Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's only a 1% difference, but: Vote "No" on Tucson Proposition 400

To avoid imposing on Tucson a drastic all-at-once budget cut, I was going to recommend a "Yes" vote on Proposition 400, the extension of "home rule" budgeting for Tucson, until I read the city's own numbers. The expected difference that would be made by failure of Proposition 400 is 1% or less of the city budget!

Turn to page 3 of the City's information packet on the ballot question. In each year 2011-2014 the difference between the projected city expenditure and the state-imposed limit is 1%. For example, in 2011, the state-imposed limit is projected to be $1,337,883,920, and expected revenues are $1,345,876,320. The difference between the two is 0.5%; repeating the calculation for the 2014 figures, the difference is 0.8%.

Endorsers of the proposition, such as the Arizona Daily Star, are being a bit disingenuous or naïve about the tax implications of passage. Yes, passage of the proposition would not directly raise taxes, and failure of the proposition directly lower them. But with the city required to bank excess revenues, there would be no rationale for taxes to be any higher than necessary to meet the state-imposed limit; we can expect lower taxes in the long run were Proposition 400 to fail.

Article 9 Section 20 of the Arizona Constitution sets forth a recipe for fiscal restraint, adjusting 1979-1980 expenditure for population growth and inflation of the currency. Subsection 9 permits cities to avoid this restriction by holding special elections, hence Proposition 400.

Remember that earlier this year the City Council was contemplating imposing a double tax on renters to balance its budget. Nicety after nicety was added during the housing boom, and when revenues decreased the Council couldn't find the integrity or the moxie to cut back the scope of government spending to pre-boom levels. Article 9 Section 20 limits, which tie spending growth to population growth, would prevent such irresponsibility in the future; by re-imposing these limits on Tucson, defeat of Proposition 400 would put the city back on the fiscal straight-and-narrow path in the long run.

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