The Arizona treasurer’s race pits the state senate majority leader and former treasurer’s office employee against a tax attorney and former Maricopa County Democratic Party chairman who aspires to shake things up in the state office.
Republican Kimberly Yee is facing off against Democrat Mark Manoil for the chance to manage the state’s $15 billion in assets.
A rising star in the GOP, Yee was the state’s first Asian-American woman to serve in the state Legislature and has served in both houses since first taking office in 2011. Before that, she served as former Treasurer Dean Martin’s communications director.
Manoil, who has previously ran for the state corporation commission, spent 30 years as an attorney in private practice. He also wrote a book on tax lien investing and enforcement.
The treasurer’s race should be an easy win for Yee — a Democrat hasn’t held the office in 50 years and Democrats haven’t run a candidate for treasurer since Gov. Doug Ducey sought the office in 2010. But 2018 is no normal election year.
The two candidates differ greatly on their visions for the office.
Yee thinks the treasurer’s office has been well run by previous Republican officeholders. But Manoil says he would make changes within the office and use his stance as treasurer to talk to the Legislature about major policy changes.
Manoil aims to use the treasurer’s platform to take a stand against Prop. 108 — the citizens initiative that required the Legislature to reach a two-thirds majority vote in order to raise taxes.
Coupled with a growing number of tax cuts coming out of the state Legislature, the measure has tanked K-12 and higher education funding, Manoil said.
He would push the Legislature and Arizonans to rethink the ballot initiative passed in 1992 by either repealing it entirely or amending the measure so there is more flexibility in the Legislature’s taxing abilities.
“The treasurer is not a legislator, and the treasurer is not going to start raising your taxes tomorrow,” he said. “But the treasurer should be able to speak honestly with people in the state about structural problems in our state government that prevent the government from delivering on its promises and its obligations.”
Yee, a supporter of low taxes, opposes repealing Prop. 108.
Furthermore, she said the treasurer’s office is no place for someone to take on a policymaking role.
“The office of the treasurer has very specific constitutional duties, and to advance policies like my opponent is prescribing really should be done in the role of a legislator or someone who would run for the governor’s office, but certainly not the treasurer’s office,” she said.
Both candidates say they’re prepared to pilot the state through an economic downturn should the economy tank.
Yee last worked in the treasurer’s office during the economic downturn. Staffers predicted the drastic economic changes because of revenue forecasts, and knowing a downturn was coming, the office warned policymakers and the public, Yee said
“We were prepared that it was going to happen so we were able to plan investments,” Yee said. “So the state did not lose as much as it could have were we not prepared.”
Manoil aims to diversify the state’s revenue sources so it is less susceptible to an economic downturn. Specifically, Manoil wants to move the state away from depending heavily on sales taxes, because they can be the first to decline when a recession hits.
Nearly half the state’s revenue comes from sales taxes, but sales tax collections dropped 23 percent during the last recession.
Arizona becoming less reliant on sales taxes goes hand-in-hand with altering or repealing Prop. 108, Manoil said.
Manoil also wants the state to take a hard look at community banking, an idea Yee labeled as “socialized banking” that would interfere with free enterprise.
Inspired by North Dakota’s century old public bank, Manoil envisions the state partnering with banks and credit unions in small communities or on reservations that lack nearby banking services.
Both candidates have additional ideas on how to use the treasurer’s office to expand financial literacy.
When she previously worked in the treasurer’s office, Yee would visit K-12 schools and college classes to teach students about financial literacy, a program that she would prioritize if she were treasurer.
Yee would also better promote the Local Government Investment Pool, which allows cities, counties and towns to pool their assets with other localities for a better return on investment.
Manoil has also been mulling over an idea from Pennsylvania wherein the treasurer’s office would create children’s savings accounts for every child born in Arizona. The account would be set up with an initial $100 deposit that cannot be taken out until the child turns 18.
The initial contribution would come not from taxpayers, but from groups that manage college savings accounts, he said.
Yee seeking higher office later on down the line seems nearly inevitable, but for now she is laser-focused on the treasurer’s job, she said.
“Right now I’m running for state treasurer and this is an office that I know well,” she said. “We’ll talk about other things later on down the line, but this is the job I’m running for today.”
Manoil has no plans to run for higher office.
Despite her likely advantage in the race, Yee came out swinging against Manoil in two debates, sometimes launching into personal attacks against her opponent.
She criticized Manoil for his financial struggles during the recession, insinuating that he would not be a good financial steward of the state because of his personal financial problems.
On his campaign website, Manoil details that his home was foreclosed on and his car was repossessed when tough financial times hit his family. Manoil said he’s not trying to hide from his financial miscalculations. Lots of Arizonans suffered during the recession, he said.
“I hope voters don’t find that to be a complete disqualifier, it gives me a lot more compassion in my work,” Manoil said. His work as an attorney sometimes involves foreclosing on real estate, including family homes.
Yee said she felt obligated to bring it up because she is simply so passionate about the treasurer’s office that she wants someone responsible managing the state’s money.
“I care about this office so much, and I’ve always been a real advocate for the taxpayer, and I feel that there has to be someone in the treasurer’s office, who you can trust,” she said.
She also stressed that she has never shied away from a fight in any of her campaigns.
The winner of the election will replace Eileen Klein, who was appointed to the position earlier this year. Klein, who is not running for a full term, replaced Jeff DeWit, a former Trump campaign leader who was appointed to be NASA’s chief financial officer.