A $500 million tax cut being considered by the Legislature could threaten public safety by taking money away from cities, local elected and law enforcement officials warned state lawmakers on Wednesday.
Mayors and other local leaders from across the state said the plan would drastically reduce the amount of money cities and towns receive from the state, forcing large reductions in police and fire department budgets. The cuts would be to income and property taxes.
“There’s only so many park rangers and librarians you can fire,” said Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs.
Each year, cities and towns receive a percentage of income taxes that are collected by the state. That money is used to fund city budgets, which pay for basic services such as trash pickup and police and fire protection.
City leaders are worried that will leave them with less cash on hand to pay for services, because the proposed tax cut would reduce the amount of money collected.
Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker, whose city does not have a budget surplus, said the city can’t afford further cuts to municipal services. He cautioned that additional cutbacks would be felt by police and fire.
“We have cut and cut and cut. And we are now down to essential services,” he said at a news conference in front of the Legislature.
Mesa voters recently shot down a proposed property tax that would have boosted city coffers and provided additional money for police and fire.
Despite the appeals from local officials, the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a $500 million tax cut proposal. The bill does guarantee money for cities and towns, yet local leaders were still unhappy.
Kevin Adams, a spokesman for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said the bill doesn’t offer long-term guarantees that cities will get the amount of money they expect every year. The state last year passed through $425 million to cities and towns. The Legislature is budgeting $551 million in state-shared revenue for the coming fiscal year.
Adams wanted the Legislature to increase the percentage of cities’ share of state income tax collections from 15 percent to 16 percent to stabilize community coffers.
But Sen. Dean Martin, RPhoenix, who leads the finance committee, disagreed. Martin added a provision to the tax cut proposal that would guarantee $717 million for municipalities in fiscal year 2009. He said that’s what the state would have to pay if the tax cut fails. Martin said Arizona cities and towns were attempting to “extort” money from the state. “It’s all about additional revenue and political power,” he said.