My Turn: Your Legislature's shameful budget
At 4 o'clock in the morning on June 4th, with only one political party represented, the Arizona State Senate launched an attack on the cities and towns of the Verde Valley.
Later that day the House joined them. This attack came under the thinly disguised rubrics of "economic development," and "balancing our budget."
Actually it was simply a way to promote an anti-government ideology. In this attack, they have sided with the Homebuilders of Central Arizona, saying they believe you, the citizens of our cities and towns, should subsidize all new development, and that builders and developers should bear little responsibility for the expenses they cause.
They have said that for the next three years cities and towns must pick up the $10,000-plus tab that each new home costs us all, that we should pay it for those developers.
Are you ready for your city to donate $10,000 per home to the next developer who builds there? This, they say, will help us get right back to an economy based on homebuilding and growth - the very economy that got us where we are today.
In this same attack, they decided that after three years, when cities can once again charge the costs of development to developers, parks will no longer be considered legitimate development fee expenses, nor libraries, nor recreational facilities, nor fire trucks, nor police cars, nor town buildings.
They pretend that growth only impacts streets (but not street sweepers), fire departments (but not their equipment), police (but not their cars or computers), and water and sewer systems (but not their lab ware or control systems). Further, the State Legislature, along party lines, voted in the middle of the night to steal part of the funding due to your cities and towns and make them give it to the schools - so that they can claim that they have funded schools properly. They robbed Peter to pay Paul.
I have been at two presentations by the Governor's office in the last few weeks in which the dire financial situation of our state was graphically and clearly explained. In these presentations the Governor stated that without an appropriate budget fix the State of Arizona would have to be shut down and there would be "blood in the streets."
I understand the difficulty the legislature has before it, and I get the gravity of the situation.
But I also know that the cities, towns and counties of Arizona are in similar dire straits.
Any reduction of revenues to our municipalities will result in detrimental and sometimes unsafe cutbacks and elimination of critical services.
Water, wastewater, police and fire protection are all essential services that are provided by our cities and towns, not by any state agency. The State of Arizona dictates that local governments must provide these vital services to the public, but they want to limit our ability to pay for it.
The Legislature seems to believe your city is just another expense to be cut without considering the value of the services they provide to citizens.
The latest budget proposal includes "fixes" like forcing your town to give money to school systems, moratoriums on development impact fees, and "reforms" of our construction sales taxes that cripple our ability to serve you. Many of these appear to be downright illegal, but the Legislature has said they'll let the courts figure that out - and you'll pay for the lawyers.
Impact fee reforms are foolhardy, counterproductive, and have nothing to do with balancing a budget, despite the statements of a few self-serving home builders in Maricopa County. I, along with most of my colleagues in municipal governance, see this as an outright attack on your right to govern yourselves, and I know that you feel the same.
Our Legislature should consider local government as synergistic with State government, not as antagonistic to it.
They need to consider who provides the day-to-day security, zoning protection, safe drinking water, sanitary wastewater treatment, and so many other essential services to our citizens.
They must start thinking of the cities, towns and counties as the governments closest to the people, the ones that do so much of the work that the state does not and cannot.
City, Towns and Counties get the job done with the least taxation of our people. Funds spent by local governments do their job quickly and with the highest efficiency possible.
So that some legislators can hold to their pledge not to raise taxes, they have created a situation where other governments must raise taxes, but that's apparently OK - just as long as it's not them. After all, they promised! So that developers can build cheaper houses, and so those builders won't have to contribute their fair share to the communities, they ask you to pick up the tab.
Please write to your Legislators - Senator Steve Pierce, Representatives Lucy Mason and Andy Tobin, and tell them it's wrong to balance the State's budget by stealing from your town. Tell them that impact fee reform has no place in this discussion, and that it will enrich a few homebuilders, but give you a worse place to live and cost you more. Read Governor Brewer's budget proposal - it's not perfect, but it's a lot better than the attack the Legislature favors.
We must not allow our cities and towns to deteriorate because a few legislators can't bite the bullet and balance a budget fairly.
Doug Von Gausig is the mayor of Clarkdale