The Prop 400 package put together by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) is in serious trouble at the legislature, and Katie Hobbs and the transit lobby knows it. So, in a desperate attempt to rescue their defective plan, they have phoned a friend to see if a little legacy media pressure will improve their flagging fortunes at the Capitol.
In recent weeks, the AZ Republic has unleashed a torrent of articles and opinion pieces attempting to scare the legislature into sending their transit slush fund package up to Hobbs’ desk. Most of their writings have been nothing more than recycled talking points from MAG and transit industry lobbyists attacking conservative lawmakers and critics (like the Club) for opposing a plan that slashes freeway funding and increases traffic congestion in the region.
A couple weeks ago it was in the form of an editorial that claimed to disprove our Prop 400 criticism by “relitigating” the merits of bus and light rail and proving its value in the region. And now over the weekend, their opinion writers couldn’t race out fast enough to promote the press release issued by Katie Hobbs and the transit lobby that the legislature needs to adopt a fake “compromise” MAG plan.
In short, their efforts to “relitigate” the merits of transit or to declare that there is any type of “compromise” only demonstrate how radical their position really is.
Here are just a few examples of how the Republic has veered from journalism to being nothing more than a lobbying arm of the transit lobby:
Gannett, parent company to the Arizona Republic, will commence layoffs and diminish salaries following a poor second quarter last week.
Gannett, which also owns half of the Arizona Daily Star, said in a press release that this “significant cost reduction program” would help pay down $150 to $200 million of their debt. The media conglomerate reported a net loss of $53.7 million, or over 7 percent of its margin. Gannett also experienced a 7 percent decrease in revenues, despite digital revenues increasing 1.5 percent to make up 35 percent of total revenues.
The Tucson Sentinel said that its sources confirmed that Gannett tasked managers with layoffs. Poynter sources clarified that salary cuts will have a 10 percent minimum, and that layoffs begin on Friday.
These layoffs will come, despite Gannett’s participation in initiatives like the Big Tech-funded program, Report for America, which supplied and covered portions of reporter salaries at 21 of its papers, including the Arizona Republic. The paper has hired three Report for America reporters so far. Report for America received an undisclosed sum of $5,000 to $50,000 from Gannett.
Report for America covers at least half of its reporters’ salaries the first year, a third of their salaries the second year, and just under a quarter of their salaries the third year, with the offer to cover the remainder of these salaries through fundraising.
The Arizona Republic subscriber base has declined over the years. According to their latest Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing, their daily circulation was just over 109,000, with a Sunday circulation of over 320,200. That’s about 1.5 percent and 4 percent of the total Arizona population, respectively, and marks a decline of over 7,000 from 2020.
In 2019, their circulation numbers fell below 100,000, marking the steepest decline among Gannett papers.
The SEC filing reflected that the Arizona Republic is Gannett’s fourth-largest major news publication, with the third-largest daily and Sunday circulations.
USA Today has a daily circulation of nearly 781,200 and a Sunday circulation of nearly 534,600; Detroit Free Press has a daily circulation of over 83,700 and a Sunday circulation of over 896,600; and the Columbus Dispatch has a daily circulation of nearly 137,800 and a Sunday circulation of over 134,700.
Comparatively, the New York Times reported a $76 million profit for their second quarter despite being a smaller company than Gannett.
Gannett’s report inspired new criticisms from its journalists and their unions across the country. The Media Guild of the West indicated that Gannett’s recent decline occurred because the conglomerate was more concerned with corporate lobbying than sustaining newsrooms.
The guild cited Gannett’s network-wide advertising and editorial campaign in support of the Journalism Competition and Protection Act (JCPA) to remove antitrust restrictions preventing Gannett from being paid for content to appear on the platform feeds of social media giants like Google and Facebook.
The guild noted that Gannett authorized its CEO to buy more company stock rather than invest in retaining journalists.
The largest newspaper in Arizona hired two new reporters with the help of a group funded by some of the country’s most powerful Big Tech corporations and liberal companies.
The new Arizona Republic reporters came from Report for America, a program launched by the Big Tech and liberal-funded GroundTruth Project to place their hand-selected journalists in newsrooms across the world. The not-for-profit receives millions from the likes of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and the Ford Foundation for its mission to “restore journalism.”
The program offers a major financial incentive for news outlets to take on its reporters. Report for America pays 50 percent of their reporter’s salary the first year with a cap of $25,000 for reporters with less than eight years experience or $30,000 for reporters with eight or more years of experience, then 33 percent of the salary the second year and 20 percent the third year with no cap.
Outlets don’t even have to worry about paying for the entire remainder of those reporters’ salaries. The program pledged to help fundraise half or more of the remainder of each salary. High turnover wouldn’t be an issue, either — the program requires reporters to commit to working at least two years in the newsroom to which they are assigned.
News outlets must relinquish some of their freedom when it comes to hiring the program’s reporters, however. Outlets don’t get to choose from all of the program’s reporters. Report for America hand-selects three to five candidates from which the outlets may choose.
The owner of the Arizona Republic, the mass media holding company Gannett, has given thousands to the program: an undisclosed sum ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.
In addition to the Arizona Republic, Report for America journalists are working for Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting and Tucson Sentinel.
Report for America claimed that its reporters are committed to non-partisan, non-ideological local reporting. Over 200 news outlets across each of the 50 states house at least one of the over 300 Report for America journalists. Two-thirds of those reporters are women, and nearly half are “journalists of color” according to the program.
GroundTruth’s editorial partners include The Washington Post, Time, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Guardian, USA Today, PBS, NPR, NewsWeek, TeenVogue, CNN, Cosmopolitan, ABC News, and USA Today.
The article begins and ends with a heart‐wrenching story about a California‐licensed veterinarian who received a temporary Arizona license, granted under a 1967 law, to work at a Mesa, Arizona clinic. She’s been accused of poor surgical technique while operating on a kitten brought to the clinic on death’s doorstep. The kitten died and the vertinarian was fired from the clinic. Her temporary license expired after 30 days, and she was never granted the permanent license for which she applied. Yet readers are expected to view this as an indictment of Arizona’s universal licensing law.
Universal licensing dilutes the authority of state occupational licensing boards, so it is no surprise that a spokesperson from an organization representing that constituency, the Federation of Associations of Regulatory Boards, would be quoted in the article criticizing universal licensing over the fact that Arizona grants licenses to workers from states with less onerous licensing requirements—providing their out‐of‐state licenses are in good standing for at least a year.
It is wrong to assume that more onerous requirements are better. In many cases, incumbent occupations lobby state licensing boards to make requirements tougher for new entrants, usually “grandfathering” those already licensed, to reduce competition. Thus, EMTs must complete, on average, 33 days of training and pass 2 exams to get a license while cosmetologists need 11 months of training and interior designers need 73.
When it comes to the medical profession, licensing requirements are virtually identical in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They include graduating an accredited medical school, passing a standardized national licensing exam, and completing at least one year of postgraduate training. Yet few people realize that private third‐party certification organizations do the heavy lifting when it comes to quality assurance.
For example, I am a general surgeon. As a licensed medical doctor, I can legally decide to switch my specialty to obstetrics and gynecology or dermatology or even psychiatry and display it on my door. However, health care facilities will not grant me practicing privileges without proof I completed postgraduate training in the specialty and will likely require board certification. Specialty boards will not grant me certification unless I complete accredited specialty training and pass their exams. Health plans will not include me on their provider panels without proof I completed the specialty training, and I will be unable to get malpractice insurance coverage for the same reason. Note how many independent, private third parties provide information and protection to consumers of already‐licensed physicians. These are the real guarantors of safety.
The Republic report implies to readers that malpractice is automatically a reason to deny or revoke a license. Oftentimes, when medical or other professional malpractice cases are settled, the defendants do not stipulate to liability. Both settlements and convictions get reviewed by licensing boards. But unless convictions are repetitive or egregious, boards rarely restrict or revoke licenses. The same is true when boards investigate complaints directly lodged by customers or patients.
Yet the authors of the report infer that something must be amiss if an applicant receives a universal license from a licensing board when they have a history of a malpractice settlement in the state where they are already licensed. If every malpractice settlement justified denying or revoking a license, the entire country would have a desperate shortage of doctors, dentists, and other health care practitioners.
Historically, it has been the incumbent members of professions and occupations who lobbied state legislatures to license and regulate them—not the customers, clients, or patients. While incumbents promoted licensing under the guise of protecting the public, they were really protecting themselves by reducing competition from new entrants and, in the process, inflating prices for their services. The report’s authors cite another organization that represents the interests of incumbents, the Alliance For Responsible Professional Licensing, that defends occupational licensing by saying “licensing helps to solve problems of income disparity, boosting wages most at the bottom end of skill distribution.” But that doesn’t account for the innumerable people who are locked out of the opportunity to lift themselves from poverty by using their skills to make an honest living.
For example, at one time Arizona required African‐style hair braiders to spend nearly one year and close to $10,000 to get a cosmetology license, which includes training to use chemicals to dye or treat hair, as well as hair cutting. They’re taught nothing about hair braiding. A lawsuit pushed lawmakers to end that requirement in Arizona, but such obstacles to hair braiders still exist in several other states. Louisiana florists “protected” the pubic from people who want to simply arrange flowers by successfully lobbying for a law that requires them to get a license. License requirements include passing a four‐hour exam during which the applicant must arrange flowers while being judged by licensed florists. Louisiana is the only state that licenses flower arrangers. Does the Federation of Associations of Regulatory Boards criticize Arizona for having less onerous requirements on flower arrangers who relocate from Louisiana? The Republic’s reporters didn’t say.
The proliferation of occupational licensing laws, from interior decorators to fire alarm installers, may have boosted the income of those protected by a license, but they have prevented many people from lifting themselves out of poverty by entering such fields of endeavor. Indeed, in 2016 President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors issued a report detailing how licensing leads to higher prices and reduced opportunity. The Obama administration convinced Congress to appropriate grants to help states “enhance the portability of occupational licensing.”
Furthermore, most state licensing boards deny licenses to people who have a history of a felony conviction. With nearly one‐third of Americans these days having a record in the criminal justice system, licensing laws deny many people a second chance to better themselves. In May 2021 Governor Ducey signed into law HB 2067, which provides “Certificate[s] of Second Chance” to people convicted of certain felonies, which will help them obtain occupational and business licenses. The law does not apply universally to all crimes and convictions. For example, driving with a suspended license and criminal speeding are among the convictions excluded. Nevertheless, the new law at least helps some who’ve made mistakes in the past to clear the occupational licensing hurdle and forge a new and better life.
Arizona ignited a national trend in breaking down barriers to people of all backgrounds seeking to make an honest living while expanding options and choice for consumers. Universal licensing reform has bipartisan appeal. From blue states like New Jersey to red states like Missouri, lawmakers are uniting around the goal of removing the barriers to upward mobility that occupational licensing laws erect. Sadly, by citing irrelevant narratives, cherry‐picking data, and failing to provide adequate context, the Arizona Republic article did this reform a great injustice.
This article originally appeared on the Cato Institute blog and can be found here.
Last week the Arizona Republic published a five-part series by news reporter Craig Harris which suggested something improper occurred when Gov. Doug Ducey’s office was consulted about a tax challenge filed by Carter Oil with the Arizona Department of Revenue (ADOR).
CJ Karamargin, for one, was not impressed.
Which matters, because Karamargin is Ducey’s director of communications. He is also a former journalist, having worked for the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen.
So when Karamargin took to Twitter on Sunday with a 10-part critique of Harris’ series, people listened. The critique used words such as conjecture and innuendo. And that was among some of his nicer comments.
“No one I’ve talked to can understand the story or reporting. Probably because it doesn’t make sense and doesn’t get basic facts right,” Karamargin wrote in tweet #1. One of those incorrect facts, he tweeted, is that someone named in the article as being a former employee had never worked for Ducey.
“When a reporter can’t even get names right, you’ve got a problem,” he wrote in tweet #3.
Karamargin also points out that some of the former public servants who provided information to Harris were in fact “disgruntled former employees” of the state whom the newspaper had previously reported about.
Once he got to tweet #5, Karamargin was on a roll.
“The accusations are false,” he wrote about suggestions in the articles that state officials considered a settlement in the ADOR tax challenge because someone connected to the matter could potentially be helpful to Ducey in a possible presidential run.
“Losing the case in court would have caused a ripple effect, impacting many more industries and businesses,” Karamargin wrote. “This would not only have had a significant impact on these businesses — it would have had a much more significant impact on state revenue than settling.”
In the end, there was no settlement with Carter Oil because the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the state.
“So this story is about something that did not happen,” tweet #8 says. Then Karamargin did a little explaining about how things work in the executive branch of state government.
“Our office does not lobby state agencies; they report to us. Agency directors aren’t free agents…And they do not make decisions that have potentially 100s of millions of $ in impact to the state without consulting us.”
One of those named throughout Harris’ series is Carlton Woodruff, who was removed by Ducey as ADOR’s director in December. Woodruff’s departure amid a disagreement with the governor’s office over how to respond to a court challenge to Prop 208, the Invest in Education Act. The only comments at the time came from Karamargin.
“The role of state agencies is not to take policy positions but to implement the law,” he said, adding that Woodruff’s removal was “unrelated” to how the Carter Oil tax challenge was handled.