FLORENCE — Arizona offers plenty of tax exemptions, and state lawmakers are considering even more, a Democratic candidate for Legislative District 8 said.

Even people who buy fine art don’t pay tax on it. “And my husband’s a painter, but I would be fine voting against that,” Eloy resident Sharon Girard said at a town hall and campaign event she held March 5 at the Florence Library & Community Center.

Other tax-free purchases in Arizona include horse vitamins and herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. Buying a plane or even time-sharing a private plane is also tax-free, Girard said.

“So there are a lot of ways we have been cutting taxes in the state. Special interests get into the Legislature, puts their hand out and who gets hurt? The children, and the state, and all the other things that we really are mandated to do as state government.”

Lawmakers are considering still further tax cuts, with more than a dozen pending tax cut bills that would result in a loss of more than $671 million in school funding, Girard said.

Half of the state’s revenue goes to education, yet Arizona spends about half per pupil compared to what’s normal around the country, she said. “We would need billions of dollars just to bring ourselves up to the middle of the pack.”

But other pending bills would direct more funds to education, Girard said.

HB 2806 would appropriate funding for preschool. Arizona still doesn’t have preschool for everyone, Girard said. “We must do this: We must find the energy, the time and the money to get this done, and full-day pre-kindergarten, which isn’t across the board in the state.”

Another measure would ask voters to approve a one-cent sales tax for K-12 education, universities and community colleges.

HB 2762 would fund the governor’s Project Rocket, one-time funding to help lower-performing schools. “They’re asking for $44 million so we’ll see how it goes. It’s still alive, and it’s still moving.”

On the other side, Girard sees SB 1357, which would give parents the right to question all school instructional materials, as “a little scary.

“I would trust the teacher and the governing board to decide on good instructional materials and trust the teachers, just like I want to be trusted as a health care provider.” Girard spent 30 years as a physician assistant, mostly in rural communities. “Micromanaging” teachers to this degree would discourage them and cause more to leave the profession, Girard said.

The state is already hurting for teachers, with 1,800 classrooms without a permanent teacher, Girard said.

She also questioned Gov. Doug Ducey’s announcement that he planned to close Arizona State Prison-Florence Complex, which Florence officials heard for the first time in his “State of the State” address in January. She said it illustrates a need for more accountability and professionalism in government.

“Before you say or do anything, do you not check with the stakeholders? Do you not talk to people and get feedback, such as ‘How much will it cost? How will it affect people? Is this a good idea?’ One reason I’m running is for accountability and ethics in government.”

She added that Arizona locks up a lot of people. “If we were a country, I heard we’d be No. 4. We need to look at that, we need criminal justice reform in the state.”

As for health care, Girard said she’d like to expand AHCCCS, the state’s version of Medicaid, and make it available to everyone on a sliding-scale fee. She said 750,000 Arizonans are uninsured. “Why not have them buy in so they’re covered?”

Among the good health care bills now pending includes one that would provide comprehensive dental care through AHCCCS for pregnant women, Girard said. Poor dental care is associated with premature births, she said.

Not good, Girard said, is a bill that would allow people to refuse an immunization for any reason. “It’s scary it’s still alive.”

A worthier bill that would have capped monthly insulin costs at $100 per month, sponsored by state Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, is dead, Girard said.

Also troubling is what is missing from the legislative agenda, Girard said: sex education, more Temporary Aid to Needy Families, solutions to the shortage of rural health care providers, affordable medications and rural broadband for telemedicine.

A bill introduced by Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, would appropriate $15 million for a Tonto Basin bridge in Gila County.

“I think this is a very good idea, but I am not sure the Legislature is where the money should come from. I think it’s a good thing, and a good-hearted thing to do,” but the state can’t be responsible for local capital projects, Girard said.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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