A new property tax approved by voters Tuesday will bolster Maricopa County’s health care system for at least the next 20 years.
Proposition 414 garnered 58.36 percent of the vote.
“I knew people had big hearts, and this shows that we do,” said county Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, D-District 5 of Phoenix. “Now we can plan for the future, whereas before we couldn’t.”
Jason Schechterle, a Phoenix police officer burned in a patrol car explosion two years ago, said his role as chairman of the campaign “brought the people closer to the issue and what exactly it means.”
Voters were urged to approve the new funding to save the hospital and clinics from being shut down.
The tax will raise $40 million annually for the county health system, which includes Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix, community health clinics and other medical services.
Critics of the proposal complained about the new tax, saying the medical center would stay open even if voters rejected the measure.
The measure establishes a health care district with taxing powers within county borders. County property owners will be taxed $21.84 a year on a $150,000 home and $54.60 a year on a $500,000 business.
The medical center has an annual budget of about $750 million. While some parts of the hospital make money, such as the burn unit, the system absorbs close to $100 million by providing health care to people who cannot pay their medical bills.
The county hospital is supposed to receive about $80 million a year from the federal government, but the state legally diverts that money to the General Fund to balance Arizona’s budget. Without that money, the hospital does not have enough funds to make up for its budget shortfall or pay for
improvements. The hospital has received about $15 million a year from the county in the past two years.
Supporters of the proposition worried that the county — which is required to provide services other than health care, such as running the sheriff’s office, courts and jails — would allow the medical center to decay and eventually close.
Now, the tax money will more than subsidize the medical center. In November 2004, voters will elect district board members and decide whether to allow the district to sell bonds and borrow enough money to build a new medical center.
Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley, R-District 2 of Mesa, said he expects the new facility to be built in the next two or three years.
"The new facility will really help people out," said Doug Cole of HighGround, the public relations firm that ran the Proposition 414 campaign.