The last thing the people of Arizona need right now is a sales tax increase. But leave it to state lawmakers to try to push one through by proposing a referral to put a tax hike on the ballot to fund fire districts.
The bill is SCR1049. And if it makes it onto the ballot—and gets approved by voters—it would create a 20-year statewide 0.1% sales tax to fund Arizona’s 144 fire districts. It would also distribute the funds proportionally to the fire district’s equalized property valuation, but not to exceed 3% to any one fire district.
To the average voter, this may not sound like a big deal. After all, firefighters provide an important service that keep people and their property safe.
But this policy would be a disaster.
If enacted, all Arizona taxpayers would be forced to subsidize 1.5 million other Arizona taxpayers despite already paying taxes for fire and emergency services in their own communities. This is not only redistributive, but it’s unfair. And that’s not the only problem.
This policy is essentially a bailout for fire districts who have recklessly and wastefully spent taxpayer money. Having Arizona’s taxpayers indiscriminately subsidize districts that are not good stewards of taxpayer money is a perverse incentive. And it does nothing to require accountability. After all, these taxpayers have no say in the election of fire district board members. That means you will have no representation when it comes to how your money gets spent. Not to mention the fact that the proponents of the bill have not even tried to present a business case for why this new tax will help solve their underlying issues.
And what’s to stop them from coming back to taxpayers for MORE money? We see it time and time again when it comes to education. Do you think fire districts will act any differently?
The reality is that Arizona’s fire districts already have access to the property tax base, rates and charges for ambulance service, and Public Safety Personnel Retirement System benefits. These are two funding streams and a major benefit that the private sector cannot compete with. It’s bad enough that public fire has already spent years trying to push private providers out of the market. Giving them a third funding stream will only make it worse. This will create more funding buckets that will make it even more difficult to ensure transparency and a proper pulse on how much money these districts are taking in.
Most of all, if it gets passed, SCR1049 would set an awful precedent. Other taxing districts will assuredly look at this policy as a clever way to reduce accountability for spending all while increasing revenues by getting a piece of the sales tax base.
That’s why it’s imperative that the legislature votes NO on SCR1049 and retains its ability to direct tax policy and pass a balanced budget. As the Club has said throughout the year, now is not the time to raise taxes on the hard-working people of Arizona. With exorbitant gas prices and rising inflation, they need every break they can get. Lawmakers got it right last year when they delivered a historic tax cut. They need to follow that same principle this year.
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