Originally Published: April 22, 2018 5:58 a.m.
PHOENIX — Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett is going to try to keep incumbent Doug Ducey from once again being the Republican nominee for governor.
Bennett announced Saturday he wants to make another bid for the job that he failed to get four years ago when he came in a distant fourth in the six-way GOP primary. But while Ducey won that race, he wasn’t the overwhelming
choice of Republicans, gathering just 37 percent of the vote.
But Bennett thinks that Ducey is vulnerable this year noting that 63 percent of Republicans wanted someone else in 2014.
Ducey did not return a message seeking comment on his new primary foe. But J.P. Twist, the governor’s political adviser, blew off questions about whether Bennett is a potential threat to his client.
“It wouldn’t be an election year without Ken running for something,’’ he sniffed, a reference to the fact that Bennett, after losing the 2014 gubernatorial primary made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2016. He lost that primary race to Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu who, in turn, was defeated by Democrat Tom O’Halleran.
Bennett is basing much of his campaign on his contention that Ducey has mishandled the issue of state aid to education and teacher pay.
The state is spending less now on a per-student basis than it was in 2009, even before inflation is factored in.
Ducey, after initially proposing a 1 percent raise for teacher salaries in January, more recently offered to boost that to 9 percent this coming year with an additional 5 percent the next year and 5 percent more the year after that.
Bennett, whose political history includes having been president of the state Board of Education, said he believes teachers deserve the kind of money the governor is proposing.
He doubts, however, Ducey’s claim that the approximately $670 million needed by the 2020-2021 school year can be found simply by counting on strong economic growth. The more realistic alternative, said Bennett, is to generate the money by broadening the state sales tax, imposing the levy on goods and services that are now exempt.
The way Bennett sees it, Arizona is far too dependent on income taxes. More to the point, he said those levies are paid entirely by state residents.
But sales taxes, he said, are paid by anyone who buys something in Arizona. And he believes that a third or more of sales taxes are paid by winter visitors and other tourists.
There is a basis for Bennett’s contention that there are dollars to be had with a broader sales tax bas..
The most recent report from the Arizona Department of Revenue said that transactions that are now exempt from the state sales tax would generate more than $12 billion -- or more than twice as much as the state now collects from the levy.
Bennett conceded that taxing some of those would likely prove to be politically unpalatable.
For example, the state reports it would collect more than $810 million if it were to tax care offered at hospitals, with another $454 million if patients paid a tax when they visit a doctor and more than $641 million lost because taxes are not paid on prescription drugs and medical oxygen.
The state also foregoes nearly $360 million by not taking groceries for home consumption.
But Bennett said there are services that could be taxed, with only minimal financial impact.
Consider the cost of having a windshield replaced -- a business his family is in -- which he said runs about $200. But the state tax is levied only on the half that is the cost of the glass; the services are tax exempt.