Read the forum transcript here:
Michael Chihak: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Illustrated for Thursday, the 18th of October, 2012. I’m Michael Chihak. Tonight our candidate forum for the State Senate race in Legislative District 10. Joining me are Senator Frank Antenori, a Republican who was appointed and then elected to the Senate in 2010 after serving one term in the State House and David Bradley, a Democrat who served four terms in the State House from 2003 to 2011. Gentlemen, welcome.
Michael Chihak: Senator Antenori, first question. Have the Governor and the Legislature done enough to stimulate the economy and grow jobs in Arizona?
Frank Antenori: Well, I could never say anybody does enough to stimulate the economy and grow jobs. I think we’re off to a good start. We passed two jobs bills including the Arizona Job Competitiveness Package that helped incentivize bringing businesses and industry here to Arizona and I think the results speak for themselves. We’ve had over 80,000 jobs added over the last year. We’re slated to add 55,000 this year and another 50,000 which is a 100,000 jobs over the next year and a half to two years. Our unemployment rate has gone down from 11.3 down to 8.2 percent and we’re slated to be one of the fastest growing states in the country with regard to job creation and CNN Money Magazine ranked us as number one for new business entrepreneurial startups in the country so we’ve rolled out the carpet and we’re creating conditions here for the private sector to create jobs because the government doesn’t create jobs, the private sector creates jobs. We create those conditions for success and I think we’ve done that.
Michael Chihak: Mr. Bradley, has the state done enough to help stimulate the economy here and is it the right kind of thing?
David Bradley: Well, there’s always more to do. I would differ in that I believe government can be a catalyst for bringing new jobs to Arizona, it can be a catalyst in terms of improving the quality of life where people would want to come here to start their businesses up. There are many ways that we do that through the education system. The notion that government doesn’t create jobs is interesting when you have somebody who’s got three paychecks, all government related in some fashion in terms of retirement from his military service, as a state employee and then the entity that he works for has the government contracts that fund much of their work. So it’s an interesting notion but I think government does facilitate jobs coming. You always want government to kind of be there as the catalyst, to step away and let the market take over when it can but the government has an ongoing role.
Michael Chihak: Mr. Antenori.
Frank Antenori: Yeah, I’ve got to respond to that because the narrative is being created by my opponent and his allies that somehow being a member of the armed services, I spent 20 years in the military, and if you want to equate “a government check” as you would get from sort of a welfare handout of some kind to a check that you get for sitting on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan chasing Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, I dare you to make that association. I think people that serve this country, yes, I served 20 years in the military and I was paid I would say, as most would say, for risking my life, a small salary to do that and if you want to get the salary that I get, the retirement that I get after spending 20 years of getting shot at and blown up, I’d defy anyone to spend that amount of time for what kind of a reimbursement I get from the federal government for that amount of service. The fact that I am a state legislator, we get paid less than $24,000 a year if you take the taxes out. It’s not exactly something that pays the bills. Okay? So to say that I’m living off the government I think is an insult to the members of this community that served in the military and that work in the aerospace defense industry that are huge contributors to our national defense and our economy. I think it’s insulting that they continue to make that association.
Michael Chihak: Let’s talk a little bit about that idea of government catalyzing the economy or catalyzing job growth which you mentioned Mr. Bradley. Under the Republicans and Governor Brewer the Arizona Commerce Authority was created and it is spending public money to stimulate the economy. Is that a correct path for public money to be used?
David Bradley: Certainly. I think…I support that. Let me just go back one second though. I believe that Frank’s resources that he gets are federal tax dollars. That was my point. That doesn’t denigrate his commitment to our country which was of course admirable as it is with many…all the folks that served including myself. The point is is that those are federal tax dollars, those are state tax dollars, those are…that’s what has stimulated or paid for those services to be rendered, that’s the point. So does the government have that role? Certainly it has that role. When we look at the income or the gross domestic product in this state of $250 billion roughly, a considerable amount of that is government related in one form or another. Look at our Army base, Air Force bases, our schools, that’s all government related resources that go into our communities that stimulate people to learn skills to be able to take on new positions, new jobs and of course government has a clear role.
Michael Chihak: Well, back to that idea of the Commerce Authority, Mr. Bradley. Is the government, state government, taxpayer money that’s being money that’s being spent with the Commerce Authority, is that justified? Is that something you would support if elected?
David Bradley: Yes, yes it is.
Michael Chihak: And Senator Antenori, talk about that a little bit.
Frank Antenori: Well, I voted for it. I think it’s a good idea to incentivize base industries that have high paying and high wage jobs that have a lot of benefits to come to this state because it takes people off of the welfare rolls and makes them less dependent on government and more reliant on themselves and I can’t find anybody that would be against that. I love Mr. Bradley making the argument that government’s role is national defense and public safety and that is something that I’ve advocated for. I’ve been endorsed by every law enforcement agency in Southern Arizona and most of them in the state because I support using federal and state dollars to fund public safety and of course our military. That is government’s role, to protect individual liberty. What I was talking about is this concept that we have to do things like Solyndra and fund all these pet projects and funnel money to all our campaign donors and buddies to get the economy going. I don’t have any problem with government jobs that are public safety and constitutionally mandated and related. I think everybody would agree with that. I have a heartburn with creating winners and losers, and most of the time when the government does that they pick losers as was brought out in the presidential debate, and that is my heartburn. I have no issue with providing for the national defense and public safety.
Michael Chihak: In the realm of economic stimulation, Senator, many business leaders in surveys say that the top two needs from government are a good transportation system and a good education system to keep workers moving into the pool and for their employees to be able to send their children to school. Yet in Arizona, lower taxes were put ahead of both transportation needs and education needs. Is that the correct priority?
Frank Antenori: I don’t think that’s correct, Michael. I think your summation of that is wrong. We had a budget deficit that was basically brought on by fiscally irresponsible members of the Democratic Party and fiscally irresponsible enablers from the Republican Party that voted to bankrupt this state and we had to make some tough decisions to get this state back in the black and in order to do that we had to make some adjustments to funding in every agency across the state in order to get that budget balanced and get us on the right path. We are now investing significantly in infrastructure and education. As the revenue continues to increase in the state because of those reductions in those punitive taxes and regulations that have stifled business, we are now approaching $9 billion in revenue. When my opponent left the Legislature, state revenue had dropped to $6.5 billion dollars. When I passed and voted for those bills that created the economic stimulus, our economy took off and now we’re coming up on $9 billion in revenue and as that money comes in, we are strategically reinvesting it in education and infrastructure.
Michael Chihak: And we’ll return to the specifics of the budget in a minute or two but Mr. Bradley, your response to that, transportation, education needs second and third place behind taxes?
David Bradley: Right. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. You have to look again longitudinally at the state for people that have lived here a long time. There have been 20 consecutive years of tax reductions of one form or another through the State Legislature and also to remind that the state budget is really $28 billion some dollars not the $8 or $9 billion that we have authorized this particular year because there’s other sources of funds. We need to build that infrastructure, and one of the things we had to do when I first got in the Legislature was catch up from the many years that we were behind in infrastructure. Some of our schools were literally being condemned and our kids were still going to them. We had to put money into those facilities immediately, the same with our roads and highways. So yes, I believe that the government is as a catalyst for job development has to insure that we have good roads and good schools and those things are priorities that I would vote for.
Michael Chihak: So let’s look at the state budget. The state as you pointed out, Senator, is bringing in more revenues, conditions are beginning to improve, so come next year the Legislature will be looking at perhaps a different picture with the state budget. Mr. Bradley, with a $900 million surplus including the rainy day fund on hand right now, what should the state budget look like next year?
David Bradley: One of the things that should happen is that the rainy day fund should be increased. We should up the limit that we can put money into the rainy day fund for future years. We should double or triple it like other states have done. But we do have a…we’re behind in a lot of areas. The cuts that were made are devastating to individuals and some of those cuts have to be restored in terms of access to healthcare and the educational cuts that have been incurred over the last few years. So a lot of that money is probably going to have to go there. The irony is is that the reason that there is any kind of surplus was the one cent sales tax which many of the Republican Party opposed and without that one cent sales tax there would be absolutely no money in that fund and that’s why we need to increase that or continue it. But we have a lot to do and I think there’s a lot of priorities that have to be attained and to use that money wisely.
Michael Chihak: Senator Antenori, next year’s state budget, what would it look like if you’re elected to this seat?
Frank Antenori: Well, Michael, we already have that answer because the Legislature did something this year that it has never done before. It passed the budget for FY13, FY14 and FY15 and we’ve set those guidelines. We did that so that we can see what the impact of this year’s budgets and appropriations has on the out years so that we don’t have the yoyo effect of budgeting that has been going on in this state for the last decade. I mean, Mr. Bradley talks about the largest sales tax increase in the state’s history. Actually, it’s…we’re the second highest sales tax state in the country now. That could have all been avoided if Mr. Bradley and his colleagues in the Legislature had not recklessly violated the state constitution and voted for two unbalanced budgets in a row that created a $3 billion deficit and created $2 billion of debt for this state. Now we have to dig out of that hole that all they had to do was freeze spending back in 2008 when everybody in the world knew that this state was going and this country was going into recession but they couldn’t resist, they increased spending not for just the 2008 and 2009 year but for 2009 and 2010 and it created a financial mess that we’re now trying to dig out of. All of that could have been avoided if they just did their constitutional duties. What I’m saying now is as we go forward, this state has to plan for more than just one year. We have to do two, three year budget planning like most families and most households do to make sure that we don’t spend money we don’t have like we’ve done in the past that created this mess that we have to dig out of in the first place.
Michael Chihak: So do you see a need Senator for there to be any adjustments in what the fiscal 13-14 budget would be, in other words what the Legislature will consider come January?
Frank Antenori: Well, I’m sure there’ll be adjustments because the good news is that more revenue has come in than was projected for the FY14 and FY15 budget so we can then take that additional revenue that was not predicted to come in and strategically put that in areas that are going to help enhance the economy and the quality of life in the State of Arizona. I don’t think anybody would disagree that we have two things to do. We have to balance the budget, we have to pay off our debt and we have to fund those critical services that everybody in the state wants and that is basically the budget map that the Legislature has created and we will continue to strategically reinvest in things like education and public healthcare for the people that need it most in the State of Arizona.
Michael Chihak: Now, I want to ask you for the record, Mr. Bradley said he favors extension of that tax, in other words Proposition 204. Your position on Proposition 204?
Frank Antenori: Well, I’m against it because if you talk to most retailers, if you talk to the tourism industry and the convention industry, they will tell you that it has hurt the state. We have the second highest sales tax in the country right now. If you’re a large convention and you’re coming and you’re looking for a venue and you want to use Arizona, the cost of doing that convention here versus somewhere else where the sales tax is only 6.5 percent or 5.5 percent is huge and a lot of those companies and businesses are looking at other states. I talk to a lot of business owners in the state that have lost a lot of money to internet purchases because they sell items that are readily available online that people don’t have to pay the sales tax on and they’ve seen a 15 percent decline in their retail sales because of that increase in the one sales tax…one cent sales tax. I think it hurts people on fixed incomes, senior citizens and the most needy. It is a regressive tax and it is the wrong direction to go no matter how noble the excuse of the cause, we have to find a better way and I think a stable source for that is looking at a flat tax rate and a property tax rate to sustain those services rather than playing games with the sales tax rate.
Michael Chihak: If we have time, I’d like to get to tax reform in a minute or two. Mr. Bradley, education was cut at the state level by 19 percent or so over the last five years. What kind of a restoration would you look for if elected to office next year?
David Bradley: Well, part of the restoration will be the initiative that’s addressing that very issue that I think is likely to pass so that’s a central concern. We…there’s so much to deal with sometimes when Frank spews off a lot of those statistics but there is a long range issue and our growth is inevitable and we have to be thinking far out in advance of the next two or three years in terms of how we’re going to attract people, businesses to Arizona. Our population is going to grow inevitably, we are trajectory for the mid century to be somewhere in the 15 to 20 million people living in this area. We have to have an education system that’s functional, a transportation system that works, a healthcare system that leaves no one behind so there’s a lot of work to be done now to prepare for those who are coming and I want to emphasize that in my…when I return to the Senate.
Michael Chihak: Senator Antenori, Governor Brewer has proposed and is putting into place a number of reforms of the educational system and some of those cost money. Do you think the Legislature should be funding those at this time, in other words, come January?
Frank Antenori: Well, we did that. We put $40 million into a K through 3 reading program that had strict standards. In order to obtain that money and bring that money down, the schools have to achieve.
Michael Chihak: The Governor asked for $50 million.
Frank Antenori: Right. Well, we gave her $40. We still have limited resources. We’re coming out of this recession, we just have to be very cautious with the way we spend money so we don’t go back into the financial ditch like we were just a few years ago. The reality is that just throwing money at education doesn’t work. We spend more in the State of Arizona than many industrialized countries do on education yet the results from our kids are far less. We have now got to put standards in place, and I’ve championed many reforms in the Legislature, many that were opposed by the other side of the aisle, teacher accountability requirements, we got rid of teacher tenure to make sure only the best qualified and best performing teachers stay in and not some union sort of negotiated tenure deal that lets inadequate teachers stay in just because they’ve got seniority. We’ve done a lot of things to improve education. Those standards now have to come up and we have to tie revenue to those standards so when they obtain the standards and they perform, they receive the money. If they don’t perform, they don’t get the money. That is the stick and carrot approach. It works in the private sector and it works in the government sector if it’s done properly and I think the Governor’s got a good idea in the way she wants to do it and I support it.
Michael Chihak: And in fact in Proposition 204 there’s a 12 percent hold back for schools in districts that don’t meet the standard. Do you favor that?
Frank Antenori: Well, I don’t know. That sounds like you incentivize failure so the schools that don’t do well are going to get more money. I think that’s the wrong way to go. You need to incentivize success. You need to create that environment and if the teachers or the school district is failing, then there needs to be some reforms done where maybe someone comes in, another successful school district or a successful superintendent or a successful principal comes in to assist reforms in that school to bring the same standards in these successful schools. We’ve got a lot of successful schools here in Arizona. The Vail School District that my two sons go to is one of the best in the state, it has been recognized nationally, we have charter schools like Basis that are doing an excellent job here. We have the talent here, we just have to take that talent and share it with the school districts that are having a rough time.
Michael Chihak: Mr. Bradley, education reform, should the Legislature fund it, is it going in the right direction?
David Bradley: Well, it certainly has to be funded one way or another. In terms of…our goal is to produce good citizens, that’s the main outcome of education in this state. I think the focus has to be on teacher, teacher education, insuring that we have the best teachers available in all of our schools to provide services, education to our kids and that’s in any school district. It doesn’t have to be in school districts that have a little more wealth than others, it has to be evenly distributed and that’s a real key issue that has to occur in the state and many of the cutbacks that have occurred over the last few years have exacerbated the difference between wealthy districts and the poorer districts and we have to make those up quickly in order to insure that we do have the workforce available for those 21st and 22nd century jobs.
Michael Chihak: You mentioned healthcare a few minutes ago and I’d like to visit that. Specifically Mr. Bradley, where do you stand on whether Arizona should take the Medicaid expansion allowed under the Affordable Care Act?
David Bradley: Well, I am in favor of taking the funds for the expansion. There is a whole moral issue why we should do that which I believe to be paramount. But just looking at the numbers, just realistically, we are talking somewhere around 22,000, 20,000 to 22,000 jobs in the healthcare industry. Our rural hospitals are literally on the verge of collapse given what we have done in terms of cutting off resources to the medically needy. We need to insure that we take care of those people, take care of the children that are coming to provide healthcare services to them all and so the expansion I think is crucial. The money that is coming, the federal money that will come in is our money. By rejecting it we don’t save any money, that money goes to another state if we don’t take it. So yes, we should be expanding Medicaid for those reasons.
Michael Chihak: Senator Antenori, expand Medicaid?
Frank Antenori: I find the argument just I think fiscally reckless and let me tell you why. When the Governor at the time, Janet Napolitano, asked the people to expand Medicaid to 100 percent of the federal poverty level and she told them it wouldn’t cost them a dime because it was going to be paid for with tobacco money, people said, ‘Okay. The evil cigarette companies are going to pay for expanding healthcare.’ That lasted for a short period of time because our Medicaid roles, our AHCCCS roles swelled, we had about 450,000 people, now we’re well over a million people, probably closer to 1.4 million on AHCCCs. The state can’t afford it. The federal government has a little trick in here. They give you a little bit of money in the first three years and then they taper off making the states provide more of an assistance to do this Medicaid expansion. The State of Arizona can’t afford it, it will bankrupt us and it will result in significant increases in taxes. I would rather create jobs and instead of people going on Medicaid and AHCCCS have them get a job with an employer that provides them healthcare coverage. I do not want the federal government coming in here and telling the people of this state how to manage their healthcare system. It is a clear 10th Amendment right of the state to manage its own healthcare. We don’t need the Feds telling us how to do it so I’m adamantly opposed to bringing and implementing ObamaCare in the State of Arizona. It is a huge fiscal mistake that’s going to cost the state billions of dollars a year that we don’t have and it’s going to limit healthcare freedom and force people to get healthcare and delay their access to healthcare by having to go through a bureaucracy that we just don’t need.
Michael Chihak: What would be the method for people getting healthcare if they can’t afford it otherwise, Senator?
Frank Antenori: There was a proposal in the U.S. Congress several years ago when Bill Frist was in the Senate and they had recommended that we create a risk pool that is funded only to fund people that have a preexisting condition that have a hard time finding health insurance because of these preexisting conditions and I think the President and the Congress, that was part of the nexus for doing ObamaCare but you don’t need to screw up health coverage for 85 percent of the country just to satisfy some problems that we’re having with 15 percent of the people that are under insured, uninsured or have a hard time getting insurance. The focus should have been on them and helping those people find ways, alternatives to get cheaper insurance and access to healthcare, not by upturning 1/6th of the country’s economy and implementing a huge bureaucratic government regulatory and expensive health care scheme.
Michael Chihak: Mr. Bradley, your response to that.
David Bradley: Not once but three times the state has voted to provide healthcare for people who make less than $11,000 year, less than $11,000 a year. Three times we have approved that. All those votes happened before Mr. Antenori came here. We have an obligation to provide those resources, the medical resources to those people and to help lift them up out of the situations that they’re in. One of the reasons that they are where they are is because of lack of healthcare and they can’t get out of that system until they have adequate healthcare so that they can seek a job and they can make money to pay taxes and then get their own insurance. So to me that’s the key issue.
Michael Chihak: And Senator, in the Affordable Care Act I believe the federal government, once it’s fully implemented, would be picking up 90 percent of Medicaid or here in Arizona as it’s called AHCCCS and the state would be paying 10 percent. That’s still too much?
Frank Antenori: That’s only for the first three years.
David Bradley: No, it’s not.
Frank Antenori: That’s only for the first three years. There is no way… Let’s just be real here. When we say it’s our money anyways, we’re talking about tax dollars that people pay from the State of Arizona that go to the federal government and none of that is going to come back in ObamaCare. The money that we’re going to get to pay for ObamaCare is going to come from the Chinese. We are borrowing 42 cents on every dollar, we are committing generational theft, we are stealing from my kids and my yet to be born grandkids to pay for programs for people today and I think it’s irresponsible of us to do that and burden future generations just for some touchy feely, feel good thing that we can get people back to work and get insurance through their employers or get them a job where they afford their own insurance. We do not have to have a cradle to grave socialized medicine system in this country to provide access to healthcare. It doesn’t need to happen. It is going to bankrupt this country just like it’s bankrupted every socialized medicine system that has tried it. They have gone bankrupt and it is a big mistake and we need to fight it every step of the way.
Michael Chihak: Let’s move on to tax reform if we may. Senator, do we need tax reform in Arizona?
Frank Antenori: Sure.
Michael Chihak: Taxes have been reduced but there’s a lot of complexity to the state tax system.
Frank Antenori: Yeah. I don’t think you’ll find anybody that would disagree that we need reform. We need to lower the rate and broaden the base and I have proposed twice an effort to do that in the Legislature and it’s been adamantly opposed but we have got to get everybody that’s involved in benefiting from this state to chip in and share in the cost, like a shareholder in a company. Everybody needs to have some skin in the game so reducing the tax rate and making it more broad across the board so that we have more taxpayers I think is the way to go. Every year we have fewer and fewer people paying taxes and less and less people are paying more and more of the tax burden and it is again shifting people from self reliance and individual responsibility to government reliance. They have less stake in their government and they have more let’s say benefits from that government so they are more likely to vote for people that will keep them in that state. The Inside Tucson Business editorial that came out last week clearly stated that the politicians in Tucson, the reason Tucson was the sixth most poverty stricken city in the country was because the politicians like their constituents poor and dependent on government. That has been the case and Dave Hatfield nailed it when he made that comment. I would like to see people get off of government assistance and get out on the private sector. That’s the way you solve the problem.
Michael Chihak: Mr. Bradley, tax reform, how should that look?
David Bradley: Yes. Yeah, I submitted bills on six occasions for tax reform in the State of Arizona and never got a hearing as well, a much different approach that Mr. Antenori is asserting however. He is referring mostly to a flat tax would actually increase taxes for about two million people and reduce it for those who least need it. The proposals are…because right now we’re at 50 percent of our…the general fund comes from sales tax, somewhere in that ballpark. We’ve got to get that down. 35 percent comes from income and the rest from other places. I want more balance there. Income tax is a progressive tax and I think we have to focus on looking at balancing it across the board, looking at different options, taking credits and deductions that are not functioning like the way we thought they were going to function. There’s opportunities that we need to look at to bring balance to the tax structure of the state.
Michael Chihak: Mr. Bradley, very quickly, we have about 30 seconds left, one issue that you’ve been hearing out on the campaign trail that you’ll address.
David Bradley: Well, healthcare is a central issue that I hear a lot about. I also hear a lot about attitude and how one approaches other people and how legislators should communicate with their constituents and people that they disagree with without having to rant and rave at them.
Michael Chihak: And Senator Antenori, in 20 seconds, what are you hearing on the campaign trail?
Frank Antenori: I mean, to do our job and that’s balance the budget and keep the state going in the right direction and not drive it back into the financial ditch that created all this hardship and heartburn in the first place. Had my opponent simply not spent the money he spent, there would have been no need to cut anything in the state. We had enough in the rainy day fund and we wouldn’t have to make any cuts to any of the programs that he advocates and champions.
Michael Chihak: Senator Frank Antenori, David Bradley, thank you so much for being here, candidates in LD10. You can see a replay of this forum on our website azpm.org. There you’ll also find information on all of Southern Arizona’s legislative races and candidates. To comment on what you saw here tonight, click on the story online and go to the bottom. We can also be reached via Facebook and Twitter. I’m Michael Chihak. Good evening.