State Capitol News
4:58 am
Wed August 20, 2014

Gubernatorial Candidates Make Final Pitch at Phoenix Forum

The state’s Republican gubernatorial hopefuls — at least most of them — made their last-ditch pleas Tuesday night for votes in next week’s primary. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer was there and files this report.

Candidates (from left) Andrew Thomas, Scott Smith and Frank Riggs at the last gubernatorial forum prior to Tuesday's primary.
Candidates (from left) Andrew Thomas, Scott Smith and Frank Riggs at the last gubernatorial forum prior to Tuesday's primary.
Credit Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer


The event was the annual conference of the League of Cities and Towns. So, many of the comments revolved around things like state shared revenues. And, there were lots of promises not to preempt local control. But, there also were questions about how to fix the state’s economy, which has yet to recover from the recession. For example, Ken Bennett wants to eliminate the income tax and replace it with a tax on the sale of every good and service in the state. He said Arizona now collects about $9 billion a year in income taxes and its 5.6 percent sales tax rate on retail purchases.

“The economy of Arizona is about $280 billion. If you had a tax on every transaction in the economy, that tax would only have to be 3 1/2 percent. And you would collect the same $9 billion,” Bennett said.

And, Bennett said even exempting certain things like food, education and medicine would still mean a tax rate of no more than 5 percent. Others talked about things like changing the tax code to lure business. But, Scott Smith said that his conversations with business executives looking to locate here lead him to believe Arizona already is competitive in both tax and regulatory policy.

“I will tell you that every single one of them stressed a basic concern: Can we get enough qualified people to meet our needs? Can we succeed? Can we not only get those locally? Or can we bring those in from other states?” Smith said.

And, Smith said that means investing in an education system — including higher education — that makes businesses believe they can succeed here. But, Andrew Thomas said the issue goes beyond things like making sure college graduates here can get full time jobs.

“We also cannot forget the elephant in the room which is our problem with the border. We are one of four border states. And if we do not deal with that problem, we’re just whistling Dixie and pretending we can solve all these fiscal problems when almost $3 billion a year is being earmarked not for these funds but for dealing with the consequences of illegal immigration in this state,” Thomas said.

Thomas is not alone in his focus on border security. Christine Jones has made that a hallmark of her campaign. So has Frank Riggs. But, Riggs said all this talk about illegal immigration has had an effect of its own on Arizona’s efforts to attract business.

“There is a perception problem beyond Arizona that somehow we as Arizonans are intolerant people. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think we can secure the border and also show tolerance and inclusiveness,” Riggs said.

Tuesday’s debate had one noted absence: Doug Ducey. Melissa DeLaney, his campaign spokeswoman, denied that was based on his presumed position as front-runner in the race. She said he had a prior commitment. But, Ducey also did not attend a forum the prior night in Flagstaff, citing the same reason. While early voting started weeks ago, the actual primary is this coming Tuesday. The survivor of the GOP race will face off in November against Democrat Fred DuVal, Libertarian Barry Hess and Americans Elect candidate John Mealer.