for state employees and buy-back of the mortgaged state Capitol buildings.

On Friday's Arizona Week, we will get the latest developments from Arizona Senate President Steve Pierce, other legislators and others involved in the budgeting process.

Arizona Legislature Arizona Senate President Steve Pierce Gov Jan Brewer,

STATE PERSONNEL REFORM: CLASSIC BATTLE

A bill eliminating most civil-service protections for Arizona state government employees is moving through the House of Representatives. The bill, HB2571, passed the House Employment and Regulatory Affairs Committee last week on a party-line vote of 6-3.

Friday's Arizona Week will delve into the legislation, which is at the top of Gov. Jan Brewer's agenda for this session. We will strive through interviews with supporters and opponents to:

-- Explain the bill's intricacies.

-- Tell why the average Arizonan should care.

-- Explain what the legislation will do to state worker protections and to the overall hiring-and-firing system.

-- Show what implementation would cost or save vs. what occurs under the existing system.

About AZ Week Notebook

News and commentary from Arizona Week producer/host Michael Chihak and interns Melanie Huonker and Lucy Valencia.