Debate Brings Education, Growth Props Under Fire

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About 250 people turned out to hear spirited debates on the state's controlled-growth and education-funding propositions at the Payson High School auditorium Tuesday evening.

Following an opening presentation on all the initiatives by Alberto Olivas of the Secretary of State's office, the debaters squared off on Proposition 202, which would require communities of more than 2,500 people to draw a 10-year growth boundary based on state population projections.

202 opposition

Arguing against the initiative were Bill Feldmeier, the governor's representative for Northern Arizona, and Tom Farley, a lobbyist. Due to a cancellation, their lone opponent was Ken Sweat, a businessman and instructor at Arizona State University.

During the course of the debate Feldmeier and Farley focused repeatedly on the urban sprawl they think will result when communities are forced to grow upward rather than outward. "There will be more traffic and there will be more air pollution," Farley said.

The pair also said that what is good for one community is not necessarily good for all communities.

"Payson," Farley said, "does not have the same problems as Phoenix and, therefore, should not have to follow the same initiatives."

They also criticized the provision that would allow any person, regardless of residency, to sue any person, including public officials.

"That means if I live in Mesa, I can come up here and sue Payson, even though you determined the growth plan that I'm suing you over," Feldmeier said.

Finally, the anti-202 pair said, Arizona residents will lose certain personal rights if the initiative becomes law.

"If you have land outside the growth boundary, you will not be able to get a building permit," Feldmeier said.

He also thinks that the four-fifths super-majority necessary to override an established growth boundary violates a basic tenet of democracy. "With the three-person county board of supervisors, that means it would take a unanimous vote to override the growth boundary. For a seven-person body like the Payson Town Council, it would take six out of seven votes," Feldmeier said. "This is a change from majority rule to minority rule, and this translates into a loss of personal rights and personal freedoms."

In favor of 202

Sweat argued that passing 202 is the only way the people of Arizona can maintain their quality of life. And, he emphasized, it is the people of Payson who would develop and approve their own growth plan.

"Besides, he said, "the initiative requires a new plan to be developed every 10 years, so it's not like you will be locked into this forever."

Sweat then accused Feldmeier and Farley of intentionally attempting to mislead the audience. "There is nothing in this initiative that prohibits anyone from getting a building permit," he said.

Sweat also took exception to his opponents' dire predictions about outsiders filing lawsuits.

"This proposition only allows somebody to sue to stop somebody who is breaking the law," he said. "There will be no added incentive for lawyers to sue. All this does is give us the right to stop somebody from bulldozing a woods when they're not supposed to be doing that."

In fact, Sweat said, 202 would actually protect property rights.

"This initiative doesn't stop growth," he said. "It allows the voters of Payson to decide what is best for Payson. It gives your community the tools you need to both control and encourage growth."

In his closing argument, Sweat referred to the debate as a clash of ideas.

"This is about who should be responsible for Arizona's future the developers or the people," he said. "I say the people."

Delivering the closing remarks for the opposition, Farley said that 202 would result in more crowded schools and other problems associated with a higher population density.

"If this proposition passes, only the lawyers win," he said.

The learning curve

During the debate over Proposition 301, which would increase the state sales tax six-tenths of 1 percent to repair aging buildings, fund a variety of educational programs, and raise teacher salaries, Jeff Thomas, a former teacher currently working for the Arizona Education Association, matched wits with Jon Burroughs, the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Congress in District 1.

301 opposition

Burroughs began by good-naturedly acknowledging that Libertarians are a "rare breed," and pointed out that his party stands for less government and no tax increases.

"The public school system is a monopoly," he said, "and monopolies never serve as well as where there is competition."

Throughout the debate Burroughs repeatedly hammered home the points that 45 percent of the general-fund budget in Arizona is spent on education, and that only 56 cents of every dollar finds its way into Arizona's classrooms.

"If we pass 301, I say we will just be throwing good money after bad," he said.

While conceding that teachers do need more incentives, he downplayed the idea that more money was the answer.

"I'm not interested in how much this guarantees funding for starting teachers," he said.

What is needed, Burroughs said, is a free-market system and not a bureaucracy. Emphasizing a basic tenet of the Libertarian philosophy, he asked, "Do you want to trust more of your money in the hands of government?"

In favor of 301

In his opening remarks, Thomas said that he was born in 1963, and that "in my lifetime this is the best chance we've had to make a difference in education in the state of Arizona."

Thomas said he left teaching because he couldn't live on the salary it paid, adding that, "Proposition 301 will put the value of teachers back in the classroom."

Arizona ranks 50th in the nation in expenditures per student, he said. "You get the results you put in."

He also pointed out that 301 allocates absolutely no money for administration.

"Most of the money would go straight into the classroom," he said.

On the subject of teacher accountability, Thomas said teachers have no problem with being held responsible if the vehicle for doing so is fair. And, he added, "301 provides $104.9 million for performance-based pay increases."

The closing statements of the two opponents dramatically staked out their respective positions.

Thomas said that public education is the "bedrock and the foundation" America was built on. "If it weren't for public education, we wouldn't be here tonight having a debate about how to control growth," he said. "Public education has produced the people who have built our strong economy and kept our unemployment rate low. Public education has taken our country to new heights."

In his closing remarks, Burroughs pointed out that tax increases mean less discretionary income, especially for seniors. "These aren't your kids," he said. "You shouldn't have to pay for other people's kids."

Payson Mayor Ray Schum, who organized the Rotary Clubs-sponsored event, said he was very pleased with the turnout, which one of the debaters rated as far better than a similar debate in Prescott.

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