If the past is prologue, then Phoenix voters will probably approve Proposition 3, the alternative city spending limit, overriding state controls that use population growth and inflation rates to limit local government spending increases.
Population growth and inflation are reasonable proxies for increases in the demand and cost of existing services. In fact, the real per-capita cost of existing services, in most cases, should decline due to economies of scale.
Spending increases in excess of population growth and inflation represent an expansion in the scope of government, and must be approved by voters. By using small turnout elections dominated by city government groupies, cities have been adopting such alternative limits.
These days, the pitch for the no-limit alternative is as much blackmail as persuasion. Returning to the state-crafted limit would require about a 25 percent reduction in city spending. That, warns city officials and their co-dependents, would mean crooks rampaging freely and fires raging out of control. But, the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers has shown how funding could actually be increased for police and fire while complying with the state-crafted spending limit should Proposition 3 be defeated.
Phoenix voters will undoubtedly buy the argument that the only alternative to Proposition 3 is to turn Phoenix into Baghdad. Phoenix is now spending over $1 billion a year more than would be necessary to maintain the scope of city services that existed in 1980. That's a lot more government in a relatively short period of time.
Robert Robb is a columnist with the Arizona Republic. A longer version of this article originally appeared in the Arizona Republic.