As one of only three representatives in their fourth and final term in the state House, Speaker Andy Tobin, a Republican from Paulden, has more institutional knowledge than most. He has risen through the ranks from freshman, to the majority whip, to majority leader, to the top position in the House. Tobin, who because of term limits is unable to run for re-election to the House, has seen the state through surplus and deficit. Looking back on his time in the Legislature, he is determined to leave the state in better condition than it was when he was first elected.
Medicaid promises to be a big topic in the session. Is a hospital bed tax on the table to pay for AHCCCS expansion?
Yeah, well you forget we’ve done issues like this bed tax before. You’re the only one that’s asked me about it in the press. That Maricopa Integrated Health System that was just passed here, that was because the House of Representatives passed legislation two years ago to make it work. Just last year, we had the nursing home piece, and that’s already passed. So it’s not like we’re unreasonable and we can’t find ways… I think that this Legislature is very interested in making sure we have a vibrant economy, that we make sure our hospitals are working, so yeah. I brought the hospitals in years ago to discuss this very issue and they opposed it. So it’s a little schizophrenic sometimes when you’re dealing with them.
Is the state in any position to restore some of the deep cuts from the past couple years, and if so, are we talking about one-time spending only or are there some areas where we bring back ongoing spending?
That’s the key factor. Is it going to be ongoing spending, which we really have to look out for? I and other members are very insistent in making sure that this budget process goes out several years. I could make a budget next year and make it look really good, and watch (fiscal year) ‘15 and ’16 go off a cliff. So that’s not where we want to go. That’s going to dictate the answer. Where is the additional revenue coming from to offset these expenditures?… Ongoing costs are going to be looked at very speculatively because we don’t want to fall off this edge. I had to cut half-a-billion dollars out of AHCCCS. We had to cut billions of dollars. Putting people back on and raising those costs and then cutting them again later is very painful and the way the Legislature was treated for making those difficult cuts in the media proves to me that it’s not worth it. You gotta just make sure you’re forecasting better.
You caught a lot of flack in the election season for the Goldwater Institute public employee union bills that didn’t make it out of the House. Can we just put this to rest here? Why didn’t they get a floor hearing?
Well, because Russell Pearce opposed it. So while the Senate was negotiating away other labor bills, they got votes on this bill to send it over here. And then Russell Pearce opposed the bills, Mr. Conservative, so while he’s opposing, he’s pulling my votes off. We didn’t have the votes. That’s the answer.
And what about the people out there who say it has something to do with your brother being a former union leader?
My brother, who is a former Arizona Professional Firefighter Association president, and I love him very dearly, he sat right here and helped us negotiate 1609, which was the pension reform bill for public service pensions. And he got beat up from his guys… I don’t make decisions off of what my brother and my relationship is. If I’d have done that, my mother would be down here running the state Legislature. I just don’t go there.
Do you think they have a chance to pass this year? Goldwater is planning to introduce the majority of these pieces again.
I assume their reasoning is that union dollars attack Arizona Republicans. Well if that’s the case, show me where police and fire attack Republicans… Goldwater’s opinion that Arizona is not doing enough on labor reform, I find it fascinating because we get beat up from labor all the time. I think we’re at six or seven bills we’ve passed, anti-labor bills. Bigger than anywhere else in the country, and by the way, we’re already a right to work state… What you have left, sitting in the back pocket of whoever, is this paycheck bill that is specifically going after public safety, and traditionally we don’t have the votes for that. Republicans support public safety.
You’ve talked about how you want to see some election reform bills come out of the House. Minority leader Chad Campbell has proposed a bipartisan study committee. What do you think of the idea?
Well it’s interesting because the minority leader keeps saying let’s have bipartisanship, and in a letter he just wrote to your paper, he slaughters the majority. I’m like, you can’t come out and say “I want to be bipartisan” and then go “and those guys suck.” That’s just not the way you do things.
Democrats picked up four seats in the House in the last election. What differences are those gains going to make, and do you see it as a mandate to start working with Democrats more?
Well, first off it’s the second highest number of Republicans since I’ve been here, so clearly the two-thirds (majority) was a high water mark. I don’t think we’ve done that but three times in our history… My office is always open and the minority knows they can come in here and talk. I was sad last year that we didn’t have more of the minority supporting the budget. They could have really been a bigger part of that, but they decided not to, and it was a political decision and that’s fine. But the Republicans put money back into infrastructure in the state and into education and the seriously mentally ill. Those are all things that the minority voted no on. For those that are interested in the minority, my office is always open. Come on in and see me, I’d be happy to chat.