/ Modified oct 9, 2012 8:32 a.m.

LD2 House Candidates Talk Budget, Taxes

2 Dems, 1 Republican seek 2 seats in district stretching Tucson to Nogales

Legislative District 2 in Southern Arizona is one of the new districts created in the redistricting process last year. Redistricting is done once every 10 years to ensure each of Arizona's 30 legislative districts have roughly equal population.

The district stretches from south Tucson to Nogales, and includes Sahuarita and Green Valley.

The three Sahuarita candidates, Republican Chris Ackerley and Democrats Andrea Dalessandro and Rosanna Gabaldon are vying for two seats in the Arizona House of Representatives.

The three differ on how the state budget should be structured, from moving toward a flatter income tax, to restructuring the budget to be less dependent on sales tax.

Read the forum transcript here:

Andrea Kelly: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Illustrated for Monday, October 8th, 2012. Tonight we’ll hear from the candidates for Arizona House of Representatives in Southern Arizona’s Legislative District 2. The district includes the south side of Tucson, Sahuarita, Green Valley and Nogales. The candidates in alphabetical order are Republican Chris Ackerley, Democrat Andrea Dalessandro and Democrat Rosanna Gabaldon. Thank you all for being here tonight.

All: Thank you.

Andrea Kelly: We’ll start with some individual questions. Mr. Ackerley, you’re a teacher. Can you tell us, what does the Legislature need to know about the state of education right now?

Chris Ackerley: They need to know that right now we are struggling in education. We have…we have damaged education in this state not by choice but damaged education to the point where it is very difficult to maintain the systems that we have in place and sometimes the damage isn’t immediately apparent. It’s going to take…it’ll take a good four or five years for what’s happened during this economic downturn, the effects of it to surface within the education system. And so they really need to look at making investments in education that are going to help sustain us and get us to where we need to be in this state. One of the big ones is vocational education. During the last legislative session one of the things that happened was funding for freshmen who are enrolled in vocational education programs was cut and those programs are really, really struggling and it would be nice to see that as we come out of this economic situation that we again make that investment in the future of Arizona.

Andrea Kelly: And Ms. Dalessandro, as a CPA and former math teacher, what does the state need to know or the Legislature need to know about the state finances?

Andrea Dalessandro: Well, I’m also frustrated and it was mainly education that caused me to run the first time. I believe the Legislature has failed to meet their constitutional requirement to maintain and improve the public school systems. They’ve been unfair to Pima Community College, to the U of A and they have to put the…they need to restore the funding to all of those as soon as possible, before corporate tax cuts because if we don’t have a well supported… Now, the citizens support it, it’s just the Legislature who doesn’t support public education. If we don’t have a well trained workforce, where will future employers get their trained employees, where will they send their children to school? And that’s, that’s I think the key issue. So restore the funding and also replicate excellence. Look at programs that really work in the state. And we need some new books. We have new core standards. How can teachers operate without having books that match them?

Andrea Kelly: And Ms. Gabaldon, you have been a sitting council member on the Town of Sahuarita governing board town council, you’ve served on other community boards. What do you think the Legislature needs to know about the smaller jurisdictions in the state?

Rosanna Gabaldon: When it comes… Serving on the Sahuarita town council it’s about working with other jurisdictions, other municipalities, the counties and sitting on the Sahuarita town council it’s about working as a region. It’s very important not only with education but working as a region in regards to all aspects, if it be infrastructure, if it be education, and bringing in employment centers. And it’s not working in silos but working all together. So with PAG, working with PAG in that regards, with the RTA and so that’s very important that with the Town of Sahuarita that’s what we were doing and it’s that collaboration and the cooperation. So with…I want to touch on education because that one’s very important. When the Town of Sahuarita…one of the things that I was doing as a council member was I brought together Sahuarita Unified School District, SUSD, and Pima Community College and the Town of Sahuarita and a developer to bring in Pima Community College. And Pima Community College was very open to that and what they were wanting to do was work with the business community so that we can entice business employment centers so that they can come…and so we can home grow their workforce. And that’s what’s so important. And also one of the conversations we had as the Town of Sahuarita is being part of the conversation with Raytheon and the expansion they want to do in Southern Arizona. So those are the kind of things that we want to be part of. So being a legislator, those are the kind of conversations that I want Legislative District 2 to be part of.

Andrea Kelly: And we’ll start the next question with Ms. Dalessandro. This district, Legislative District 2, has a higher proportion of registered Democrats than Independents or Republicans. If you are elected though, you are…it’s expected that the Legislature will be maintaining a Republican majority. So how will you work with Republican counterparts if elected this November?

Andrea Dalessandro: I copy Elaine Richardson, our County Treasurer candidate. She said she didn’t work across the aisle because she just didn’t see it. If she had a good idea, she’d bring it to any person in the Legislature who would help her advance that. So if it was a common sense bill, that’s how she got a lot of her bills passed. I’ve been going up to Phoenix quite a bit and I just relish meeting the Republicans who will be elected and I talk to them, I talk to them a lot about Southern Arizona because one of the things I’m gung ho about is to stop the bad press that we get that this is a war zone, a danger zone. We all live in Sahuarita, we’re very safe there and people even in Washington, D.C. talk about us on the southern border being in danger, being in a war zone and having open borders and that’s not true. Our law enforcement, whether it’s federal, county or state, does an excellent job and I bet we’re a lot safer than the people in Washington, D.C.

Andrea Kelly: Ms. Gabaldon, the same question for you. How will you, if elected as a Democrat in Legislative District 2, represent that district in a Republican controlled majority legislature?

Rosanna Gabaldon: Well, I was doing that on the Sahuarita Town Council. Even though it was a nonpartisan race a lot of my fellow council members were of the opposite party and what I did was I went and had a conversation with each and every one of them and addressed that and found some common ground. And that’s what we do, that’s what I do is I talk and we find common ground. And my philosophy is there’s a gift in every problem. And we did and what it was about it we represent the citizens and that’s what, and that’s what I’m going to do is go up and have conversations with my, with all my fellow legislators and we’re going to represent the citizens. So it’s about walking across the aisle and that’s what it’s about, it’s about finding solutions to the problems and not being problems but finding those solutions. So I don’t see it being a problem because I’m, my door is always open to representing the citizens of Legislative District 2 and that’s what it’s about.

Andrea Kelly: And Mr. Ackerley, as I mentioned, there’s more Democrats registered in the district than Republicans or Independents. How will you, if you’re elected, represent that other party that, as you would be a member of the Republican majority?

Chris Ackerley: Yes. And I’m asking people to think about that status pretty heavily in this election because it is, as you say an edge in registration goes to the Democrats so I have an uphill battle in order to win the election if people just vote along party lines. And so I’m asking them to think outside that for a little bit because if you look at what happened under the independent redistricting, it’s quite possible that Pima County and Santa Cruz County, which is wholly within our district, there might not be any Republican representatives who live in Pima County and I think it’s going to be very, very difficult if that’s the case for Southern Arizona to get any of its objectives accomplished. Now for the last two years I have served on the Board of Directors of the Arizona Education Association, one of the few conservatives and one of the few Republicans to serve on that board and…so I have the experience of working with colleagues from other political persuasions and other philosophies in order to accomplish common goals and that’s really what I think we need to focus on is that there are common goals that we can agree on, whether it’s education, whether it’s economic development in our region, whether it’s the relationship between local jurisdictions and the state legislature and all of those things. I have the experience to do that and I am committed to doing that because I think that that is one of the keys to solving some of the issues. I’m a huge believer in local control. I think one of the problems that our state has encountered is that the Legislature in a sense has tried to fix a lot of problems that should have been fixed at the local level and I want to see that happen more in the future and so working with the communities and the jurisdictions and the citizens in the area is key to my political philosophy.

Andrea Dalessandro: Rosanna and I represent the majority of the future and I think that that will serve us well to get ready for that day.

Andrea Kelly: Let’s turn to a few of the specifics. We’re talking about the state budget and we’ll start this question with you, Ms. Gabaldon. We’ve heard a lot from Democrats over the years about eliminating some of the tax loopholes as a way to generate more revenue for the state without making cuts and to deal with some of the state budget problems. What do you think of that proposal, eliminating loopholes?

Rosanna Gabaldon: Well, when it comes to the budget we have to look at everything in that regards. When we were…when the past legislators were looking at the overall budget and cutting to cut, we have to look at the whole picture. So when it comes to loopholes it’s something that is…I guess in a sense…I’d have to really look more into that. I really can’t really address that in depth but it’s something…the budget needs to really be something that I would have to more…look more into but it’s something that we really have to look at more in depth and it’s something that is a big concern of mine and the total…the total picture of that we really as the years come we really have to overhaul that budget and how we look at how we fund our programs and our departments.

Andrea Kelly: So what would be your proposal for that overhaul, how to do that overhaul?

Rosanna Gabaldon: Well, we’d have to look at what we’re funding now and look…and have those…and I as a future legislator look and actually talk to these departments and see what is being funded now and look at those percentages and see what we can do as a state and see…and those cuts that were done previously, now that we have a surplus what can we look at those programs and see what we can put into those programs. And again, those programs that were cut, can we put more money back into those programs or are they okay. A good example is ADWR and what they did with that, Arizona Department of Water Resource and where they said, ‘Well, you know what, we’re going to take that money from municipalities.’ I thought that was irresponsible as our legislators. So that’s one thing that as…what they did with the budget. So again, I would have to look at the whole picture.

Andrea Kelly: And Mr. Ackerley, the original question was tax loopholes as a way to, closing tax loopholes as a way to generate more revenue for the budget. It’s a proposal we’ve heard many years in a row. What do you think of that proposal?

**Chris Ackerley: I don’t think it’s a magic cure. I definitely think that we need to look at some of those but I don’t think it’s…I don’t think it’s the magic cure. I think that we have to, in this state we have to fundamentally rethink the way that we do budgeting. As we have this discussion about cuts and restoring and surplus, not surplus, I think what gets lost is we don’t have a mechanism to fundamentally ask the question, ‘Okay, what is this particular service going to cost,’ and to be able to make a decision as a state about whether the state’s going to pursue that or not based upon the actual cost of providing that service. We have…I guess over the course of the last how ever many decades we have so complicated our public funding systems for whatever it is, whether it be the departments, whether it’s transportation, whether it’s education. We’ve complicated the funding mechanism so much that it’s very, very hard to get a grasp on where everything’s coming and going and what effects things actually have. So I think we have…I think in a sense we have to, as we come out of this economic distress, I think we really have to in a sense deconstruct public financing and figure out where we’re going to go from here.

Andrea Kelly: Ms. Dalessandro, same question, tax loopholes as…is closing tax loopholes a good way to deal with the budget and generate revenue?

Andrea Dalessandro: Well, first of all, I think our entire budget needs to be reconstructed, we need to complete tax reform because now we’re too dependent on sales tax and when we have a recession people spend less just at the time that there are more demands on state revenue. The other part is that I’ve been going up to the Governor’s Privilege Tax Task Force that was established a couple of months ago and I think with that we need to simplify things. One of the things they were investigating is the internet sales and while I don’t support them just targeting Amazon if they charge all of the internet sales I think that would help and it would be fair to our local small businesses, our brick and mortar businesses that are local because right now they’re on an uneven playing field. And with that the sales tax system is very complicated, it’s hard for small businesses. They deal with one municipality and they have one set of rules, then they’re in another county, they have a different set of rules so I would definitely look forward to what this task force is going to come up with that I could support to make it easier for small businesses.

Andrea Kelly: Now all three of you have talked about overhauling the tax code, we’ve specifically talked about sales tax but another proposal that we hear year to year is trying to flatten out the income tax and we’ll start with you on this one Mr. Ackerley. What do you think about a flat tax or a flatter income tax in Arizona as a way to deal with the budget?

Chris Ackerley: In concept I’m supportive of a flatter tax. We have to have a very broad conversation in order to make that happen and I don’t know that we’re in a place yet where that conversation can actually happen but in concept I think we need to go to a much simpler tax system that is flatter so that people are not making decisions based upon tax liabilities and…because a lot of times those decisions are perhaps not what’s in everybody’s best interest but because of the way we’ve complicated the system it’s…would be foolish for them not to make the decision that way. So, yeah, in general, I’m supportive of a flat tax.

Andrea Kelly: Ms. Dalessandro, the same question.

Andrea Dalessandro: Well, I would like to thank Senator Paula Aboud for her forums that she had throughout Southern Arizona. I could never support anything that would, like the flax tax that would increase taxes to 85 percent of the people and give a big decrease to the people who need the break the least. That just would be unfair. 85 percent of the people paying more tax doesn’t fly in my book, especially in Southern Arizona where people, a lot of people are having hard times with high unemployment rates. 34 percent of the children live in poverty in Santa Cruz County. We have unemployment rates that hover around 18 percent. This would be totally unacceptable to me. No flat tax.

Andrea Kelly: Go ahead.

Chris Ackerley: Well, I just want to respond to that for a second because you can’t do a flat tax in a vacuum. If all it was was just simply changing the income tax to a flat tax without adjusting everything else around it, you’re right, that would end up happening. But I don’t think that anybody is proposing to just do that. We have to take a comprehensive look at all of the revenue streams that we have in order to balance it out. No, I’m not suggesting that we raise taxes on 85 percent of the people. What I’m suggesting is is we make a simpler, fairer, more equitable tax code.

Andrea Dalessandro: That is the proposal however. 85 percent pay more, 15 percent on the higher end of the income pay less.

Andrea Kelly: Let’s let Ms. Gabaldon a chance to weigh in on this issue.

Rosanna Gabaldon: Well, the…no, the way that the flat tax was introduced, no, I would disagree with that. I wouldn’t go for that flat tax that Senator Aboud was discussing across the State of Arizona, absolutely not. That 85 percent being as I…penalized. No, I would not agree with that. More with Mr. Ackerley, more discussion, absolutely, looking at it, I’d be open to discussing it but the way it is now, no.

Andrea Kelly: Let’s stay on the budget just a little while longer here. We’ve been talking about some of the specifics of taxes and revenue but we’ve also seen over the last year that the state’s revenue is starting to go up a little bit. We’re no longer in this, maybe, need to cut every year. So what would you do if you’re in office next year and there’s more revenue coming in than what the state has budgeted? What would you do with that excess? And on this one we’ll start with your, Ms. Gabaldon.

Rosanna Gabaldon: Well, I would look at the programs that have been cut previously and see where those programs have been cut and see how we can help… For example, one example is CPS. That’s a program that has been cut that needs funding…

Andrea Kelly: Child Protective Services.

Rosanna Gabaldon: Yes, I’m sorry, yes, Child Protective Services. Thank you. Those are…that’s a program that needs funding, that needs help. Other programs that have been cut in prior years, education. So that’s…that extra revenue that’s coming in, we need to look at it as a state to see where it has been cut, what needs to be done. Again, those conversations with the agencies, the departments that are out there that perhaps have…have lost that revenue. We need to look at that so…or be able to put it into savings and have maybe that rainy day fund. So again just because we have that extra revenue, let’s not go spend it but at least go and investigate and find out as to what is needed, what…the state is in need of funding in different areas, let’s go find out what that is.

Andrea Kelly: Mr. Ackerley, if there’s more money coming next year than what is budgeted for, what would you do with the extra?

Chris Ackerley: I think we have to be cautious of what we mean by more because right now the state’s in the situation where it does have a positive cash flow but the obligations that it’s not meeting, whether it be funding for transportation projects, whether it’s universities, whether it’s school facilities, is far in excess of what the actual surplus is. So I’m very hesitant to start politicizing, ‘Okay, what do we do with the surplus,’ because it doesn’t really exist yet. And as the funding in some of the revenue streams that will drop off over the course of the next year whether they be from federal sources or local sources, we have to be very, very cautious of how we approach it. That being said, we have to as we go forward, we have to have a balance between putting some in the stabilization funds but also for those ones…for those programs that represent a critical investment in Arizona’s future, we need to start making those investments again.

Andrea Kelly: Ms. Dalessandro.

Andrea Dalessandro: Rosanna and I are both mothers and wives so we know a thing or two about budgeting. In general I’d like to restore public education funding and healthcare and specifically in healthcare, the Grand Canyon Institute a week and a half ago came out with a study that for less than…that would help us…help the Legislature abide by the wishes of the citizens. Citizens in 2000 voted for Proposition 204, Healthy Arizona. If we insure more low income children and more low income adults without children, we can spend less than $900 a year to get those folks covered because over four years the federal government, under the Affordable Healthcare Act, would be matching nearly eight billion dollars. We would be putting in $900 a person, over four years we’d be getting eight billion dollars. I contend that in a good way that is disproportionate to Southern Arizona because of the poverty and the unemployment and this would create jobs in the medical field for doctors, nurses, technicians but also secretaries and clerks and janitors and it would generate more tax income, more income tax, more sales tax. So I do hope the Governor moves that forward because it could be a big economic boon to Southern Arizona.

Andrea Kelly: We’ve got a little more than two minutes remaining so I think we can get through one more thing but we’ll have to be careful about how long we take. So I do want to talk about some other issues besides just the budget. You guys have all talked about economic issues and education funding but there’s also been bills in recent years on abortion restrictions or birth control regulations for…or I’m sorry, healthcare coverage of birth control for employers. What do you think the state’s role is in some of these social issues? Obviously the budget is a big issue right now but there are other things that you will have to weigh in on when you’re there. We’ll start with you, Ms. Dalessandro.

Andrea Dalessandro: Well, we recently saw some opinions from the Justice Department about Medicare…Medicaid, excuse me, Medicaid funding for our low income people and there are some issues with that. I think the Legislature made a big mistake defunding public…defunding publicl education but also Planned Parenthood because they provide services to low income women and families in other areas of health.

Andrea Kelly: Ms. Gabaldon, social issues, what is the Legislature’s role in some of these issues?

Rosanna Gabaldon: Well, a lot of these bills that were introduced and passed that were an attack on women was something that a lot of the…I’ve been going out and canvassing and a lot of women have scratched their head and said, ‘I don’t understand why these State Representatives have attacked me personally,’ and so…they’ve passed a lot of these laws that are, they’re attacking us as women so my thoughts are is that as a woman I’m going to go up there and see how I can…it deals with our…with health issues and being able to address health issues not only on women but families and children and all the citizens. So that is something that I’d like to address as well.

Andrea Kelly: Mr. Ackerley, you get the last word.

Chris Ackerley: Yeah, it’s part of a broader social conversation and I think that some of the issues that you mentioned are not going to be…don’t have political solutions. They have to be solved in a conversation in society as a whole. But it is inevitable, just by the way that we’ve structured our system, that those conversations are going to seep into the Legislature and I don’t think that there’s necessarily a problem with having those conversations in the Legislature. Now, do I think that the tone and the tenor of those conversations needs to be drastically different, yes, absolutely I do but I think that it’s inevitable that those conversations will go in.

Andrea Kelly: I have to cut you off there. I’m sorry. We’re out of time on this one. Thank you all three for joining us tonight.

All: Thank you.

Andrea Kelly: That’s all the time we have for tonight. Watch this forum again and see other videos with the candidates. Go online at azpm.org/yourvote. You can also find information on county races, congressional races and propositions on the ballot. Early voting starts Thursday and tomorrow is the last day to register to vote. Tomorrow night on Arizona Illustrated we’ll have a forum with the candidates for the Arizona House of Representatives in Legislative District 10. Thanks for watching and have a good night.

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