It was smiles and back-slapping all around on Tuesday as your state and county officials paved the way for raising your taxes. There are other reasons for putting creation of a Valley hospital district on the November ballot, to be sure, but it really comes down to shaking more money out of taxpayers' pockets.
It's no secret that the Maricopa Medical Center has been in financial trouble for years. Although the hospital in east Phoenix has an acclaimed burn center, much of the facility needs upgrading and the state and federal governments don't reimburse nearly enough to cover all the uninsured patients that are treated there.
The county's health care system also includes clinics and mental health facilities that are in better financial shape. Putting the entire system under one administrative roof separate from county government would probably make it easier to manage efficiently — assuming its governing body was made up of knowledgeable and public-minded individuals.
But make no mistake: Maricopa County would not be sloughing off its hospital and clinics if Congress had faced up to its responsibility to reform the nation's health-care system. The federal approach of treating health care to the uninsured as an unlimited entitlement and then ratcheting back reimbursement rates to doctors and hospitals is doomed to failure.
The inevitable result in Maricopa County is that the public-health system has landed squarely in local taxpayers' lap. Judging by the smiles and back slaps this week, our elected officials fully expect voters to go along with the idea, which almost certainly would jack up property tax rates.
Should voters refuse, the county could keep subsidizing the system at the expense of other services, close it or try to sell it, as it once did unsuccessfully.
Between now and the November election, county officials should explore creative scenarios if voters set up the hospital district. One attractive option would be for the district to lease the system to a non-profit entity with a proven record of sound fiscal management and efficiency. Banner Health comes to mind.
Simply creating another political bureaucracy isn't very attractive in terms of efficient health care services or protecting taxpayers. And voters have a right to know what to expect before casting their ballots.