The timing for Andy Tobin’s ascension to speaker of the House was pretty favorable. The state is beginning to see an uptick in revenues due to a recovering economy, so the battle over the budget is likely to be less adversarial this session than it was in previous years.
But Tobin cautions against anyone getting the impression that the state has money to burn. As long as the state has debt to pay off, he said he doesn’t think that the unexpected revenue should be seen as a surplus.
On Jan. 6, Tobin, who was elected speaker last April, shared his legislative priorities, wondered how long he should be considered “the new guy” in leadership and revealed who he thinks should “take their words back” on criticizing the Legislature.
With the new leadership setup, with you over here in the House and Steve Pierce over in the Senate…
When are you not new? I’m just trying to figure out how long I’m going to be the new guy.
Well, compared to last session. Do you think there’s going to be any changes to the way things go down here?
We are anxious to continue with the stable policy environment, so people can be confident with what they see in government. I think (former House Speaker) Kirk Adams and I worked very closely together and with our caucus in managing the policies we put forward. I see no reason to veer off course. Clearly, what we have done has been working.
What do you think the budget battle will be like? For a lot of the House members, this is the first time they’re faced with, at least on paper, extra money.
I think they agree with me, by and large. They want government to be efficient, they want to continue to do things that will attract new companies and to especially be sensitive to the companies that lasted through this very difficult time and make sure we’re getting government out of their way.
I would like to see that we can start putting more roads out there and making improvements to rural Arizona. We have infrastructure we need to pay attention to. But you need to be very cautious that you can continue to keep the lights on. It wasn’t that long ago that we weren’t sure we had the money in the checkbook. I was here during those times and I don’t want to go back there.
We were labeled with all kinds of names in the past several years — we were draconian, and we were decimating our state, and I think it’s time for those people to take those words back. Because those are the same people who now want to spend that money that they said wasn’t going to be there.
As far as folks coming in and asking — we have no money. As long as we have an unpaid $300 million per year (in debt), there’s no money. But if we can find ways to further invest in our state, which will pay back to us, then there’s some openings there.
Last session, and during the interim, there were a few instances where it didn’t seem like the governor and the Legislature were on the same page. Would you say there’s tension between the Legislature and the governor?
No, I think where you saw several bills being vetoed, I saw 90 percent of our bills getting signed. The governor doesn’t rubber-stamp legislation she doesn’t like. I think that communication between the Legislature and the Ninth Floor has clearly improved. I don’t want to put things on her desk that she doesn’t like, anyway, and I want to get her feedback.
So, I don’t see that we have an adversarial relationship. The governor is doing a good job, and she has a tough job.
You say you try not to send bills to her desk that you think won’t be signed. Will you change your approach to bills this session because of the vetoes last session?
Let’s be clear — there will be bills that the governor won’t like, but that’s what the Legislature is all about. I’m not going to stop bills from going there just because the governor doesn’t like them. But the bills the governor has already vetoed, I don’t see a point in sending them back as they are. If members can fix them and put them back together and we have a better bill, sure, but I don’t have any plans to just keep on sending her bills she’s already decided on.
Do you consider Governor Brewer to be the head of the Republican Party in Arizona?
Boy, that’s interesting. I’ve always considered the chairman as the head of the Republican Party, but she is the highest-ranking state official. With the congressional delegation, I think you have a very communicative hierarchy, I guess you could say. So, I don’t think anyone’s the head, I think it’s a collective body and we don’t always agree. But I don’t think anyone expects us to always agree.
What are your big policy priorities for this session?
We still are not fully recovered. The economy needs another boost. So, I think the solution is we need government to get out of the way of business so we can create jobs. Right now, the only way left to improve revenues in the state of Arizona is to create jobs. It takes people off AHCCCS and government services, actually has those people buying things and adding to our revenues.
We have a mortgage market that’s still in crisis. We have a significant amount of industrial and commercial space that is not being used, so we are not getting tax revenues from those improvements. So I continue to believe there’s a way to work with the (governor) to improve on that, even if it’s temporary, just to get folks attracted here to move in and occupy that space.
Last year, there was a lot of talk about civility, but that seemed to erode as the year went on. Do you think that will be a buzzword this year?
Well, civility is a two-way street. I think it’s high time that some of the demonstrations and some of the media quit punching at what basically is a quasi-volunteer Legislature. These people give up a lot of their lives to come down here. They’re good, decent public servants and they do the best they can in difficult times.
So, when we talk about civility, that applies to everybody. When I was first elected, I read some of the reports about me, and they said, “Tobin’s got a temper!” The public reads that and they think, “I’m not going to talk to him.” I mean, yeah, I’m passionate — if it was a Democrat, they would have said they were passionate. So, is that civility?