Slash state spending, get much tougher on the Mexican border and get rid of Gov. Jan Brewer, urged two Republican hopefuls in a joint appearance in Payson on Monday.
State Treasurer Dean Martin and businessman Buz Mills are both running well to the right of incumbent Jan Brewer in their bid for the Republican nomination. On the Democratic side, Attorney General Terry Goddard is considered the front runner for the Democratic nomination.
Martin and Mills both strongly oppose a temporary one-cent increase in state sales tax, proposed by Brewer to deal with about half of the projected deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.
Both offered similar prescriptions for the state’s record-breaking fiscal woes — deep budget cuts, no tax increases — and more spending on efforts to prevent illegal immigration, which has reportedly dropped sharply as a result of the impact the recession has had on the supply of jobs.
Martin touted his experience as an entrepreneur, a state lawmaker and state treasurer.
Mills stressed his four years in the Marine Corps followed by seven years in construction and 30 years running his own telecommunications company.
Martin offered the more polished performance before an overflow crowd of the Gila County Republican Club at Tiny’s Restaurant in Payson.
“Ronald Reagan got me to register as a Republican,” said Martin, who moved to Arizona in 1979 and graduated from ASU with a business degree, “but it took Hillary Clinton to get me into politics,” quipped Martin, in reference to the Clinton plan to overhaul healthcare headed up by the then-President’s wife.
As a state senator, he said he provided leadership in pushing for a constitutional amendment making it possible to hold sexual offenders without bail and to create a “bubble zone” around schools, where paroled sex offenders could not live.
He said when he served on the finance and appropriations committees, the legislature repealed the inheritance tax, reduced the so-called marriage tax in which couples paid a higher rate if filing jointly, and eliminated a provision to index the income and property tax to inflation.
Legislature not doing its job
He castigated the legislature for first allowing spending to continue to rise as revenues fell, and then for holding no less than seven special sessions without actually balancing the budget.
But he also blasted the ultimately proposed solution that emerged from the long standoff between Brewer and the Republican-controlled legislature — a temporary one-cent increase in the sales tax.
He predicted the 18-percent increase in the sales tax would depress the economy and prolong the recession by six months.
He said lawmakers should instead balance the budget entirely through spending cuts, and criticized the various schemes to effectively borrow money, for instance by selling and then leasing back state buildings. He said the state has effectively borrowed some $4.5 billion, despite constitutional provisions requiring a balanced budget. The interest payments on that debt will total some $450 million, he said.
“That’s not solving the problem, that’s mortgaging the future,” he said.
However, Martin offered few details of how he would make up the extra $900-million shortfall if the sales tax increase fails. The sales tax hike would make up about half of the projected deficit.
The state faces a $600-million projected deficit for the current fiscal year and a $3-billion deficit in the upcoming fiscal year, mostly due to a collapse in state revenues — down by nearly a third in February.
The state legislature has already approved an array of cuts that have forced school layoffs, pushed several hundred thousand people out of the medical program for low-income residents, shut down state parks, shuttered highway rest stops and imposed a host of other cutbacks.
During much of the rest of his speech Martin called for increased state spending to prevent illegal immigration — by first completing a fence all along the border, and then by sending police officers to the border to man that fence.
He also proposed dramatic changes in the state’s educational system, now mostly funded by the state.
He said that less than 30 percent of education spending goes for teacher salaries and suggested the state could cut out much of the remaining 70 percent without hurting the quality of education.
He said the state has smothered school districts in mandates. Instead, the state should set tough standards for student performance that could be measured by testing, and then provide block grants to school districts based on the ability of students in that district to meet those goals.
“If a district wants to hold classes in trailers and pay the teachers $100,000, what should the state care — so long as those students are achieving,” said Martin.
Business experience a big help
Mills offered very similar prescriptions for most of the state’s woes — but stressed his lifetime of experience in running businesses that have employed thousands of people.
“My opponents are what got me into the race,” he said, in reference to the long state budget deadlock, “because they’ve all been acting foolish. And I don’t see any of them that have created jobs in the real world.”
He laid his major emphasis on essentially leading a revolt against the federal government, to insist the federal government secure the border and enforce immigration laws and not interfere with the economy and local issues — like health care and education.
He said a friend of his and the largest rancher in Cochise County in Southeast Arizona was killed, along with his dog, on Saturday night.
The man had been patrolling his ranch on the border when he radioed his wife to say he had come across an injured, illegal alien. He asked her to call for an ambulance to come out to help. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics found the man and his dog both shot dead with his own rifle.
“The federal government has got everything upside down,” said Mills.
“Their primary responsibility is the safety and security of its citizens. So they’re meddling over here with education and healthcare where they don’t have any business instead of over there where they have responsibility” for securing the borders.
He added, “we need to stop the encroachment on state’s rights by the federal government that’s been going on for 200 years. We need a chief executive that’s going to stop these people,” meaning the federal government.
He also suggested a drastic reduction in education spending, while protecting the money going directly to the classroom.
He said Arizona spends roughly $10,000 per student, when state, federal and local spending are combined. So each classroom of 32 students represents a revenue stream of some $320,000 — of which maybe $50,000 goes to the teacher.
So I want to know where the other $270,000 is going.”
By the same token, he said that only about 30 percent of university students graduate in four years and only about 11 percent of community college students graduate in two years.
He says those figures suggest the state is wasting a lot of money on college students who don’t graduate.
“Maybe we’re letting too many people in,” he suggested.