After spending months pouring over mind-numbing municipal budget data, the Mesa 2025: Financing the Future committee did the inevitable. It recommended increasing taxes.
What was surprising was the extent to which the panel suggested socking it to taxpayers. Not only should the city adopt a property tax, but it should raise the sales tax, the group decided.
There was yet another surprise: Former state legislator and Mesa conservative icon Mark Killian was among those calling for higher taxes. And he did so in no uncertain terms. “If we do nothing, no one is going to want to live here,” Killian told the Tribune’s Brian Powell. “I don’t want us to become like Detroit.”
But last time we looked, Detroit had both high taxes and a cruddy quality of life. And the two cities are polar opposites in terms of Detroit’s eroding industrial base and its inner-city problems, and Mesa’s enviable position as a desirable place to live and do business.
Mesa’s officials should be careful they don’t kill the goose that’s laid the golden egg. And that goose is a combination not only of pleasing climate and scenery, but low taxes and reasonable regulations. It would be the height of folly to fall into the trap of expecting higher taxes to solve all problems.
Still, it seems likely the City Council will put a property tax proposal on the spring ballot. Supporters maintain there’s something to be said for adding the “third leg” to the municipal revenue stool; and a property tax clearly would help stabilize the city‘s volatile revenue picture. And residents aren’t about to accept a major cut in services they’ve grown accustomed to.
But property taxes also are the least responsive to economic cycles; indeed, that’s why government officials love them. People can spend less at the store when times are tough, but property taxes don’t go down. Indeed, they are especially insidious because they continue to go up as property values rise — even if tax rates stay stable.
Mesa’s city administration has a vested interest in staying flush, of course, and it has been orchestrating this months-long deliberation of the Financing the Future committee. But the mayor and City Council would be remiss if they failed to closely scrutinize the panel’s findings with an eye toward trimming the expense side of the ledger even if they also put the tax measure on the ballot.
Given Mesa’s traditional bedrock fiscal conservatism, simply putting the committee’s recommendation to a public vote would most likely mean defeat.