A November 8th runoff election will determine if Wes Gullett or Greg Stanton will be the next mayor of Phoenix. Find out where the candidates stand on the issues in this Horizon debate.
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to this special edition of "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.
Ted Simons: This evening's show is a debate between the two candidates competing in a runoff election for mayor of Phoenix. As with all of "Horizon's" debates this is not a formal exercise, but an open exchange of ideas. An opportunity for give and take between candidates seeking to lead the fifth largest city in the nation. Interjections and interruptions are allowed provided all sides get a fair shake. The candidates for Phoenix mayor are in alphabetical order, Wes Gullett, a lobbyist and founding partner of a Phoenix-based strategic planning firm. His past political experience working as chief of staff for former governor Fife Symington and working for senator John McCain. The other candidate is Greg Stanton, an attorney who served nine years on the Phoenix city council. He also worked as a deputy state attorney general. Each candidate will have one minute for opening and closing statements. And earlier we drew numbers to see who goes first, and that honor goes to Greg Stanton.
Greg Stanton: Good evening. I am Greg Stanton, and I'm running for mayor for two good reasons -- they're my kids, Trevor and violet. Hopefully they're watching tonight. I'm fighting for their future and the future of every child within the city of Phoenix. Phoenix is my home. I grew up here. My parents still live in the very same home in west Phoenix where I grew up. My mom was a school teacher, my dad worked at J.C. penny, took the city bus every day to and from work. My wife and I we're raising our kids right in the heart of the city. We are fully invested in the future of this city. And my priorities are your priorities. We need to build a more diverse sustainable economy. You know that Phoenix needs to do better with our schools if we're going to compete in this economy moving forward. And we need a Phoenix government that is more accountable. Look, I've spent my life in public service, both on the city council as well as in law enforcement as deputy attorney general. I've got a great plan for job creation, education, and making the city more accountable. I look forward to tonight's discussion.
Ted Simons: Thank you very much, Greg, and now Wes Gullett has one minute for an opening statement.
Wes Gullet: I'm Wes Gullett, and I'm running for mayor to put Phoenix back to work. We all know people who are suffering in this economy, people that we care about. That's why I've got -- I'm going to keep a laser focus on job creation. I've got a plan. A seven-point plan that is going to focus on getting creating jobs are and making a future for our city. It's critical that we get government out of the way. That we slow down red tape, we cut red tape and we put the people back to work by lowering permit fees and reducing the cost of government. If we do that, we can increase the economy, we can grow jobs, and we can be a successful community. That's what we've got to do to make sure that Phoenix is the greatest city in America. Thank you.
Ted Simons: Thank you very much. Let's get things started. You both mentioned issues in the opening statement, what if city's most pressing need?
Greg Stanton: Creating more diverse, sustainable economy. We simply can't compete moving forward if Phoenix has a high high school dropout rate and the wages of our citizens are too low. It's exactly why I took the lead when I served on the city council on great projects like D-GEN, which are doing incredible science but also making a statement about the future we want for our kids. It's the reason why I took the lead on projects like the University of Arizona medical school, which will create more nurse and doctors and more research and more spinoff opportunities. Just like ASU and creating more higher education opportunities. We can't do things like the city -- I'm the one person who voted no on that crazy city north giveaway. We've got to be smarter about economic development and we have to have a long-term vision. That's what I present to the people of the city of Phoenix.
Ted Simons: Most pressing need?
Wes Gullett: We've got to get small businesses working again. To do that we're going to be able to -- we need to cut red tape, get government out of the way, lower the cost so we can attract jobs that are coming, leaving California and now they're going to Texas. We've lost 250,000 jobs in the last three years in Phoenix. And Texas has gained 550,000. Why is that? It's because their costs are lower. Their cost lines are flat. Ours are increasing. We've raised water rates, we've raised taxes, we've raised permit fees. We've got to get ahold of that, lower it, cut it and we will be able to create jobs.
Ted Simons: But I want to add to the question. You both define some pressing needs. You are on the council for nine years. Why weren't those needs addressed to the point where they don't need to be addressed so much right now?
Greg Stanton: Let me at the time you what happened. I served on city council for nine years before I served in law enforcement for two years as deputy attorney general. We balanced that budget every year. Of the two candidates in this race, only one has actually made the tough choices to balance budget. When I left that city council, the city of Phoenix had the highest credit rating of any big city in the country, and the highest credit rating of any city in the entire valley of the sun. And our water rate, our water rate, we need to be as efficient as possible, but it's important to understand that the water rate goes to make sure we have clean water, we have the appropriate infrastructure for growth in the future, and that we pay down our debt. Of course when Mr. Gullett was a private lobbyist for a private water company he asked for a rate increase on a base that was higher than the city of Phoenix so he lacked a lot of credibility on this issue of water rates.
Ted Simons: Respond to that please.
Wes Gullett: You know that what we asked for was -- and got was an 11% increase in water rates in Fountain Hills. And what you gave us was 100% increase in water rates over the last 10 years. The water rates don't need to be increased. We can deliver good water, safe water, and do the construction that we need to do without raising the rates.
Greg Stanton: There's a fundamental difference. The rate in Fountain Hills was higher at the time -- asked for even higher rate. The city of Phoenix water rate currently is less than the private water company that Mr. Gullett did his lobbying for. The fact he lacks credibility is glaring. But fundamentally -
Wes Gullett: no, it isn't. Because here's what you've done, Greg. What you did, and the city council did, was consistently raise rates. Raise water rates. Constantly. Every year. And you're for a 7% increase this year, next year and the year after. And we don't need it right now. We can do the job that we need to do with the water rates we already have. You have said throughout this campaign that -- and skip is supporting your campaign who said we need higher water rates. We don't. It takes $24 million out of the private economy, and it's unnecessary.
Greg Stanton: It's currently important that he'll never explain how he's going to pay for the increased requirements from EPA which go into that water rate. How you're going to create those jobs that go with the infrastructure.
Wes Gullett: The city -
Ted Simons: hold on.
Greg Stanton: And also pay down the debt on the infrastructure project. It's incredibly important that Phoenix maintain that highest credit rating so we can actually do our business for the lowest cost. And the fundamental difference is, when Mr. Gullett was getting paid to do it, he was more than willing to raise water rates on a higher base, and he's taken different position during this race. It's a fundamental difference.
Ted Simons: Respond.
Wes Gullett: The water rate increase the Fountain Hills had, came after 14 years of not having than increase. It was an 11% increase over 14 years. You've done 100% increase over 10 years. There's a massive difference. A massive difference in the way that we approach these things.
Ted Simons: I think there's a massive difference in the way you approach the food tax. Let's talk about the tax. Did you support it? If so, why?
Greg Stanton: I was in law enforcement at the time that the food tax went into place, and actually I don't support the way the food tax went into place. It wasn't done in the most transparent way possible and in fact the way I've described it, it wasn't the Phoenix way. If I was in a leadership position when I was in a leadership position, if and when we asked for revenue increases, which we did for law enforcement, which we did for parks and preserve, we put it on the ballot. We put our reputations on the line and asked the voters to support us which they did. I believe that's the way the food tax should have been done if it was necessary. I believe the food tax should be repealed. But we should repeal it in the most responsible way possible in a way you can guarantee sworn police officers and firefighters will not lose their jobs as a result. That's something Mr. Gullett can not do
Ted Simons: Food tax.
Wes Gullett: We need to repeal it immediately. The food tax is another thing that Greg would have raised, but he quit his job. In a leadership role in the city of Phoenix with the job that the voters had voted him into. He quit to take a new job being Terry Goddard's lobbyist. But what we need to do is we need to roll back the food tax immediately. And the money is in the budget. It's already in the budget today. To be able to do that.
Ted Simons: So for -- for those who say fewer cops, fewer city services, fewer firefighters -
Wes Gullett: we can do it with the same level of service that we have today, the money is in the budget. There's a $200 million slush fund that the city has in the budget right now compared to what they actually spent last year and what they have budgeted for this year. And if that doesn't -- if we don't have enough money there I have a reform plan that will pay for it.
Greg Stanton: It's shocking that someone that's been running can for mayor as long as he is, Mr. Gullett has been lobby can as long as he has such a misunderstanding of the city budget. This $.
Wes Gullett: I don't have a misunderstanding of the city budget. I actually understand it.
Greg Stanton: The $200 million incorporates enterprise funds and general funds. He wants to move monies from one type of fund to another, which is illegal. It's a shocking misunderstanding of how the city works. I do need to respond because he did say that I quote left my job. It's important for people to know what I did do in law enforcement.
Wes Gullett: You quit your job at the city of Phoenix.
Greg Stanton: I fought the payday lender -- I was a lobbiest for the part time of people of Arizona. I fought the payday lenders. He worked for border security, to preserve the future of Air Force base. I am proud of the work, and it's work that benefited the city of Phoenix and its people.
Wes Gullett: After you quit your job that the people had elected you for. What we have to do is roll back the food tax. The money that's in the budget today is -- there is plenty of money in the budget. Without -- because the food tax goes into different enterprise zones, or enterprise accounts, it can be taken and paid back through the same way. It doesn't move money around. The money is in the budget, and you know it's in the budget. And if that doesn't work, we've got a reform plan that saves $50 million that will also be able -
Greg Stanton: Mr. Gullett is running a campaign promising so many different -
Wes Gullett: be careful -
Greg Stanton: -- based upon a pension reform plan. When he rolled it out it turns out his pension plan would cost taxpayers more money, so he is flailing around for other sources of money. Comes up with this $200 million amount that's laying around in the budget, but when folks actually look at that, they realize that he is talking about the entire $3 billion budget that includes enterprise funds, and for a person running for office of this magnitude, to misunderstand that is actually shocking and should be worrisome to people watching.
Ted Simons: Last point on this.
Wes Gullett: Greg is classic. It's a classic shell game the city runs. And he's a master at it because he was there for nine years. They move the money around whenever it fits their description, it works out fine. The money is in the budget. My government reform plan saves $50 million. What he's talking about is my pension plan which is extensive and aggressive. And significant -
Ted Simons: I want to get to your pension plan in a second. We've got to keep it moving, Greg.
Greg Stanton: When I served for nine years we balanced the budget the old fashioned way. We made tough cuts. And that's why we have the highest credit rating of any city.
Ted Simons: We also have pension system that by most accounts needs some kind of reform. Do you think the pension system needs reform? And if so, how?
Greg Stanton: Absolutely. I put a fundamental reform plan on the table in this race. It's actually patterned after what the state legislature did. It would involve city employees paying more into the pension system. It would involve new employees having to retire at a later date. It would get rid of some of the problems in the current system including pension spiking and double dipping. My pension reform plan saves taxpayers money. Mr. Gullett's plan is idea logically driven would cost money for at least 22 years. It's a fundamental difference. Mine is pragmatic smart leadership, his is ideological driven and sends us in the wrong direction.
Wes Gullett: Your plan is actually the one where you bury your head in the sand and hope things get better. That's not what we need to do. Just like businesses all across America, we need to move from a defined benefit plan to a 401(k) style plan. We need to do it. I have a plan to do that, to begin the transition, and we've got to be realistic because right now 277% increase in the last 10 years, while you were in the city council, of increases in the impact of the general fund for unfunded pension liability. That number is growing every year. And we've got to do something to fix it. And the way to fix it is to do just like businesses all across America have done, and move to a 401(k) plan.
Greg Stanton: Every actuarial study will show his style of reform will cost taxpayers more money for at least -
Wes Gullett: because we -
Greg Stanton: -- two decades. People want to figure out how the city going to save costs. The fundamental difference is that my reform plan is smart, pragmatic, will protect the pension for a long period of time, it's fundamentally smart and will save taxpayers money. That's a big difference.
Wes Gullett: It stalls the problem for our children and grandchildren. They'll have to pay for it in the long run. I'm saying we need to do it today. We need to move forward today as opposed to 20 years from now, when our kids are finally figuring out that there's not going to be money to pay those pensions you want to give away.
Greg Stanton: The state legislature is looking at the same set of facts. They looked at the tax and said they want to save money. That's why my reform plan is a much smarter approach to reform.
Wes Gullett: I would think -- I would take my ideology of saving enormous amounts of money in the future. And protecting our children and our grandchildren's legacy over your ideology of burying your head in the sand.
Ted Simons: We need to stop it there. I want to talk about light rail. Should light rail be extended in Phoenix? Expanded, the whole nine yards?
Wes Gullett: Not until we get an economic return for our investment. When I say that, when they started the light rail project they knew what was going to happen. Didn't do the planning, didn't dot heavy lifting to get an economic development return on the light rail we already have. And we shouldn't invest more money until we've gotten that return at least the planning part of it done. Look at camelback road from central to 19th Avenue. Looks like Detroit. Is that the future of light rail? Now they want to extend it up to Dunlap Avenue in the same section that we haven't gotten any return from to date.
Ted Simons: Was light rail a mistake?
Wes Gullett: I think light rail -- Greg is going to say the voters voted for it, the voters voted for freeways and light rail was part of that.
Ted Simons: What do you say about light rail? Some folks think it's a great thing. We're hearing concerns.
Greg Stanton: I grew up in a bus family. I know how important public transportation is to working class families in the city of Phoenix. And you want to talk about return on investment, we are taping this very show at ASU downtown. I was a champion for ASU downtown. ASU downtown would not have occurred but for our commitment to light rail. ASU downtown is a great return on investment, and I am going to be a leader in making sure that we have multiple transportation options, including growing our light rail system. It is critically important for the future not just of the city of Phoenix, but this entire region, and where we're sitting right now. That's great return on investment.
Ted Simons: Is there too much emphasis on downtown Phoenix in terms of city politics and in terms of city plans?
Wes Gullett: We've got to have a vibrant downtown, there's no question about that. But it's been the center of the focus for the last 10 years. We need to be focusing on a variety of vibrancy throughout the city. Right now in the next phase. And that includes -- so we have this building downtown, it's great. And light rail works good between -- it works really well between downtown and main campus at ASU. But the rest of the system is underutilized, and that's exactly why we need to focus on areas like the camelback corridor where we have this investment already put in place and we're not getting any economic return.
Ted Simons: Nice downtown, nice in Tempe, not so nice in other areas.
Greg Stanton: I'm going to be a strong leader for downtown. Phoenix has to have a great downtown and it's important not just to the city of Phoenix, it's important to this entire region. Frankly it's important to the entire state. There has to be a center. So the mayor of the city of Phoenix has to be a strong voice and a strong face for a downtown. Now, the entire city this, is 1.4 million people. All of the citizens of Phoenix know that it's important that you have a great downtown. If you want great jobs, great public transportation, arts and culture, all the benefits that go with it, they may not live downtown but they want to visit a great downtown and the mayor has to be a strong leader in that regard.
Ted Simons: There are a couple points to get to before we get to closing statements. The idea, and you've been going after each other on a couple points, let's get to them right now. The idea of a lobbyist as mayor of Phoenix. Why should citizens not be concerned that there could be some sort of conflict going on there with you in the mayor's chair?
Wes Gullett: I'm going to sell my business and we've talked about that a lot, Greg still wants to talk about it. No matter who you elect, one of the two of us are going to be mayor. We're both lobbyists. Let's take that off the table right away. We're both going to benefit from lobbying in the future, Greg's wife and my wife are both -- Greg's wife works for a firm with lobbyists, my wife works for a firm that has lobbyists. So the issues -- it's kind of a pedantic thing. What we need to focus on fixing the problems of Phoenix. I've been doing that in my career for 25 years in this city. And I'm proud of the work I've done, and I'm proud of the work I've done for F-EN, Phoenix Children's Hospital, and the list of clients we have are fantastic are and I'm very proud of that.
Greg Stanton: Mr. Gullett has been one of the most successful lobbyists in the state. Many of their clients or some of the biggest entities that do business before the city of Phoenix, the home builders, realtors, billboard companies, etc., obviously there was an awkward moment where there was nine months of this campaign where Mr. Gullett thought it was appropriate to maintain a partnership in a lobbying firm that has clients that do business before the city and still be mayor. Obviously that didn't work, he finally figured it out, but there were still ongoing clients. Just like a judge when he or she leaves a law firm, has to maintain a conflict of interest relative to past business before partners and past clients, Mr. Gullett, if he acts in an ethical man letter declare an ongoing -- moving forward. It's a creditly important difference.
Wes Gullett: What we're going to do is follow the law, which Greg knows very well. I think when you work for Maricopa County community college, you voted on some stuff that benefited Maricopa community colleges. You understand the law and know exactly what you can and can't do. So what we're going to do, what I'm going to do is dispensary vest my interest in the firm and we're going to live by the conflict of interest laws that affect everybody, including the president of the United States and -
Greg Stanton: there's a clear difference -
Wes Gullett: no, there isn't.
Ted Simons: We're going to have to -- there's one more point I want to get to, the statement, unions have too much influence on city hall. Some say a stranglehold on city hall and they say you're too close to the unions. How do you respond?
Greg Stanton: I've had some of those labor associations endorse my campaign, but look at the public policies I've put forward. A great jobs action plan. A great plan to bring more transparency and accountability to city government. A very tough pension reform plan, a very strong plan to improve regulations at the city. But this is a right to work state. The real power at the it is the has been the home builders and the realtors, and organizations like that that fuel the money. It doesn't exist with the labor organizations as you describe. But I will always treat -- this is important for people to understand. No matter what, I'm going to treat everyone with dignity and respect and I'm going to treat them in a transparent way. I'm going to treat labor associations like that, I'm going to treat people who aren't in labor association, it doesn't change the way I interact with people.
Wes Gullett: Unions get 3.7 million dollars of taxpayer money to do union work in the city of Phoenix. I think that's ridiculous. I think we need to do away with it. I think we need to have a much different relationship with our employees than we have today, because we can't afford a double pension, which many of our employees now receive. Which we just can't afford. We need to have performance-based pay so people who go above and beyond actually get paid for going above and beyond, not the system we have right now, which is basically a significant cost of living increase. That's why the unions support Greg. They're very close to Greg and you've seen the signs go up all over town. The unions support him. That's what's going on in this campaign, and I'm going to challenge the unions. I'm going to push back on the union and make sure we get a fair deal for the taxpayers.
Ted Simons: Respond.
Greg Stanton: First off, the labor associations -- moving forward, I told them exactly what I'm going to tell you. When we sit down at the bargaining table, there will be tough negotiations. We're going reduce costs at the city of Phoenix, but I don't demonize people to get votes. I treat people with dignity and respect -
Wes Gullett: and I haven't -- Greg has mentioned this a number of times in the campaign about people demonizing other people. I assume he's talking about me. We have great firefighters, we have great police officers, and great employees in the city of Phoenix. But we need a fair deal for the tax payers.
Ted Simons: that's the last word here as we now approach our time for one-minute closing statements. And going in reverse order, we start with Wes Gullett.
Wes Gullett: We need to get Phoenix back to work. We need to cut red tape, cut the permit fees, cut taxes, and that's going to empower the economy, the small business economy to grow. 90% of our businesses and jobs are created through small business. That's what we need to focus on. We have to get this economy going again. And that's why I'm running for mayor. So that we can get the economy going again and give people jobs that they can be proud to have. That's the important thing to focus on in this election. We have to have a government we can afford, we have to have a safe city, we need to have -- hire a police chief with which they haven't done, and challenge the status quo. And that's something that is the difference between Greg Stanton and I. I am going to challenge the status quo and he's going to be satisfied with it.
Ted Simons: Thank you very much. And next up with the one-minute closing statement, Greg Stanton.
Greg Stanton: Excellent debate here tonight. I'm the optimist. I believe in the people of this city. I have an optimistic vision for the future of this city but we have to make smarter choices. We have to have a full commitment to building a more diverse sustainable economy. Make smart choices like I was fortunate enough to make when I served in a leadership position. Hire medical education, higher education, say no to crazy giveaways like the city north giveaway, like I did standing up to those special interests. I'm going to be a passionate advocate for education. We haven't have a city we all want unless we have greater support for our education. Mr. Gullett has been a lobbyist for some of the biggest interests, special interests across the entire state. When I worked for the attorney general's office I was a lobbyist for the people. Fighting the payday lenders, support can the border patrol and fighting the drug cartel, standing up in support of Luke Air Force base. I have no conflict of interest moving forward. I look forward to your vote on November 8. Thank you so much.
Ted Simons: And thank you candidates. Thank you for watching this special edition of "Horizon." Reminder, October 10th is the last day for Phoenix residents to register to vote in the city's runoff election with the election day set for November 8th. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thanks for joining us. You have a great evening.
In this segment:
Wes Gullett & Greg Stanton:Phoenix Mayoral Candidates;
STAY in touch
Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: