AZ Week Notebook – August 2012
posted by Michael Chihak
Among interesting tidbits in the coming state legislative races, which in combination have the potential to reshape the Legislature and its leadership.
Although not in the Senate, where the top two Republicans, President Steve Pierce and Majority Leader Andy Biggs, are unopposed. The third in command, Sen. Frank Antenori of Tucson, faces a tough fight against former legislator David Bradley.
Eight sitting senators -- five Republicans, three Democrats -- are surrendering their seats for one or another reason -- termed out, running for higher office, running in the House.
Running for the House is Sen. Lori Klein, a first-termer who is taking on House Speaker Andy Tobin. It's a crowded Republican primary, with Rep. Karen Fann of Prescott also on the ballot.
In Pima County, it's mathematically possible that of the 21 legislative seats tied to the Tucson metro area, the number of Republicans elected could be as low as one. That's unlikely, but it is possible because of uncontested seats and redistricting that has put Republicans in more competitive situations.
Does all of this give credence to the GOP complaint -- backed by a lawsuit callenging the new maps -- that redistricting favored Democrats?
We'll discuss fully on Friday's Arizona Week, 8:30 p.m. MST on PBS 6, or online at azweek.com.
posted by Michael Chihak
Friday's Arizona Week will look at how redistricting and other issues have the potential to reshape the Arizona Legislature.
For starters, redistricting has pitted several incumbents -- Republicans and Democrats -- against one another in next week's primary election.
Additionally, several legislators aren't seeking reelection, and newcomers, as always, abound in the races across 30 districts.
Here's a look from The Associated Press' legislative correspondent Paul Davenport:
PHOENIX (AP) — Some big names in Arizona legislative politics face contested races in the Aug. 28 primary election, with redistricting fallout expanding the normal array of intraparty rivalries resulting from ideology and ambition.
Most notably, redistricting set the stage for a three-way contest involving one of the Legislature's most powerful members — House Speaker Andy Tobin — and two other current GOP lawmakers running for two House seats from their north-central Arizona district.
Redistricting is the start-from-scratch drawing of new districts after the once-a-decade Census. In some cases, current lawmakers who have represented different districts were placed together in new districts.
That's what happened to Sen. Lori Klein, who found her home in the Phoenix suburb of Anthem placed in a district dominated by Yavapai County.
Klein decided to run for a Legislative District 1 House seat and face Tobin and Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, rather than challenge Senate President Steve Pierce. He is unopposed in his re-election bid in the same district.
Redistricting plays only figures indirectly in another high-profile race — former Sen. Russell Pearce's comeback attempt in a Mesa district.
Pearce, known nationally for championing virtually every piece of recent Arizona legislation against illegal immigration, left office after losing a recall election last November.
Thanks to redistricting, the recall election winner, Republican Sen. Jerry Lewis, is running in another district, and Pearce faces businessman Bob Worsley in the primary for the GOP nomination for the District 25 Senate seat.
The winner of the Pearce-Worsley race will be the general election favorite in the Republican-leaning district.
But the primary elections results from that district and several others could collectively provide a read on current sentiment of Arizona Republicans, said David Berman, a senior research fellow for the Morrison Institute at Arizona State University.
One of the Legislature's most prominent conservatives, House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh, is locked in a three-way race for two House nominations from District 23 in Scottsdale and Fountain Hills.
The other two candidates in that race are fellow conservative Rep. Michelle Ugenti and Jennifer Petersen, a school board member endorsed by Sen. Michele Reagan, the district's moderate Republican senator.
"That could be another test of where the Republican Party stands," Berman said. "The real story line here is whether conservative Republicans are going to be more conservative or less conservative or just stay where they are," Berman said.
Redistricting figures in another race to watch.
New district lines put Sen. Rich Crandell in District 25 with Pearce, but Crandell chose to move and instead run in neighboring District 16 in east Mesa and Apache Junction.
Crandell will face off in that district's Senate primary against Rep. John Fillmore.
Crandell has a mostly conservative voting record but is regarded as more moderate than Fillmore, who has tea party leanings.
Tobin isn't the only senior legislative leader to face a primary contest.
In central Phoenix, House Minority Leader Chad Campbell and Rep. Lela Alston face a four-way primary with Jean McDermott Cheuvront and Tom Nerini for the Democrats' two nominations from District 24.
That district's Democratic primary features another ex-lawmaker's comeback attempt as ex-Sen. Ken Cheuvront — McDermott's son — and current Rep. Katie Hobbs vie for the party's Senate nomination.
Another current representative trying to win a Senate seat and facing a contested primary is Republican Rep. Nancy McLain of Bullhead City. She's in a three-way race for the GOP nomination in District 5 in northwestern Arizona's Mohave County.
posted by Michael Chihak
Arizona's unemployment rate has stalled at 8.2 percent for three straight months -- April, May and June.
July numbers will be out Thursday, and they could reveal if the state's economy is tipping toward improvement or sliding back toward recession.
Despite the stagnant unemployment rate -- a complexity of factors including people leaving the job market -- the state has shown job growth consistently since the bottom of the recession in April 2010. That month, Arizona's unemployment rate was 10.6 percent.
The rate has declined almost steadily since then, save for a stall at the 9.6-percent mark from March through July 2011.
Arizona's unemployment rate, while at the bottom worse than the national rate, has caught up with it and has run a parallel trend. U.S. unemployment was flat at 8.2 percent in April, may and June, rising to 8.3 percent last month.
It will be important to watch not only what the unemployment rate for Arizona was in July but for where the job growth came. Is construction continuing its rebound? The bellwether tourism and retail staying strong?
Following release of the numbers Thursday, we plan to interview Aruna Murthy, research economist for the state Office of Employment and Population Statistics, for her analysis of the data.
posted by Michael Chihak
Economics being the inexact science that it is, plenty of people play fast and loose with the statistics and the rhetoric. Those plenty of people also go by another name -- politicians.
In a presidential election year, this means we are hearing lots of economics talk from the presidential candidates, who are espousing opposite points of view. About all they agree on is that the economy isn't as strong as it could be.
Are they hitting the right points? Does either have a good economic plan? Is even the best economic plan by one person -- even the president -- enough to make the kind of change needed?
The truth is that the economy is changing before our eyes. The ups and downs we all are experiencing are part of the change. Yet we -- led by our politicians -- want to think it's under some control.
It is under some control -- the control of the market.
The market decides what gasoline should cost, not the president.
The market decides if there's enough capital for business expansion, not the Congress.
The market decides if productivity is high enough, and if it is, people lose jobs or don't get hired. If it isn't, the job market loosens. It's not up to the governor and Legislature.
The market decides if a house is priced right -- no magical formula but an ebb and flow based on other sales, cash availability, emotional factors such as "motivated seller," to quote the real estate ads. Local elected officials are no more than observers of the process like the rest of us.
The president and the people running for other offices high and low don't make these decisions.
They sure act as if they do.
On Friday's Arizona Week, we plan to talk with economists about the state's July unemployment rate, due out Thursday, and the larger issues of how politicians communicate their economic plans, actions and whether they make much difference.
And, what can politicians do about the economy?
posted by Paul Ingram
Facing the twin headwinds of high unemployment and the rising cost of education, recent college graduates in Arizona have the highest student loan default rate in the country, according to data from the Department of Education.
Unlike Montana, where the default rate is about three percent, more than 16 percent of student loans are in default in Arizona, reflecting 44,000 students. The national average is about eight percent.
Each year, the Arizona Board of Regents, which governs the state's university system, including the big three colleges, Arizona State, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, reviews the state of funding and tuition.
According to the report, graduate students have faced the biggest increase in tuition.
For graduate students, tuition increases have driven debt sharply upwards, even compared to undergraduate students. In Arizona, undergraduates debt has increased 17.4 percent from about $18,000 in 2006 to just over $21,000 in 2011, but at the same time graduate debt increased 25 percent from just under $36,000 to nearly $45,000. The national average is $24,000 for undergrads and $47,000 for graduate students.
To account for this, many students use loans to cover their expenses, including tuition, books, computers and other needs.
For both undergraduates and graduate students, student loans remains the largest source of funding, according to data from the Arizona Board of Regents. Federal student loans account for almost 48 percent of funding or $824 million for 2011. Scholarships and grants, from the universities and federal grants are about 41 percent and campus employment is about 10 percent or around $173 million.
Private loans, those that come from banks, credit unions, and private funders like Discover, account for $124 million or about seven percent.
Awards have increased by nearly 75 precent or $745 million in the last five years according to Regents, however, that fails to keep pace with tuition increases which have doubled in the same time.
"Tuition has gone up by about two-hundred percent, more than two-hundred percent," said Dan Sullivan, communications director for the Arizona Students Association. "State-based financial aid is nowhere. So the only place that students have to turn is student loans."
However, the universities are trying. Arizona Board of Regents policy requires each university to set aside 14 precent of tuition revenues for need-based financial aid, however, the Regents requested that amount be shifted to 17 percent. The universities have agreed and have set aside an extra $13 million to the 130 million already set aside since 2011.
posted by Paul Ingram
New changes for graduate and professional students instituted by Congress will add more pressure to students, who already face tuition increases and a faltering economy.
According to data from the Project on Student Debt, using data from the Department of Education, the average debt for a student in Arizona is $18,454, putting Arizona among the bottom five of student debt by state. While nearly half of Arizona graduates carry some debt, they remain below the national average in total debt load.
Students in New Hampshire had the highest debt load, carrying on average of $31,048 for a four-year degree, while students in Utah had the lowest at $15,550.
South Dakota contained the largest number of students who carried some debt, more than three-fourths of students in the state had debt, while Hawaii had the lowest number at 38 percent. Nationally, more than 50 percent of students graduating from a four-year degree carried debt, owing around $23,000.
Though Arizona graduates remain low in the average debt, the sate had one of the highest numbers of people in default on their federal loans in fiscal 2009, according to figures released the U.S. Department of Education.
While Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University have not raised their respective tuitions this year, in the last ten years, the residential tuition for students at Arizona's state universities has nearly tripled.
University of Arizona students have faced the largest increase. In 2002, tuition was $2583 for full-time residents and $11,103 for non-residents. This year, tuition at the University of Arizona, the highest tuition among the three, $10,035 for full-time residents and $26,231 for non-residents.
Nationally, two-thirds of college seniors graduated with loans in 2010, and they carried an average of $25,250 in debt.
Tuition increases drive large increases in student loans. Recent information from both the Arizona Board of Regents and the US Department of Education note a sharp uptick in student loans in Arizona of 17 percent, one of the highest in the nation.
At the same time, the Bureau of Labor estimates that unemployment for recent college graduates climbed from 8.7% in 2009 to 9.1% in 2010, the highest annual rate on record for college graduates aged 20 to 24.