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UpClose with Matt Heinz

Matt Heinz  (Photo by Bill Coates)

Matt Heinz (Photo by Bill Coates)

Everything about the Legislature’s resident practicing doctor seems to go a mile a minute. He has a jam-packed schedule, a penchant for problem-solving and a sharp and sarcastic sense of humor. A conversation with him jumps from one topic to another, then back again.

Rep. Matt Heinz is nearing the end of his first legislative session, but the 32-year-old freshman from Tucson’s District 29 has already diagnosed the Legislature’s ailments and is ready to prescribe the needed treatment. Whether it’s the budget crisis, the priorities of lawmakers, the Republican caucus or simply the dysfunction of the Capitol, he has solutions at the ready.

Heinz spoke with Arizona Capitol Times on June 10 about all of those things and more.

So, tell me about the state budget.
We’re still figuring out the damage that they’re doing. Despite the fact that this was the second budget vote that I missed — and my non-presence usually means that I’m taking care of people who are sick or dying — I still have aggressive opposition (to the Republican-backed budget). I stood up in COW and opposed it before I left.

I waited and waited and waited (for the vote), and I was late at that point, so I had to go back (to the hospital). They change the schedule with such frequency that I can’t possibly expect my group to figure that out. They’re already a little annoyed that I’m still up here, so I told them to put me on a three-quarter schedule, which is 50 percent more than what I was working in March.

You work at Tucson Medical Center, right?
Yeah, at TMC, as a hospitalist. And I’m a nocturnist — I work 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shifts. It’s not like I just sleep and go in if they need me. I’m in there. I’m admitting usually somewhere between 12 and 28 patients and taking care of people who are coming through the emergency department. And all of the 140 or 150 patients in the hospital who are from my group are dependent on me if they try to die or something happens — if a heart attack occurs or a stroke occurs or someone falls out of bed and breaks a hip, I have to be there to fix it.

How many days are you working at the hospital?
Well, right now, I’ve condensed, so I’m seeing a few more patients than I normally would each night on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights on alternate weekends. It sounds like 36 hours twice a month, but it’s a little bit more than that. They give me 50 percent of my salary for that.
This is an interesting job to have to pay to subject yourself to.

You mean the job up here, at the Capitol?
Yeah. Not the hospital one — that’s great.

In the months I’ve been experiencing this, I’ve talked to many people, and I think there are a lot of things we need to fix. I think we need to reform Clean Elections — a lot. It’s allowed for a polarization of this body that, while I don’t know if it’s unparalleled, I bet it is.

We need to figure out something to do with term limits — not to eliminate them, but to revise them.

Some of our seasoned members need to (be able to) stay on to provide some historical context so we don’t keep flipping out 50 percent of the body every couple of years. I think we’re going to lose 14 or 15 out of the Senate and something around 24 in the House. (Note: 11 senators will be termed out in 2010, as will 13 representatives.)

And definitely the per-diem thing. I don’t mind not getting a ton of money for a salary, because this is a public service and I’m here to serve the people and this is what I signed up for. But expenses? You’ve got to take care of our expenses.

Like what?
Gas isn’t exactly cheap, and it’s going up because it’s summer.

Our statutes don’t index things, and they should. It should (be tied to) whatever the federal rate of this or that is, or the state-approved rate for reimbursing our own personnel. And then, at some point, maybe a more reasonable salary for lawmakers.

Maybe, someday, an incentive for average starting teacher pay would be to make the average starting teacher pay across all districts correspond to what legislators make.

These things all need to be fixed, and not because I want more money. I can stop doing this and instantly make six figures more than I’m making now. I think those are things that are causing the institution to degrade, in terms of the quality of the membership that we have here, the knowledge and the background of the membership we have here — and retention.

What’s your take on this place in five months?
It’s a study in poorly contained entropy. It’s absolutely chaotic. I like the word “maelstrom,” and I think it applies. It’s certainly spectacular in its own way, and it’s a spectacular failure, too, unfortunately.

I don’t like questioning motives. I think there are a lot of people here who believe they are doing the right thing. I think there are a lot of people in the majority who really aren’t Republican, but are libertarian — just anti-government. That’s not Goldwater, that’s — well, I don’t know libertarians real well, but that’s someone else. That’s not serving us. I think we’re starting to get so distracted by extreme ideology that the majority is beholden to a group of nine or 10 or 12 people, and they’re completely holding the process hostage.

And because 37 people chose to sign the Grover Norquist “no tax pledge,” the entire body is held hostage. It is amazing. You don’t sign something that says you’ll never do something the Legislature is supposed to do. Article 11, Section 10 of the state Constitution says the Legislature is to establish a public school system to be adequately funded with funds appropriated by the Legislature, to be met by taxation! Why would you ever sign something like that? It means no tax reform, because reform usually means some things go up and some go down.

I think that the pledge is a violation of the Constitution and I think, with due respect to Ruth McGregor, she should have been swatting some of those people who took that pledge. Because when you take an oath to uphold the Constitution, it might just require a tax increase. It’s like a CEO taking a position and signing something before they took the job saying they would not lay off a single person. You should never, ever limit yourself.

We already have a really low tax base. We only levy a sales tax on less than 50 percent of our economy. Compare that to Washington state, which has roughly the same number of people and is a Western state. They have $17.5 billion that they’re appropriating in 2010. And that includes a large cut of about $4 billion or so.

What do you make of the claims that Arizona’s government is too big?
It is factually not supportable.

The Tax Foundation ranks us at 41st (in state spending per capita). Washington state is ranked 19th. They have 70 percent more that they’re appropriating for their schools and their roads and their parks and all these other things, and yet they are not this crazy, over-taxed population. People there are not voting with their feet and running away. They have a diverse portfolio of revenue sources so people don’t feel too put upon by the tax code.

I think that when people say the government of Arizona is too large, most of those folks are in that group that I mentioned before, the quasi-libertarian, anti-government wing of the majority. I would refer them to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, because Arizona, in their most recent compendium of states, is state No. 2 — as in the second-leanest state. We have the third-fewest public employees per 10,000 residents. I don’t even have to go to NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures) or some crazy, nut-ball left-wing organization to get these numbers.

We’re not a tiny state. We’re, what, the 12th or 13th largest state? The way we’re growing, we’re pushing into the top 10 soon. We need to recognize our size, and we need to make decisions that are responsible for the people of our state.

We’re at $5,200 annual in per-pupil funding — 51st in the nation, if you include Washington, D.C. Our test scores put us at 31st nationally if you look at the embedded questions in AIMS. These are not things that I’ve created or that the Democrats or Republicans have created. These are just numbers that independent organizations have collected.

In medicine, I can’t ignore data. If I see that you have an infection, I need to give you an antibiotic or I will get taken to court and have my license removed. Starving an asthmatic child of oxygen — that’s how I look at how the Republicans have been addressing this state. That’s not appropriate.

Another frustrating thing for me is hearing people talk about how we have to make so many cuts and there’s no alternative, and if the people really want a tax increase, we’ll have to refer it to the ballot so they can approve it. Or, maybe, just maybe, we could have a situation where a few people who were voted into office by a lot of people could come to one place, discuss important issues and, in a crisis, raise taxes on their behalf. Too bad we don’t have one of those.

I think that we need to recognize that we’re not a small- or medium-sized Western pioneer state anymore. Seventy-five percent of the population comes from somewhere else, like me. I moved here from Michigan, and I love it.

We are here in the middle of June. We don’t have a realistic budget, and it seems like the folks in control don’t really know what’s going on. There’s a complete and total leadership vacuum, which is strange.

The way it seems to me, the majority is approaching this is like diabetic children in a candy store. They’re going crazy because there’s a Republican governor in place who’s going to sign a lot of this really, really nutty legislation that’s going to do some bad stuff to certain people in this state, whether it’s anti-immigration, anti-woman or anti-health, anti-gay, anti-whatever. There’s going to be a lot of stuff in there that I think we really shouldn’t be doing as a Legislature to our people. I think, in their zeal to foist that upon the population of our state — which I believe, by and large, would prefer we not concentrate on that now — they’re putting themselves into a diabetic coma.

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