The Goldwater Institute and its chief litigator, Clint Bolick, are taking a skeptical view of Mesa’s proposed $136 million in tax breaks to land a private convention center and two major resorts at the former GM Proving Grounds. But it appears Goldwater isn’t going to interfere with Mesa voters deciding if the city should pursue these projects.
In March, Mesa voters will decide if Gaylord should be allowed to keep up to $51 million in hotel bed taxes for tourism marketing, rather than sending the money to the Convention and Visitors Bureau for the same purpose. If that’s approved, Mesa also is offering to abate up to $90 million in property taxes for the two resorts.
Bolick recently told Tribune writer Sonu Munshi that he believes Mesa’s arrangement with Gaylord Entertainment and DMB Associates of Scottsdale likely violates the state constitution, in light of Goldwater’s appellate court victory against a $100 million tax incentive package for the CityNorth shopping mall project in Phoenix.
Bolick is suggesting Mesa’s two-part deal conflicts with the state constitution’s “gift clause,” which essentially forbids using public money to benefit an individual business or specific private enterprise.
We are somewhat conflicted ourselves on this topic. Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with a local government relieving someone’s tax burdens. It’s a good thing whenever government volunteers to take less of our hard-earned money.
Questions emerge when government reduces taxes in an uneven or underhanded fashion, rewarding pet projects favored by officials while keeping taxes in place for everyone else.
However, such treatment makes sense when a proposed development is unique or so rare that there’s no one else to potentially share in the same benefit. That’s why we previously supported Mesa’s deal with the proposed Waveyard water adventure park.
A similar argument can be made for the Gaylord project. The comparable alternatives — at least in Arizona — all are government-owned convention centers. Surely, a private-financed operation, even if it requires some specialized tax breaks, would be a better choice.
In the end, Mesa voters have the opportunity to weigh Bolick’s concerns and determine in the March 10 election if they support tax breaks in exchange what Gaylord and DMB can bring to the south East Valley.