Photo by Howard Fischer, for the Courier.
PHOENIX — Admittedly underfunded and less well known than the incumbent, Tucson Democrat Steve Farley announced Monday he intends to take on Doug Ducey for governor.
The current state senator, first elected to the legislature in 2006, said he believes the time is right for someone to challenge the policies of the current governor, policies he said have led to the severe shorting of education in Arizona. And Farley said he believes the needed dollars can be found by eliminating some of the $13.7 billion in sales tax exemptions.
Farley sidestepped questions by Capitol Media Services of what tax breaks he would eliminate. And some would clearly be unpopular, including the more than $400 million a year the state would collect if it reinstated a long-abandoned tax on food purchased at grocery stores for home consumption.
And then there’s the question of taxing items when sold at the wholesale level to retailers, similar to the European value-added tax. While that would generated more than $4 billion, the added cost would be passed along to consumers.
But Farley is insistent that many of the exemptions are there solely because powerful special interests can hire lobbyists to create them.
That happened just this year when Ducey signed a budget that includes an exemption for those who buy incremental shares in a private jet from having to pay sales taxes on their purchases. Legislative staffers pegged the loss of revenues at anywhere from $470,000 to $2.2 million.
Farley said he’s convinced there are other such special interest carve-outs in the tax code, even if each of them are small.
“With $13.7 billion, there’s a lot of nickels and dimes in the couch,’’ he said. “If you just found $2 billion of that $13.7 billion that you could get rid of without harming our general economy, you could decrease our (5.6 percent state) sales tax by a full cent and you could increase education spending by $1 billion a year.’’
While Farley is focusing on Ducey, his first hurdle is to win the Democratic primary. His main foe is David Garcia who narrowly lost the general election race in 2014 for state schools chief to Diane Douglas.
Garcia, like Farley, is focusing on what they say are shortcoming — and short-funding — of the state’s education system. And Garcia is citing his extensive knowledge of education, having been a deputy superintendent of public instruction and currently an associate professor in the College of Education at Arizona State University.
But Farley said he has something that Garcia does not: legislative experience.
“I understand how to actually put the policies into place,’’ he said. “I won’t be a governor just learning on the job.’’
If Farley becomes the nominee he will go up against what is expected to be a well-funded incumbent.
In 2014, when the seat was open, Ducey’s own campaign committee spent $7.9 million. And that doesn’t include another $8.2 million spent on Ducey’s behalf by from outside groups, most of which do not disclose their donors.
That includes nearly $1.5 million alone from American Encore, successor to the Koch brothers financed Center to Protect Patient Rights.
“I’m going to be raising money, I’m going to be competitive,’’ Farley said. And he hopes to use any outside money spent on Ducey’s behalf against him.
“No one’s going to outraise the Koch brothers because they’re going to throw money at it,’’ Farley said. In fact he contends that Ducey is now the new “golden boy’’ for the anti-regulatory brothers who he said may be grooming the incumbent for higher office.
Ducey has attended multiple retreats that the brothers put on with selected elected officials and other big donors. Last year, Ducey press aide Daniel Scarpinato said his boss likes attending the conference with “advocates of limited government, innovation and the free enterprise system.’’
“That’s not what people want in Arizona,’’ Farley said. “We don’t want a national golden boy burnishing his resume for the next edition on the national stage.’’
Money aside, Farley thinks the timing of the election — separate from the quadrennial presidential contest — works in his favor.
“The last time we had a Democratic governor we had a Republican in the White House,’’ he said, reminding people of the election in 2002 of Janet Napolitano.
“And this guy is so much more polarizing than even George W. Bush was,’’ Farley said.
Noah Dyer, vice president of marketing strategies at Phoenix-based On Advertising, also is in the hunt for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. But Dyer mainly has gained attention for self-disclosure of his personal life, including that he “has had both deep and casual sexual experiences with all kinds of women’’ and that he has “sent and received intimate texts and pictures, and occasionally recorded video during sex.’’
Dyer said he wanted to put the issues out there ahead of the race to prevent them from becoming a distraction during the campaign.