Legislators harming cities, counties - The Explorer: Voices

Legislators harming cities, counties

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Posted: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:34 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

More than half of our state Republican legislators took the national No Tax Pledge created by Grover Norquist, a man who famously said he wants to shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

It seems to me, legislators should pledge to uphold the state constitution, and their primary allegiance should be to the people of Arizona. But I guess for this group, rigid adherence to conservative ideology trumps Arizona's best interests.

When you take a quick scan of their budget proposal (which may have changed by the time this is printed), it looks like the No Tax Republicans have remained true to their convictions. They've taken money away from our schools, which already have the lowest spending per student in the country. They've cut back on health and social services to people hurt most by the dire economic downturn. But they haven't raised taxes.

Not at the state level, anyway.

But if the budget they passed a few weeks ago is signed by the governor, Arizonans will pay more at the local level. Three or four provisions in the bills make that a certainty.

When no one was watching, someone dropped a provision into the budget bills cutting business property taxes on bond measures from 22 percent to 10 percent while keeping the rate for homeowners the same, at 10 percent. Businesses are currently taxed at a higher rate than homeowners because businesses make a profit from their property.

If that provision stays in the budget, the next time a school district passes a bond measure, it's going to cost homeowners extra while businesses get a tax break, huge out-of-state corporations as well as locally owned businesses. According to an article in The Star, homeowners in the Tucson, Marana and Amphi school districts will pay about 20 percent more for the bonds. In one Phoenix school district, the increase will be a whopping 105 percent.

This change amounts to a tax hike on homeowners, pure and simple. I imagine the No Tax Republicans will proclaim righteously, "We're not increasing your taxes. If you don't like the tax hike, don't vote for school bonds." Of course, they continue to slash school funding, making the bonds more necessary than ever. They can call that deniability if they want. I call it hypocrisy.

The Republicans' proposed budget also puts a three-year halt to impact fees for new homes. That will save builders thousands of dollars per home. Some of those savings will be passed along to the buyers.

But these fees aren't a way for local municipalities to generate new revenues. They're called "impact fees" for a reason. New homes create a financial impact on the community. Infrastructure has to be brought up to their doorsteps, which means more money to put in roads, sewers and other services. An increase in population also means more police and fire protection. All these things cost money. If builders and new owners don't pay for the additional costs, longtime community members will. Unless they want to see drastic cuts in services, the inevitable result will be higher taxes.

On top of these burdens on cities and counties, the Republican budget will take taxes on vehicle licenses from local governments and give them to schools, further draining the government coffers. And it will put a freeze on local sales taxes for three years.

Is it any wonder city and county governments are up in arms? The state is stripping funds from local municipalities and burdening them with extra costs, while taking sales tax increases off the table.

The legislators in Maricopa are doing more than enough damage at the state level. Why this gang that can't get anything right in its own budget thinks it should increase the budget woes of cities and counties is beyond me.

Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.

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