In a memo prepared for the November 22, meeting of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, county administrator Chuck Huckleberry proposes removing the requirement of a unanimous vote when raising taxes. The proposal is part of Huckelberry’s Recommended Legislative Agenda for 2017.
Huckleberry, who has been scrambling for funds since voters soundly rejected his massive bond proposal in 2015, needs to cover the cost of his corporate welfare model of economic development and ever-growing bureaucracy. To that end, Huckelberry is proposing shifting the funding burden of the County operations from landowners to the poor through a sales tax.
Sales taxes disproportionately hit the poor hardest because a greater percentage of their income is spent on small every day purchases.
Some of Pima County’s largest landowners, such as Don Diamond, were instrumental in protecting the seat of Sharon Bronson and replacing outgoing Supervisor Ray Carol with Steve Christie.
However, Huckelberry blames the Legislature for his proposal to shift the burden on the poor. Huckelberry admits that Pima County has the largest primary tax rate in the state, but claims that because of this, the Legislature will continue to target the County “with punitive legislation until we reduce our primary property tax rate and levy.” As a result, he proposes to reduce the property tax through “three important legislative initiatives: 1) eliminating and reducing certain State cost transfers to the County, 2) excise tax authority that can be reasonably enacted if it results in direct reduction of the Pima County primary property tax rate, and 3) authority to transfer hospital obligations to the secondary property tax rate, similar to Maricopa County.”
Huckleberry needs the unanimity requirement removed due to the fact that Supervisor Ally Miller, who beat back challenger Brian Bickel in last week’s general election by over 8 percent of the vote, opposes regressive sales taxes. Miller has argued for a shift in focus to creating a business friendly environment for the County’s small business owners instead of the corporate welfare model currently in place.
“Enacting this legislation will allow 3 members of the Board to add a sales tax and doesn’t guarantee property taxes will be reduced,” said Miller. “I’d prefer to see more discipline from the Board of Supervisors to ensure the $77 million in HURF revenues Pima County receives back from the state each year actually gets allocated to the roads. Adding a sales tax won’t correct that problem.”
“I would also like to see the Board of Supervisors encourage incorporations which would bring more local control as well as bring a higher percentage of state shared revenues into the community” added Miller.
The memo reads in part:
All other Arizona counties avail themselves of excise taxes to reduce their property tax or to pay for county programs. Pima County is the only county that has not taken advantage of this provision in State law. In addition to their general one-half-cent excise tax, some counties also have a full half-cent tax directed to transportation. Our inability to enact an excise tax results from the legislation requiring a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors. We understand how a unanimous vote may have been required if a half-cent sales tax were enacted to increase programmatic expenditures of the County; however; if the sole purpose of enactment is to reduce property taxes, the threshold for passage should be a simple majority of the Board of Supervisors.
We are therefore asking the Board to support legislation giving the County the ability to enact a property tax reduction excise tax through a simple majority vote of the Board. If all of the proceeds of the excise tax were used to reduce the primary property tax rate and, hence, property taxes for all Pima County residents, this would reduce Pima County’s primary property tax rate by $0.9298, or 21.7 percent, in its first year of implementation, a sizable reduction. [Read memo here]
“Calling it a “property tax reduction excise tax” is like calling the present RTA sales tax a “transaction privilege tax,” said Albert Vetere Lannon of the Avra Valley Coalition. “Huckelberry is a master at such misuse of language, trying to hide what things really mean. That’s why he labeled the Sonoran Corridor leg of I-11 an “auxiliary interstate” to avoid conflict with the BOS Resolution 2007-343 opposing any I-10 bypass in Pima County. In this case it means doubling the present sales tax and putting an additional tax on students, renters and the poor – those who can least afford it. If the intent is truly to lower property taxes, then where will the money for road repairs really come from? Using one tax to offset the reduction in another creates no new revenue. Do the math!”