Dist. 23 races are all about the budget - East Valley Tribune: News

Dist. 23 races are all about the budget

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Posted: Saturday, October 18, 2008 7:00 pm | Updated: 11:03 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

For the four candidates running for the two House seats in Legislative District 23, the failing economy and state budget woes are issues on the minds of just about every voter they meet on the campaign trail.

However, Ernest Bustamante and Barbara McGuire, the Democrats, and John Fillmore and Frank Pratt, the Republicans, say they would manage an anticipated $1 billion state deficit this year in different ways.

McGuire and Bustamante pledge to protect funding for education and social service programs, while Fillmore and Pratt espouse keeping taxes low and lessening regulation on business.

Fillmore is the most specific on the state budget issue. He contends that an "across-the-board cut" of up to 7 percent should be taken from all state agencies to deal with the rising deficit. "I think government needs to get smarter and more realistic with itself, especially when it comes to the budget," Fillmore said. "The state of mind seems to be that we are in a crisis but we still need to keep spending."

The 2006 elections are proof of the competitiveness of the district that has historically gone Democratic. It covers much of Pinal County, including areas south of Queen Creek and Apache Junction and small parts of western Maricopa and eastern Gila counties.

Pratt, a moderate conservative, lost to McGuire by less than 300 votes. Fillmore was about 1,000 votes behind Pratt in that election - in a district that has seen its Democratic numbers dwindle from 48 percent to 39 percent in the last four years. About 32 percent of the district's registration is Republican and 29 percent are independents.

Even with a disadvantage on paper, Pratt says his campaign reaches out across party lines.

"I've always been able to beat the percentages because the message that I try to deliver is positive - whether they are Republican or independent or Democrats," he said.

While recent history shows the Republicans have come close to winning seats, both of the Democrats in the race are proof that voters have stuck with their Democratic candidates.

Bustamante served a two-year term in 2002, but was defeated in the 2004 primary by Democrats Cheryl Chase and Pete Rios. Rios is not seeking re-election and is making a run for a Pinal County supervisor seat.

Bustamante, a Mammoth resident and ASARCO steelworker, said a major focus of his campaign is "jump-starting the economy."

Pinal County in particular needs a manufacturing base to balance a spike in residential growth, Bustamante said. In 2007, the county had the third-fastest rate of growth in the nation - trailing two parishes in Louisiana that are repopulating after Hurricane Katrina.

Bustamante said the state's enterprise zones, which give businesses a significant tax break in places around Pinal County, should lure clean industries like solar energy producers to the district.

Meanwhile, the district has an opportunity to cash in on the San Pedro River corridor on the eastern edge of the county and attract hunters and tourists, he said.

"I think that we could promote and lure more jobs here," he said. "That would help the county establish a tax base."

McGuire, after serving her first term, said that creating jobs and improving transportation in the largely rural district are her main focuses.

She said she supports state tax incentives for solar energy producers and other businesses that could help Arizona compete with surrounding states like Colorado, which has successfully landed solar companies.

Meanwhile, she's anticipating a tough budget session this year. She said education and health care should be "the very last looked at as far as cuts."

"There will be big cuts made - there's no other option at this point unless a miracle happens," she said.

Pratt, the owner of a pool construction business, didn't have specific budget cuts in mind. He said the state budget crisis should not lead to higher taxes and more regulations on business.

Part of the state's problem was created by one of the largest housing booms in the nation, he said. A significant number of houses that Pratt's business built pools for were owned by out-of-state investors looking to sell houses in a short period of time.

The housing boom didn't lead to a jobs and housing balance that would sustain the district in the long term, Pratt said. But there's no reason to think that the district won't develop jobs and services around new residential areas, he said.

"We're a growth state, and we're going to continue to grow," he said. "People are still going to come here. It's still a pretty decent place to live."

Fillmore, a real estate broker and small-business owner from Apache Junction, says the state needs to look at innovative solutions to problems like transportation. A toll road cutting across the Gila River Indian Community could link western Pinal County with Interstate 10 - creating a major link across the county.

Fillmore said a campaign strategy this time has been reaching out to people in other parts of the district who may not have known him in 2006.

"I wanted to let people know that I'm not just some sort of ogre that wants to cut programs," he said.

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