Democratic candidates for the House and Senate seats in District 11 say low-wage workers deserve a boost in the minimum wage because earnings have not kept up with the cost of living.

Their Republican opponents disagree, saying such an increase would hurt employers and drive up consumer prices.

“This is affecting a very wide swath of the population and it’s a way of boosting our economy,” said Democratic Senate candidate Jo Holt, calling the increase an investment.

“It is not an investment, it does not increase the economy,” said Republican Steve Smith, who currently represented the district in the House but is trying to move up to the Senate seat vacated by Al Melvin.

Smith added that if an increase happens, businesses wouldn’t be able to afford employees and it would increase the cost of goods. “No more dollar menu for you at McDonald’s. It’ll probably be $1.15 or $1.35,” he said.

Republican House candidates Mark Finchem and Vince Leach also said no. “I’ve heard this investment garbage since 1962,” said Finchem.

Leach said wages should increase based on performance, and pointed out the number of well-paying job openings Raytheon and other companies are looking to fill. “There’s a reason, probably, you’re a $7 employee. If you want $15, make yourself a $15 employee.”

When asked by Holt what he would do about the rising poverty level in Arizona, Smith said the best thing to do is for people “to get a well paying job and career.”

Holly Lyon said Smith, Leach and Finchem were trying to place blame on individuals for not being able to overcome their circumstances.

When asked about state budget, Leach and Lyon both said a careful examination of budget items would be necessary to decide where to cut spending and combat the shortfall.

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Leach mentioned the Rosemont copper mine, as well as the railroad switching yard project near Red Rock, as ways to increase revenue for the state.

Finchem said the lands held by the federal government should be given to Arizona to sell and so they can be put to use to generate more tax revenue.

Holt said she wants to focus on attracting more business to Arizona in order to balance the state’s budget.

“You can cut all night and all day till the cows come home and you’re not going to be able to make this up without an increase in business and business revenue in this state,” she said.

Smith said focusing on securing Arizona’s border with Mexico was key to balancing the budget, since Arizona taxpayers pay for services for illegal immigrants. “The state of Arizona spends two to three billion dollars on free services for people that shouldn’t be here,” he said.

Gabby Ferreira is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@tucson.com or 573-4117.