Wednesday, September 5, 2007

First-Ever Taxpayer Scorecard Released on Arizona Local Governments

Not surprisingly, the City of Phoenix officials got practically the worst scores possible. -6 was the worst score, and Mayor Gordon and every single Phoenix City Councilperson each got total scores of -5. Which is why we need to vote as many of them out as possible this election.

First-Ever Taxpayer Scorecard Released on Arizona Local Governments

Pima County Sup. Ray Carroll Wins 2007 "Local Hero" Award

PHOENIX--The Arizona Federation of Taxpayers, a state chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFT-AFP), today released its first annual policy scorecard on local governments in Arizona. Most of Arizona's county supervisors and city council members will not be happy to see this year's scorecard in the hands of local voters. The overwhelming majority of public officials earned scorecard designations as Allies of Big Government and Friends of Big Government, by increasing their budgets and property tax levies above the rate of personal income growth. "Too many local government officials seem to be under the impression that no one is watching them," said AFT-AFP chairman Chad Kirkpatrick. "With this scorecard, they now know taxpayers are watching." Click here to view the full scorecard online.

Ray Carroll won AFT-AFP's first-ever Local Hero Award, for dissenting when the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted to increase its budget by 14.3 percent and increase property tax levies by $34 million, and also for leading the successful resistance to imposition of a new half-cent county sales tax. Pima Supervisor Ann Day also voted against the budget, the property tax rate, and the new sales tax, and joins Carroll in the category of Champion of the Taxpayer.

The state's other Champion of the Taxpayer was Councilman Phil Stratton of Willcox, who joined five other council members in voting for a 10 percent budget reduction -- and then bested them by dissenting against an increase in property tax levies.

AFT-AFP executive director Tom Jenney commented on the scorecard's methodology. "Setting state personal income growth as an upper limit on spending and levy growth gives us a good means of comparing local taxing districts," Jenney said. He also said that using adopted budgets was the only workable standard for gauging spending increases. "We will no doubt get complaints from officials who used large carry-forwards to fund huge increases over last year's approved budget, and who think they should get credit for not spending all of last year's revenue," he said. "But our goal is to encourage officials to reduce the size of the spending increases approved in their budgets."

One of the main goals of the AFT-AFP scorecard is to clear up widespread confusion about property tax rates and property tax levies. "We saw a lot of public officials bragging about lowering property tax rates," said Kirkpatrick. "But with the huge increases in assessed valuations, lower rates can still mean higher taxes."

Anticipating some of the excuses of local officials with low scores, Jenney said that an official's political philosophy, rather than external factors -- such as population growth or the need for development infrastructure -- was the primary determinant of how that official voted. "We saw some officials in high-growth areas vote for small spending increases, and we saw some officials in lower-growth areas vote for large spending increases." The difference, Jenney said, is that fiscally conservative officials rely more on the private sector for development infrastructure, while fiscally profligate officials rely more on government.

AFT-AFP officers regretted not being able to rate cities and counties on qualitative differences between individual budget items. "There is no objective way to compare the hundreds of boondoggles, corporate welfare handouts, and special-interest tax abatements in dozens of Arizona taxing districts," Jenney said. He pointed out that while AFT-AFP was very critical of the decision by the City of Surprise earlier this year to award a developer $240 million in sales tax rebates, for the purposes of the scorecard, the tax dodge accounts for fewer than $1 million annually, out of a $452 million total budget that was 4 percent smaller than last year's budget. "You could say that Surprise has been penny-foolish and pound-wise," said Jenney. "But the point of this report card is to measure and compare taxing districts on a pound-for-pound basis."

AFT-AFP indicated that the Scorecard has room to evolve. "Next year, we may include a score for development impact fees," concluded Kirkpatrick. "That has become a major area of abuse in recent years."

Click here to view the full scorecard online.

Contact: Tom Jenney, (602) 478-0146 or by e-mail,

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