Mesa District 18 needs a change in leadership

by Don Stapley – Oct. 16, 2011 07:17 PM

As summer turns to autumn, and leaves begin to turn colors, change is in the air. Nowhere is that change more needed than in Mesa Legislative District 18, where the voters have petitioned for a change in the senator who represents them. They simply wanted a chance, sooner rather than later, to elect someone who better reflects their needs in these difficult times.

As a Maricopa County supervisor, I represent much of District 18. I strongly support our two House members, Cecil Ash and Steve Court. They are focused on lowering the cost of state government in tough economic times in intelligent ways. The same cannot be said of Sen. Russell Pearce, who is obsessed with one issue: illegal immigration. It is time for a change.

I am also concerned with Sen. Pearce’s approach to government. He has worked overtime to damage the very county he lives in by running legislation that would destroy a time-tested governing structure, historic responsibilities and a delicate balance of power between the County Board of Supervisors and other elected officials.

As you know, the supervisors set the county property-tax rate to bring in the needed revenue to run county government, an array of services – courts, jails, air quality, roads, record-keeping, elections, school finance, probation, law enforcement and more. We don’t tell elected officials how to spend their budgets. But we do require they stay within their budgets.

In that way, county tax burdens can be as low as possible and we don’t have out-of-control spending and enormous deficits – as the state has had in recent years. This wasn’t always the case. In the early ’90s, before I was on the board, Maricopa County was swimming in a sea of red ink. Today, even during this severe recession, the county has reduced its operating budget by $118.5 million and still wins state and national quality awards for service. The county is undoubtedly one of the largest government entities in the country without any general-obligation bonded debt.

Yet, for some reason, Sen. Pearce has relentlessly pursued a slash-and-burn policy toward Maricopa County. The Legislature has used the county as an ATM. Since 2008, lawmakers have swept county funds and transferred state programs totaling $175 million.

In addition, Pearce has pushed bills that would fragment and weaken county fiscal accountability. One such proposal would have handed over budget matters to the individual elected offices and to all the justices of the peace. This would drastically grow government and duplicate bureaucracy. And if they overrun their budgets? Well, the supervisors would just have to raise taxes to balance the budget.

That’s a formula for fiscal calamity.

Yet Sen. Pearce has introduced this bill three years in row. And if he is back in the Senate, he’ll surely try it again. We need better, broader representation, representation and leadership that understands collaboration, not just threats.

Jerry Lewis is a better option for Mesa and Arizona. He would bring the thoughtful, balanced, economy-focused leadership to the state Senate. That’s something we haven’t gotten enough of from Sen. Pearce.

A better approach includes better education, better fiscal management and a more rational, less-confrontational style of leadership. That is why voters should send Jerry Lewis to represent them in District 18 this November.

Don Stapley, a Mesa resident, is a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

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