Proposition 101: Tucson Sales Tax Increase

May 1, 2017

Proposition 101: Tucson Sales Tax Increase

Tucson has an election coming soon, on May 16, 2017. Voters will decide whether they want to increase the city sales tax by ½ of one percent to pay for road maintenance and public safety. Here’s a link with details, courtesy of Ballotpedia. Here’s the key takeaway regarding the spending plans:

Proposition 101 increases the sales tax by an additional 1/2 percent between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2022. The 0.5 percent tax would bring in an estimated $250 million over the five years.

Of the revenue raised by the 0.5 percent sales tax, 60 percent would be deposited into a Public Safety Improvements Fund and 40 percent would be deposited into a Street Improvement Fund. Money in the Public Safety Improvements Fund would be divided equally between the Tucson Police Department and Tucson Fire Department, and it would be used to purchase or upgrade public safety vehicles and equipment and make improvements to public safety facilities. Money in the Street Improvement Fund would be distributed with 60 percent going toward improvements to major arterial and collector streets and 40 percent going toward improvements to residential streets. Citizen committees would be established to oversee the distribution of tax revenue from Proposition 101.

This sales tax measure deserves voter support. We need the money, desperately. The state steals our road dollars. We can bitch and moan, but pot holes and cracks pay political squabbles no never mind. As for upgrading public safety and facilities, think for just a moment about police cruisers and the old adage, “it’s not the years, it’s the miles.” Most of us drive between 10 and 50 miles per day. And cop cars?

The sales tax measure deserves our support for another, arguably more important reason. We need to say Yes to reward good public policy, and tell the opposition it needs to: (a) up its game; or (b) STFU be quiet.

Worked up, just a wee bit? Sure, and my agitation came to me after listening to claptrap from County Republican Chair David Eppihimer. The story to which I linked comes from Arizona Public Media. In it Mayor Jonathan Rothschild explains in great detail how the sales tax proceeds will be used, and the safeguards the city has developed to make sure money doesn’t wander from its intended purposes.

And from Mr. Eppihimer:

It’s not like there’s no money. It’s a $1.3 billion overall budget. That’s a lot of money. There should be revenue to go all around to provide these services, not go to a half-cent sales tax.*

The story hints at one more rationale for voting no. University of Arizona economist Price Fishback says: “It may shift some of the buying in Tucson from retail stores outside the Tucson boundaries because the sales tax is lower and this is going to make the gap bigger.”

Full disclosure: Mayor Rothschild and I practiced law together for almost two years, while he ran for his present office. (His father is Mr. R, semi-famous here at MarkRubinWrites.) I saw first-hand, during that period, the Mayor-to-be’s focus on the city budget. He read it. Several times. He knows his stuff, and he cares deeply about getting it right.

Contrariwise, we have someone who thinks we ought to pay attention to nonsense about how there ought to be enough money. As for the economist, to get to $1.00 of increased sales tax requires a $200 purchase. I’m not an economist, but I’m sure there’s plenty of research about how pricing—including sales tax—affects consumer purchasing decisions, and I cannot imagine $1.00 on a $200 purchase making a difference.

We’re watching an administration in Washington—one which local Rs support—demonstrate just how little concern it has for facts, intelligent decision-making, and policy. Sadly, at the local level in Tucson we’re seeing nothing better.

Bring you’re A-Game, folks, or stay home.

*David, the money the sales tax generates represents 4% of the City of Tucson budget. If you really think the budget had 4% lying around, at the ready for public safety and roads, show your work. From where will it come? “It’s not like there’s no money” doesn’t cut it! (David Eppihimer is also an old acquaintance.)

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