City & Local Reform

It turns out that you can fight town hall. Here’s how we’re standing up for local citizens and winning.

<p>It turns out that you can fight town hall. Here’s how we’re standing up for local citizens and winning. </p>

In a recent unanimous decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals held that school districts can't spend bond money on unapproved purposes when voters authorized that money for specific projects. This decision protects the state constitutionally-guaranteed rights of taxpayers and ensures that governments can't renege on their bond agreements with the voters.

What happened to bring about this challenge?

In September, Goldwater Institute investigative reporter Mark Flatten released an investigative report showing that Phoenix and other Arizona cities spend millions of dollars every year to pay employees to perform union work on city time. It's called "release time." The Goldwater Institute is taking on the city's contract with the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA). By executing this deal with PLEA, the members of the Phoenix City Council have violated the Arizona Constitution and their duty of loyalty to the taxpayers.

Is Philadelphia a model for the Valley? Arizona Republic columnist Jon Talton recently praised that city's government for its plan to implement high-speed wireless Internet for residents. He contrasts it with Phoenix whose "challenges," he complains, keep it from being as business friendly as Philly.

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.

This month's propositions to hike Phoenix's sales tax and hang on to home-rule powers won a resounding majority-of the tiny fraction who voted. According to the Arizona Republic, a paltry 17 percent of the Phoenix electorate voted, down 15 percent from four years ago, in the election for mayor, city council members, and ballot propositions.­

According to the Texas Transportation Institutes Urban Mobility Report, Phoenix is the 15th most congested city in the nation.

It takes the average Phoenix commuter 30 percent longer to complete a trip than it would without congestion. The average Phoenician wastes the equivalent of a workweek sitting in traffic every year. Not to mention about 34 gallons of gas.

Amidst budget cuts and worker furloughs, some cities still are finding cash to subsidize developers.

Tempe recently authorized a taxpayer subsidy potentially worth more than $150,000 for a new Sea Life Aquarium that will be built at Arizona Mills shopping center by the owner of Legoland and the Madame Tussaud's wax museums.

Cities beware. The grandiose promises of economic growth and tax revenues from municipal bond-funded building projects are the latest casualty of the faltering economy. 

Allstate Life Insurance has filed suit in federal court against Prescott Valley, Arizona for securities fraud in the sale of bonds for its multi-use event center, essentially a municipal stadium. The bonds were to be paid from operating and sales-tax revenues. The suit alleges that Prescott Valley knowingly overestimated projected revenues in order to sell the bonds to investors.

Proposition 200 is marketed as an effort to focus Tucson on giving priority funding to core local government services--law enforcement, emergency medical services and fire protection--in order to generate better response times. But the truth is it would just mandate more government spending with no strings attached.

The hiring mandates tied to the city charter amendment would be imposed on city taxpayers regardless of economic circumstances, and they won't be cheap. Independent audits estimate Prop. 200 would cost $150 million over the next five years.