Wednesday, January 23, 2008

AFT-AFP blasts Phoenix City Council’s “endless” parks tax

The Arizona Federation of Taxpayers, a state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, condemned yesterday’s unanimous policy decision by the Phoenix City Council to move forward with a proposal to extend a city parks and preservation tax “in perpetuity.” The current parks and preservation tax, enacted in 1999, is set to expire next year.

“An endless tax gives city politicians a never-ending blank check,” said AFT-AFP state director Tom Jenney. “If a tax sunsets every ten years, that provides much-needed accountability, so that citizens can periodically review city practices,” he said.

Jenney also questioned the proposed uses of the tax. While the current tax has mainly been used to acquire and develop park lands, Deputy City Manager Rick Naimark explained to the Council yesterday that the endless parks tax would increasingly be used to pay for maintenance and operations functions, including park rangers and security. “This is a revenue source looking for a purpose,” said Jenney.

Jenney also criticized the City Council for failing to consider private-sector alternatives, such as taking competitive bids and granting private companies the right to operate exclusive concessions in parks, such as coffee and ice cream stands, or nature tours, in return for providing maintenance, landscaping, security, and other services. “Out of a $124 million parks budget, fewer than one million dollars come from enterprise functions,” said Jenney. “Expanded private concessions could easily replace the $15 million annual revenue from the parks tax.”

AFT chairman Chad Kirkpatrick questioned the propriety of placing the tax question on the May ballot, when a much more substantial voter turnout will occur in the November general election. Kirkpatrick also pointed out that the vote on the parks tax would be the City’s second tax vote in less than a year. “The City Council put the Prop 1 sales tax increase on the September ballot to get an additional $60 million a year for police and fire, after it deliberately underfunded police and fire budgets in order to make the tax increase more attractive to voters,” Kirkpatrick said.

The current tax, which is one-tenth of one percent on sales in Phoenix, will have raised over $200 million by the time it expires.

At its meeting next Tuesday, January 29th, at 3:00 p.m., the City Council will hold a final vote on an ordinance to refer the tax for voter approval to the May 20th ballot.

Contact: Tom Jenney, Arizona state director, Americans for Prosperity (602) 478-0146

For more on operating parks through private concessions, see the Reason Public Policy Institute’s report on managed competition programs in San Diego:

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