One of the contenders to fill U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl’s seat brought his campaign to Rim Country last week, with strong support for the Blue Ridge pipeline, the sale of federal land for an ASU campus and large scale forest thinning.
Attorney and former state Democratic Party Chair Don Bivens said such projects provide a perfect example of what the federal government should do on a large scale to stimulate job growth as long as unemployment remains above 6 percent.
“We have all kinds of infrastructure needs across the board — parks, railroads, courthouses, libraries,” said Bivens, 59, after meeting privately with backers and then addressing the Democratic Woman’s Club of Northern Gila County. “We have people who can do that work in the private sector. But it’s up to the government to help spur the infrastructure building. You have two good examples in Rim Country — with the Blue Ridge pipeline and the ASU branch campus on the book. That’s a good step in the right direction for helping people with jobs and helping them get that education.”
All those projects depend critically on the cooperation of the federal government, although in each case federal rules and procedures have forced substantial delays. For instance, Payson received a $10.5 million federal stimulus grant to build the “shovel ready” Blue Ridge pipeline several years ago, but still hasn’t started construction as a result of delays lasting more than a year by the U.S. Forest Service in approving environmental studies of the pipeline route.
“Anything we can do to reduce red tape would be highly desirable. We’re at a point where we have to move forward quickly for the benefit of the whole economy,” said Bivens, who earned an English degree from Yale and a law degree from the University of Texas.
“This is the right direction for Gila County and the right direction for America to go to get ourselves out of this deficit. We have to get the economy churning so we have more people to contribute revenue that makes our government run,” said Bivens, who said his daughters grew up hiking Rim Country and other areas of Arizona with the family.
Republican Sen. Kyl a year ago said he would not seek another term, setting off a scramble for a seat many observers say will lean Republican — although the state’s voters are almost evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and Independents. The Republicans will hold a Feb. 28 presidential preference poll, but both parties have their actual primary election on Aug. 28 to select candidates for the Nov. 6 general election.
Bivens and former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona are the leading declared candidates on the Democratic side. Five-term congressman Jeff Flake and Tea Party-linked businessman Wil Cardon are the leading candidates on the Republican side.
Bivens said his first priority would be to advance policies that would “protect the middle class” by stimulating job growth and bolstering education. He said stimulating the economy should take precedence over lowering taxes and balancing the budget in the short term.
Indirectly, he supported an increase in the marginal income tax rate for high-income people and closing “loopholes” and tax advantages for the wealthy and businesses, as a way to generate the money needed to undertake infrastructure projects like the Blue Ridge pipeline.
He said the federal government should invest money in major infrastructure projects and education to get the economy moving again and unemployment down below 6 percent.
After that, he advocated a comprehensive approach to deficit reduction based on the bi-partisan deficit reduction committee that in 2010 proposed a $4 trillion plan that blended tax reforms, tax increases and spending cuts — including changes in Medicare and Social Security. That plan would have between 2012 and 2020 cut spending by $2.2 trillion, resulting in an additional savings of $673 billion in interest. It would have also imposed nearly $1 trillion in additional taxes and other changes that would have reduced net Social Security spending by about $228 billion.
Although Bivens did not embrace all the details of that deficit reduction plan and provided few policy details on his Web site, he said a mix of tax increases with spending cuts to restrain the spiraling deficit must likely await a drop in unemployment.
“I think what was placed in the Simpson-Bowles list is a very good checklist of the kinds of things we’re going to have to have the courage to do if we’re going to get our deficit under control. You can’t come to the table with a pledge to Grover Norquist (to never raise any taxes). The only pledge I make is I’m making no promises — I have no sacred cows. But most economists will tell you when you have a 9 percent unemployment rate — and 23.6 percent in places like Yuma — then stopping government spending at that point would only put us in a economic spin cycle we can’t get out of.”