When the street through your neighborhood gets difficult to drive, don’t blame local government. When the grass in the park grows too tall, don’t blame local government. When the municipal pool gets closed or the number of trash pickups is reduced, it’s not the fault of your local government.
County, city and town officials have good reason to fret about the state budget proposed by Gov. Doug Ducey. While it promises a simplified tax code and a reduction in personal income tax, the budget also slashes state shared revenue paid to local governments.
For Sierra Vista, that could be as much as $2.1 million that the city will have to either make up to maintain existing public services or decide which services will have to be cut.
The Arizona League of Cities and Towns has criticized the budget proposal, arguing it overstates the amount of revenue that will be generated by additional internet sales tax. In fact, the state’s largest internet retailers, Amazon and Walmart, already pay the tax. The League estimates an additional $85 million in new sales will have to happen online for counties, cities and towns to receive as much in shared revenue as they are currently receiving.
At the moment, state lawmakers are deadlocked on Gov. Ducey’s budget proposal. Among those who oppose the spending plan, the impact of lost shared revenue for local governments is a primary concern. To address that issue, legislators have proposed an amendment that would raise the percentage of shared revenue from 15%, to 17%, mitigating some of the financial impact on cities, towns and counties. While that percentage increase is going to help, the League estimates it would require a share of 18.5% to make up the difference in the amount of revenue being lost due to the governor’s proposal.
What is especially frustrating about this system of revenue distribution is who takes the blame in the minds of many constituents.
When your local government can’t afford to keep the lights on for adult softball, it’s the city’s fault in the opinion of those playing the game. When a pothole causes your bike to crash, the rider is more likely to get angry with their local governing board for not fixing the road. When there aren’t enough police to enforce traffic laws, motorists who see speeders are going to ask themselves “ … where’s a cop when you need one?”
In fact, the blame should be placed squarely on the actual source of the problem: state lawmakers who pass a budget that allows legislators to promote a “tax cut,” while leaving local governments to make up the difference or radically cut public services.
We have no idea when the state budget will be adopted — the Arizona Constitution mandates it must be done by June 30 — or exactly how much money Cochise County, Sierra Vista, Bisbee and other communities can expect to lose in shared revenues.
What we do know is that regardless of the amount lost, the blame for losing local public services shouldn’t be put on county, city or town officials, it should be pointed to Gov. Ducey and the State Legislature.