Rim Country’s two Republican state senate candidates agreed on most issues Thursday during a calm Citizens Awareness Committee debate, issuing support for the recently passed immigration bill and for new laws that allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training.
Both Sen. Sylvia Allen and challenger Rep. Bill Konopnicki also railed against fellow lawmakers for not slashing enough from the state budget, but offered few proposals of their own for cutting costs. They also agreed the state’s Medicaid program costs too much.
On the other hot-button issue this campaign season — freedom for Gila Community College — Allen spoke about her work heading a task force dedicated to drafting legislation. Konopnicki said he supported the concept, but warned that taxpayers would need to foot the bill. “The state is not funding any growth,” he said.
People filled the meeting room at Payson’s library during the debate, which chamber of commerce manager John Stanton moderated. Candidates spent the first hour answering the list list of questions they had been supplied in advance, and the second hour answering questions from the public.
Few campaign barbs arose, except for when an audience member nearly yelled at Konopnicki for sending out what she said were dirty advertisements declaring Allen supported amnesty for illegal aliens, and another time when Konopnicki mentioned Allen’s refusal to switch seats with him. Konopnicki faces term-limits for his house seat, and rules allow a senator up for election to switch with a term-limited representative.
“In the past, people have always traded when their term is up,” Konopnicki said as Allen’s face crumpled into a look of confused frustration.
Allen said that advertisements ran reading, “Ask Sen. Allen if she’ll switch.”
“I believe that is manipulating the voter so I didn’t do it,” she said. Allen is a real estate agent from Snowflake, and is finishing her first term as state senator.
Konopnicki is a Safford businessman who owns several McDonalds franchises and has a doctorate in education from the University of Arizona.
About amnesty, Allen said it shouldn’t be discussed until the border is secured. Konopnicki declared amnesty unworkable, noting past President Ronald Reagan’s failed experiment. However, he also said that drugs crossing the border presented a larger problem than people entering to work.
On the question of balancing the budget, Konopnicki and Allen said legislators needed more gumption in cutting costs, but offered few specific proposals.
“We need to look at everything,” said Allen, although she did propose streamlining regulations required by Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. The layers of regulations created unnecessary expense, she said.
Konopnicki offered no proposal, instead pointing out that federal requirements soak up 80 percent of the state’s budget. “There is very little we can cut,” he said.
Konopnicki criticized the state for borrowing billions of dollars on 20- and 30-year notes, analogizing it to paying off one credit card with another. He said he pushed for paying the debt off in five years, which would have saved money in interest.
Both Konopnicki and Allen agreed that privatizing some agencies like the parks should be considered. Allen said she supported developing public-private partnerships to operate parks and rest stops, for instance.
Konopnicki said, “It’s one of the things that needs to be part of the mix.” Some areas — like death row — should remain public “for obvious reasons.”
Both supported revamping Arizona’s tax structure, although with different methods. Konopnicki said the state relies too heavily on sales tax, and supported surveying residents to see what reforms they would support. For example, he said Utah decided to install a flat tax. While that may not appeal to Arizona voters, he said something must change.
“The time to have started is yesterday,” Konopnicki said.
Allen proposed eliminating sector-specific tax breaks, like those for the movie and solar industries. “Do I want to create jobs? You bet,” she said. But tax breaks should be distributed equitably. “We won’t just attract solar and we won’t just attract the movie industry. We’ll attract everybody,” she said.
When particular industries receive tax discounts, Allen said, “that’s shifting the burden to all of you.”
Allen several times denounced America’s “socialist” direction. “We have to get away from socialist principles that the government should do everything,” she said.
Both candidates supported reforms for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) — the state’s Medicaid system.
Konopnicki said he wanted to see higher co-pays — doctor’s visits for patients in the system currently cost $1. “We have to do something that’s realistic and will work,” he said.
Allen also wants higher co-pays for people on AHCCCS, and suggested expanding the role of nurse practitioners to examine people who arrive in emergency rooms without a true emergency.
In education, both urged more local control and said Arizona’s spending levels aren’t as abysmal as some groups portray. Each also agreed that the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test, which high school students must pass to graduate, hindered students’ academic success.
Konopnicki complained that teachers must spend too much time teaching for the test.
As for spending, he said the state spends more “than we get credit for.” He added that the state’s spending ranking changes depending on who compiles the rankings.
Allen called the federal Department of Education “unconstitutional,” and said its existence has lowered the academic performance of American students.
Allen said she wanted to see school districts receive a lump sum of money to decide independently how to spend, and also criticized AIMS. “We need to put freedom back in the classroom,” she said.
When asked about new laws expanding people’s rights to carry weapons, Allen said crime is not a gun problem, but a moral problem.
“The second amendment is very clear,” she added.
Konopnicki also supported the laws, and said a perpetrator is less likely to victimize someone with a gun.