The Skinny

Details To Follow

Gov. Doug Ducey's State of the State sounded good, but what are his actual plans?

In his State of the State address, Gov. Doug Ducey promised a new approach to government: "These next few weeks, we could all use the fresh outlook of newcomers, not trapped in the old ways of thinking about state spending, taxes, public education and the role of government in general.

In government, just as in business, settled assumptions are not always correct assumptions. Conventional wisdom is not always wisdom."

But Ducey also stuck by a bedrock GOP article of faith: Taxes hikes are always bad. He reiterated his opposition to new taxes or delaying planned corporate tax cuts that are projected to cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars as a way to address the state's projected billion-dollar shortfall in the upcoming budget year.

He also called for an income tax cut of sorts, by pegging Arizona's tax brackets to inflation.

Ducey said he would look to cut state government to deal with the red ink, with the details coming when he releases his budget this Friday, Jan. 16.

Ducey put most of the emphasis on education: He wants get more money into the classroom, settle the lawsuit between schools and the Legislature over school funding, and make sure kids to learn basic civics.

Ducey also offered the idea of an "Arizona Public School Achievement District."

Details on the proposal remained sketchy as of our deadline, but the general idea is to allow successful public schools to use classrooms or entire shuttered schools.

We're intrigued by the idea, but wonder how it's going work.

Would charter schools have to pay rent if they open in closed public schools?

Who covers the cost of utilities?

Are principals at traditional schools interested in opening up branch campuses in certain classrooms of underperforming schools?

This could be an innovative idea, or it could be a giveaway to charter-school owners.

We won't know until we see the details.

The lack of details also struck state Rep. Bruce Wheeler (D-Tucson), who said the speech was short on specifics.

"It was a pretty speech with no details," said Wheeler, the Democrats' assistant minority leader. "We'll have the details on Friday and then we'll see. ... He wants to reach across and we're willing to work with him where we can, but I don't see how he's going to accomplish what he wants without further cuts to education and the universities. What plans does he have for vouchers and how much of that will be at the expense of public schools?"

Accounting Tricks

McSally hires former Giffords staffer, votes for ACA changes that will help biz but increase deficit

Congresswoman Martha McSally made an unexpected choice when she named a former spokesman for Gabby Giffords as her district director in her Southern Arizona office. C.J. Karamargin, a former political reporter for the morning daily and a food writer for the now-shuttered Tucson Citizen, will be heading up the local office.

The district director gig is a vital job that involves keeping up connections with the region's political players, business community, nonprofits and a host of other special interests, as well as ensuring that constituents find the help they need. It was the role that Ron Barber played for Giffords before he won the office himself after she stepped down in 2012.

By tapping Karamargin, McSally has found someone who, by virtue of his experience in Giffords' office, understands the local political landscape, as well as constituent issues. And Karamargin, who declined our request for an interview, had recently been demoted from his vice-chancellorship at the troubled Pima Community College, so he may have figured it was best to walk before they made him run.

Back in Washington, McSally voted with her GOP colleagues to advance a number of measures, including HR30, which would change the definition of a full-time worker for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act from 30 hours a week to 40 hours a week.

That legislation puts two of McSally's campaign promises at odds with each other. She had pledged to work to undo the Affordable Care Act but also bring federal spending under control. While the vote would bring changes to the ACA, the Congressional Budget Office also estimated that it would cause a million Americans to lose their company-provided health insurance while expanding the deficit by nearly $54 billion over the next 10 years. The CBO forecast suggested that at least a half-million of those who lost their employment-based health insurance would end up being insured by Medicaid, at least in states that have expanded Medicaid under the ACA.

The Obama administration announced that the legislation was headed for a veto, should it pass Congress. The official statement from the White House said, in part, that the legislation "would significantly increase the deficit, reduce the number of Americans with employer-based health insurance coverage, and create incentives for employers to shift their employees to part-time work—causing the problem it intends to solve."

McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak said McSally believed revising the ACA's mandate would help employers avoid cutting hours for their workers.

"The 30-hour work week provision in Obamacare could have drastic effects on workers, significantly reducing their hours and wages," Ptak said. "With workers already struggling throughout Southern Arizona, the last thing the government should be doing is incentivizing cutting their hours. The bipartisan bill passed in the House last week restores the work week to a more accurate 40-hours and allows employers to focus on hiring more workers instead of paying more in Obamacare penalties."

Speaking of the CBO, McSally was among the Republicans who voted to change the way the office determines the cost of changes in legislation. GOP leaders have long pushed for so-called "dynamic scoring" in CBO estimates, which means that government accountants should include a boost in economic activity as a result of tax cuts.

That change has been criticized by left-leaning commentators as a way for Republicans to rig the future costs of their policies, particularly when it comes to tax-cut proposals. As Jonathan Chait of New York magazine put it: "The new, 'dynamic' CBO will be systematically biased to make conservative proposals appear misleadingly cheap and liberal proposals misleadingly costly to the public fisc. This would be true even if the Republicans were soliciting a fair range of forecasting perspectives. By its design, the dynamic scoring rule allows the party in power to game its effects."

But Ptak said the changes were no big deal.

"Often, the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation already prepare estimates for a bill's larger impact on our economy, instead of just the Treasury's bottom line, as was done for immigration and budget legislation last year," Ptak said. "This provision simply requires they include those findings in their official estimates, giving lawmakers more information as they consider legislation that will have a major effect on our economy."

"Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel" airs every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on KGUN-9. This week's scheduled guests are Pima County Republican Party chairman Bill Beard and Pima County Democratic Party chairwoman Cheryl Cage.

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