Citizen Staff Writer
Whatever the state legislative race in District 29 might have been about before, it’s now about an incredible-shrinking budget.
State budget revenues could be down by $3.5 billion for fiscal 2009-10, from a $10.7 billion budget this fiscal year, Republican legislative leaders have claimed. More than half the money the state spends can’t legally be cut.
This is now the overarching issue in the race for the district’s two seats in the state House of Representatives.
The heavily Democratic district roughly covers the South Side below 22nd Street between 12th Avenue and Harrison Road down to Pima Mine Road. It includes Davis-Monthan Air Force Base but excludes Rita Ranch.
Democrats Matt Heinz and Daniel Patterson survived a seven-candidate primary to face Republicans Juan Ciscomani and Pat Kilburn.
Heinz and Patterson promise to protect health care and education from the budget ax, as do Ciscomani and Kilburn, but the Republicans also vow to make Arizona more friendly to business.
The Republicans face an uphill battle in a district where they are outnumbered by registered Democrats 31,000 to 15,000. Another 20,000 are independents.
Ciscomani said the key to the election is to find out what matters to voters and talk to them directly about it.
“When you turn it back to them, they don’t talk about party,” he said, adding that he has an advantage being the only Hispanic running in a heavily Hispanic district.
Fixing the state budget is now paramount and he promises to protect education programs.
“Everything else is on the table,” Ciscomani said.
He would push for a 10-year sunset on voter-approved initiatives to give Arizonans a chance to change their minds and priorities over time.
Voter-approved protection takes too much off the table during tough economic times and forces drastic cuts in other services, he said.
He’s running on a pledge to improve education and provide parents with more choice as to where their kids go to school.
Some schools in Hispanic neighborhoods have extreme dropout rates and that’s unacceptable, Ciscomani said.
“When parents have more choice and principals have more power, that’s when you get results in education,” Ciscomani said.
Kilburn said he would ask all state programs to be trimmed.
“Everybody is going to have to operate more efficiently,” he said.
He would protect education but understands it too must have some reduction.
“We are going to have to be better stewards of every dollar that goes to education,” Kilburn said.
Other than the budget, Kilburn would ease restrictions in hopes to improve the state’s economic prospects.
“I can see Tucson as being the technological capital of the world,” Kilburn said. “To do that, you have to make regulations as (less cumbersome) as possible.”
He’d also streamline and clarify the regulations that are in place to make them “clear and adequate.”
He’s hoping that the electorate is in the mood for change.
Heinz, a physician, pledged not to take Republicans for granted.
“I don’t take somebody’s voter card in the ER to see if I’m going to treat them,” Heinz said. “You have to let all the voters know you are one of them.”
Heinz first ran in 2006 in the midtown Legislative District 28. He lost that race, then moved into District 29 and began campaigning.
He got into politics to fix the health care problems he sees on the job but now knows his job will be more about cutting programs than adding to them.
“Whenever you are cutting something, you are are cutting a program someone was using,” he said.
And other cuts can cause real problems, he said. Each dollar cut from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System means the state loses three federal Medicaid dollars.
“I want to protect any program targeted to lower-income families and really, AHCCCS is one of the big ones,” he said.
His goal is to save money in the short run and in the future expand health care money and education funds because Arizona ranks near the bottom nationally in school funding, Heinz said.
He would fight efforts to use the current financial crisis to permanently eliminate programs.
“I’m hoping we are cinching things up a bit and then can gradually go back and restore funding to those programs,” he said.
He also thinks the state can do things off budget to improve health care, even if it’s as simple as getting health clinics to change their hours of operation to improve their accessibility to the public.
Patterson, an ecologist and longtime local environmental activist, calls the race a battle for economic justice, especially in tough budget times.
“There really are no good options,” Patterson said. “The big priority is going to be in protecting the programs that mean the most.”
So he sees his role as first defending the budget from conservatives who might seize upon the budget to permanently eliminate programs they’ve long opposed.
“There are going to be some attempts to gut the budget in a way that hurts working families,” he said.
Patterson would prefer to play offense and increase certain taxes to raise more money for expanded services.
The state constitution requires a balanced budget and that any tax increase be approved by 60 percent of the Legislature, now controlled by Republicans.
He would also work to allow more preservation of state trust land now meant for development and providing more alternative energy.
To get it all done, Patterson pledges to seek Republican help.
“I’m going to spend time really listening and reaching across the aisle with Republicans to get things done,” Patterson said.