Republican state House candidate Pat Kilburn defended legislative budget cuts this week in a debate with District 29 incumbents Matt Heinz and Daniel Patterson.

"They're looking at it this way," Kilburn said of the public view of the budget process. "The Republicans want to cut everything to the absolute bone and the Democrats want to spend us to oblivion. Well, neither one is the actual fact," Kilburn said.

He said the state budget grew by 62 percent between 2002 and 2008.

"The number of people in the state did not grow by 62 percent," he said. "When you keep adding and spending money … you finally hit a limit, and that's what we've hit."

Patterson said the key to balancing should be moderation in spending, zeroing in on state prison funding, which he cited as 10 percent of the total budget.

"I do not favor increased taxes, but I do think we need more balance," he said.

All three candidates agreed higher education needs to be a priority for the next legislative session.

"I hope we all know that it is a fact, economists will tell you, that the ration of economic benefit of every dollar that comes into universities and community colleges is seven to one," Heinz said. "So you get a sevenfold benefit to the community for putting money into education."

Kilburn said rising administrative costs are partly to blame, citing a 44 to 47 percent increase in administrative costs over the last eight years, compared with an 11 percent growth in enrollment over the same time.

"We need to cut the administrators," Kilburn said. "We don't want to cut the professors."

Patterson said community colleges are critical to the success of higher education and criticized Republicans for cutting education funding.

"We've seen a lot of talk about caring about education. But at the same time the ax has come out, education is whacked and the blood is on our future, and it's all over the state of Arizona right now from cutting too much from education," Patterson said.

Tempers invaded the mostly even-keeled debate when all three candidates were asked how much time they would dedicate to their legislative duties. Heinz and Patterson stressed the job is a full-time, but Kilburn pointed out Patterson had missed 30 votes and Heinz had missed 269 since joining the Legislature two years ago.

Heinz questioned how Kilburn determined that number.

"I can assure that when my vote was pivotal, was impactful, I was there," Heinz said in an interview the day after the debate.

Patterson said some Democrats missed votes due to Republicans holding them at unreasonable hours with little advance warning, a charge Kilburn denied.

"If I found out, as a Republican, that they were going to hold a vote and it was going to be in the middle of the night, I would call Mr. Heinz or Mr. Patterson and say, 'Get up here,' " Kilburn said. "I don't think that there's any shenanigans."

Luke Money is a University of Arizona journalism student apprenticing at the Star. Contact him at 573-4142 or starapprentice@azstarnet.com