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>

On March 9, Scottsdale and Tempe voters will decide whether to approve a two percentage point increase in their cities’ tax on hotel room rentals. In both cities, hotel associations seem united in support of the measures. The Surprise city council already approved its own bed tax increase earlier this month. It, too, was supported by the city’s hotel association.

Adapt and overcome. This is part of a Marine Corps mantra born of a resource scarcity the service suffered when its equipment consisted mostly of hand-me-downs from the Army. This is exactly the kind of can-do spirit that we need from government officials today.

The Arizona economy has lost more than 300,000 jobs. Tax revenues have plummeted at every level. We cannot afford to continue funding government at its former levels. Unfortunately, officials with the City of Phoenix have demonstrated an unwillingness to adapt to changing circumstances.

Last week, Governor Jan Brewer signed into law Senate Bill 1398, which mandates that local governments enforce their “coordination rights” against federal agencies. This new law enlists Arizona cities, counties and special districts in the fight against an overreaching federal government.

What’s the big secret in Sandy Springs, Georgia? This town of 83,000 furnishes Cadillac-level services on a budget of $1,996 per person. Sandy Springs provides its residents deluxe amenities like a rapid-response center for citizen complaints about city services, live Internet viewing of photos taken by traffic enforcement cameras, and a tennis complex that features 24 lighted courts.

A recent Arizona Republic series revealed how some government employees are abusing Arizona’s pension systems by artificially boosting their salaries to collect a bigger pension, or by “double-dipping” – working while collecting retirement. That has strained Arizona’s pension funds. Unfortunately, even eliminating these abuses would still leave Arizona’s pension systems deeply in the red by more than $50 billion.

The City of Scottsdale wants to pass a new zoning law that prohibits check-cashing stores from being located near each other or near "sensitive uses." But this is not just a minor zoning issue. It is most fundamentally a deprivation of property rights-and an illustration of why the fight for property rights in Arizona did not end with the passage of Proposition 207 in 2006.

In 2005, Maricopa County spun-off its hospital system to a newly-created  special health care district. With the stroke of an accountant's pen, the county shifted what was then $400 million in annual spending off its books and onto those of the new special district. Maricopa County quickly took advantage of that new-found money with hundreds of millions in fresh spending. Meanwhile, the County's newborn special district toddled along, levying more than $40 million in new property taxes and spending more than $400 million in its first fiscal year.

In economically troubling times when governments are faced with crushing budget deficits and massive layoffs, you can count on Phoenix and other cities to get their priorities right. Which means that one vital service that surely is not on the list of cuts is government-owned golf courses.