Pima County’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2011/12 contains a State Assistance Tax equal to cost shifts imposed by the Arizona Legislature on the County to balance the State budget. The legislature, over each of the last three years, has shifted State costs to counties. We have absorbed prior cost shifts, but these shifts have consequences in reduced services for the public, such as fewer pothole repairs and less maintenance of our parks. We cannot continue to absorb State cost shifts without putting our own budget in jeopardy.
Elected and appointed government officials talk frequently about openness and transparency in government. These are great ideals and need to be set in motion. The recommended State Assistance Tax does just that – it educates the taxpaying public about how their money is being spent, or more importantly, how much is being sent to the State of Arizona to help balance its budget at the expense of ours.
This year, the Arizona Legislature has required that Pima County transfer $8.3 million to help balance the State budget, but this is just a small amount of County property taxes sent to the State. Most taxpayers are unaware the County has, for years, been required to transfer significant amounts of local property tax revenue to support State programs.
The budget being recommended to the Board of Supervisors contains nearly $93 million in County cost transfers for a number of state programs, such as Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS),the Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS) and State judges’ salary and benefit costs. State-required transfers of County dollars now equals nearly 33 percent of our primary property tax levy. This is both significant and substantial.
It seems only fair to help local County property taxpayers understand just how much of their local taxes are taken by the State; hence, the State Assistance Tax. It covers only those cost shifts required this year, not the ongoing millions of dollars for prior years.
We have done our part to help local County property taxpayers by reducing our budget this year by nearly 9.5 percent, or $136 million; reduced our total property taxes levied this year by nearly $18 million; and reduced the size of our workforce by 12.3 percent, or 1,035 employees, since 2008.
Our tax base continues to shrink due to unfavorable economic conditions. The property tax base is not expected to begin increasing again until 2015 – four years from now. Because of this, we are concerned about future State cost shifts, such as additional State prisoner housing costs that the Legislature has already put in to place to begin in July 2012.
We will continue to manage our budget responsibly. We can only hope the State does the same and abandons its parlor tricks of claiming it is not raising taxes while it passes along costs to the County. The State Assistance Tax will help shed needed light on this practice.
Ramón Valadez is chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
To view a breakdown of the Pima County budget issues table, see this story on www.explorernews.com.