When East Valley cities go before the Legislature this year, they'll have only one major request: Don't take our money. Communities fear Arizona’s multibillion-dollar budget crisis means lawmakers will take funds that, by a voter-approved measure, are required to be shared with cities and towns.
When East Valley cities go before the Legislature this year, they’ll have only one major request: Don’t take our money.
Communities fear Arizona’s multibillion-dollar budget crisis means lawmakers will take funds that, by a voter-approved measure, are required to be shared with cities and towns.
But lawmakers have threatened to take that money even in better times. Cities have mostly torn up their longstanding wish lists this year, dropping normally important requests. This year, their focus is simple.
“Any and all things having to do with watching our money,” said Queen Creek Town Manager John Kross.
Mesa knows not to ask for money or expect lawmakers will have the time to address many issues beyond dealing with the state’s budget crisis, Mesa lobbyist Scott Butler said.
“We’ll be really modest in our expectations there,” Butler said.
Cities aren’t sure if lawmakers will launch a serious effort to take state-shared revenue. But Rep. John McComish, R-Ahwatukee Foothills, said history demonstrates cities should be concerned.
“You’re not paranoid if somebody is really out to get you,” McComish said. “Cities are a little worried about state-shared revenue because in the past, somebody has been out to get it.”
Cities could be forced to make draconian cuts to services if the state took funds.
Mesa receives 25 percent, or $105.1 million, of its budget from state-shared revenue. Queen Creek counted on the revenue for $3.8 million of its $20 million general fund budget this year.
Gilbert is expecting to get $36 million in state-shared revenue, almost a third of its general fund total. Chandler officials say state-shared revenue accounts for more than 30 percent of the city’s operating budget.
Kross said he hoped legislators have a strong understanding of the intent behind the voter-passed measure.
“For towns like Queen Creek, we use a good portion of (state-shared revenue) to supplement our public safety program, namely our sheriff’s contract, and our streets maintenance and parks maintenance, which are quality-of-life issues,” Kross said.
McComish said he supports preserving the funds that cities receive.
“All we would be doing is shuffling the burden from one government entity to another,” McComish said. “I don’t think that’s the right way to go.”
The city’s only other significant priority is getting legislative help to keep the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. The baseball team is expected to announce this month whether it will move spring training to Florida or stay in Mesa, and the team wants a roughly $80 million training facility to stay here.
The legislature would likely need to approve of a way to tap into tourism funds to help pay for the Cubs complex even as Mesa and the team would share costs.
The Legislature will likely make time in a busy year to address the Cubs, McComish said, given the team’s high profile and economic power. Mesa estimates the team brings $52 million a year to Arizona.
“Because of the economic impact of it, I think we’ll have to make time, like we’re making time for other economic development issues,” McComish said.
Last year, one of Queen Creek’s biggest concerns was a potential moratorium on impact fees, which developers pay to help fund projects like sewer lines and streets to accommodate growth.
By the end of the session, the moratorium became a freeze on how much cities can charge.
“That’s something we can live with for the time being and certainly understand the reasons for that,” Kross said. “But if that were to change to a moratorium, that would be devastating for us.”
Queen Creek depends on impact fees to pay for $8.5 million in debt service each year, Kross said.
Town Manager George Pettit said the effect of the better-than-expected building permit numbers on Gilbert’s bottom line could easily be dimmed by vanishing state-shared revenues.
More commercial projects are in the talking stages, he said, so “there’s positive things going on at the local level, but we don’t know when they’re going to happen, and it’s all overshadowed by the ongoing financial condition of the state.”
He said town officials will also be closely watching trends in environmental regulation, which could determine how much water is available to them or lead to new fees that would ultimately be passed down to local taxpayers.
The focus for the upcoming year in Chandler is on jobs, said state Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, R-Chandler.
In fall 2009, the state Legislature, working at the behest of cities like Chandler, enacted provisions to give tax incentives to solar power companies in an effort to attract firms to Arizona, as opposed to competing states like Oregon. Chandler officials have put significant effort into attracting such firms and the high-paying jobs they bring to the city.
That collaboration between state and city officials is a model that should be recreated next year for other high-paying industries like biotechnology and renewable resources, Tibshraeny said.
“We need to sit down collaboratively and talk about other areas we can work together on to attract industry to Arizona,” he said.
Tribune writers Garin Groff, Amanda Keim, Blake Herzog and Ari Cohn contributed to this report.