- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. (AP) - Different philosophies on improving the state’s economy and rebuilding an education system damaged by budget cuts dominated Tuesday’s final debate between the Republican and Democratic candidates for Arizona governor.

Republican Doug Ducey said he hopes to make the state more business-friendly by freezing and then rolling back state regulations and creating what he called a personal and business income tax code as close to zero as possible. He also said more education money needs to get to classrooms.

But Democrat Fred DuVal called Ducey’s tax-cutting plan unrealistic at a time when the state is facing a deficit of more than $1.5 billion in the coming two years. He said more money isn’t getting to classrooms because of cuts in state funding, and that the economy will grow when businesses know qualified graduates are available to hire.

Ducey, who has campaigned for months on cutting the income tax with a goal of elimination, walked back his proposals a bit on Tuesday.

“No one’s talked about eliminating the income tax,” Ducey said. “I’ve talked about an ever-improving tax situation. If we can get it as close to zero as possible, that’s a positive. This is my philosophy on taxes - they should be simpler, fairer, flatter and a whole lot easier to deal with.”

But DuVal has repeatedly called Ducey’s tax-cutting plan unrealistic, while promising targeted tax cuts of his own to draw businesses. DuVal said restoring funding to education so businesses know their employees’ children have good schools to attend and a trained workforce available is the best way to bring back the state’s stagnant economy.

“We have lowered taxes in Arizona 23 of the last 24 years,” DuVal said. “… The most important thing for businesses is, will they have a workforce, will their kids go to good schools.”

Addressing two women’s groups at a resort in the tony Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley, DuVal said single mothers in particular need a change in leadership. The state’s current governor, Jan Brewer, is a Republican.

“We owe it to them to fix the economy. We owe it to them to fix Arizona’s schools,” DuVal said. “And we can’t fix the economy unless we fix our schools.”

The state Legislature is fighting a court order that it must restore about $1.5 billion in school funding over the coming four years because lawmakers during the recession illegally cut mandatory increases in funding tied to inflation. A judge is considering where another $1.2 billion in back payments are owed.

Ducey is supporting the appeal, while DuVal said the state should pay up now.

DuVal, 60, served as a top aide and adviser to Bruce Babbitt both during Babbitt’s terms as Arizona governor in the late 1970s and the 1980s. He also served in President Bill Clinton’s administration and was appointed by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano to the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees universities. The Tucson native also worked in private business.

Ducey, 50, helped launch Cold Stone Creamery in Arizona and built it into a well-known chain before selling the company in 2007 and getting into politics. He was elected as state treasurer in 2010 and touts his opposition to a permanent sales tax increase voters rejected in 2012.

In their closing statements Tuesday, both refocused on their main election themes.

“Priority one is going to be kick-start our economy,” Ducey said. “We know we have a great place to live. But we can do so much better in terms of growth and business relocation. And when the economy is growing, almost everything else seems to take care of itself.”

DuVal went back to his main campaign theme -adequate funding for schools.

“We do big things in Arizona. We must do big things for our children now,” DuVal said. “But we’ve got to stop fighting in court over school funding. When we do this, we will transform our children’s schools, we will change our future.”

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