Saying a deal on the budget could be just days away, the two top legislative leaders want county officials to delay sending out new tax bills.
Senate President Bob Burns and House Speaker Kirk Adams said they know that state law requires county supervisors to set the property tax rates on Monday. That includes the county "equalization tax," essentially a state-mandated tax to help aid education.
The two Republican leaders, in letters Friday to the chairmen of each of the boards, acknowledged that the failure of the Legislature to act on the budget - and, specifically, a proposal to repeal the equalization tax - means that the tax bills each county is preparing to send out have to include the levy.
But they are asking that printing be delayed as long as possible to give lawmakers another chance to reach a deal, one that they said would include eliminating the tax.
"We ask for your continued patience and understanding as we attempt to resolve this uncertainty within the next few days," they wrote.
But pronouncements of a deal being close at hand have been made before, notably a claim there were the votes for the governor's demand to put a temporary sales tax hike on the Nov. 3 ballot. The deadline for that election came - and went - without action.
Burns told Capitol Media Services late Friday he could offer no concrete evidence that a deal which has eluded lawmakers now for months is imminent.
"We've got to have faith, I guess," he said.
County officials said they are willing to be patient. But how long they can hold off varies.
Martin Willett, chief deputy Pima County administrator, said the plan had been to send the bills to the printer Thursday. At this point, he said, there is little wiggle room.
"We've calculated that a week from Monday is when we need to send them under the contract we have," he said.
Willett said the printer probably could accommodate some delay. But that would require extra work - and extra cost.
Some smaller counties have more flexibility.
Coconino County Treasurer Bonny Lynn said she has more flexibility. But not a lot.
"Aug. 31 is when I'm looking at as our drop-dead date," she said, what with requirements for the Arizona Department of Revenue to calculate all of the tax rates.
Mariann Fletcher, Cochise County's deputy treasurer, reported a similar deadline. "Our obvious crunch time is the end of August," she said.
Yuma County Administrator Robert Pickels said his county has "some leeway" in printing.
All that assumes, though, that lawmakers and Gov. Jan Brewer can accomplish in the next week or two what they have been unable to do for months: find a budget deal acceptable to the governor and a majority of lawmakers.
Hanging in the balance is more than whether Arizonans will have to pay the tax for the first time in three years. That levy would add about $66 a year to the bill on a $200,000 home and more than $360 to what is owed by the owner of a $500,000 business.
There also is the clear possibility that, even if county officials wait until the last possible minute, a deal won't come until after the bills are printed - and maybe not until after they're mailed out.
So who pays to reprint or resend the bills?
"That's an unanswered question," Burns said.
The levy was suspended for three years in 2006 when the state had extra money, with the law crafted so that, absent legislative action, it returns automatically this year. The deadline for county supervisors to formally approve the tax rates for all jurisdictions is Monday.
Both the House and Senate have approved measures to permanently repeal the tax, though in different forms. But the real hang-up remains Brewer.
She originally wanted the tax to return, at least briefly, to help deal with the $3 billion deficit. But gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said Brewer "hasn't closed the door" to outright repeal assuming the governor gets a budget to her liking.
The key stumbling block, however, remains Brewer's demand to send a measure to the ballot to ask voters for a temporary hike in the state sales tax to raise an extra $2.5 billion over three years to help mitigate some of the spending cuts lawmakers want. The House has given its approval, but the Senate came up several votes short last week.
With no budget deal by Monday's deadline, the supervisors have to set the tax rates.
Burns said the simplest solution would be for some of the foes of the tax referral to change their minds. With some members of his own Republican Party balking, Burns is hoping one or more Democrats will see the merits of voting for the referral to finally get a budget adopted for the fiscal year that began July 1.
He conceded, though, it may be necessary to start negotiations over again with an entirely different package.
That, he said, will take time, noting it took lawmakers months to get this far. Even that, he said, is no assurance of a deal.
"If we have to go back to square one, there's still no guarantee we're going to get it," he said.