Prop 400 would override state spending limits

Posted on October 28, 2009

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Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The City of Tucson wants permission from voters to spend all the money it collects during the next four years, overriding state spending limits by about $42 million.

If passed on Nov. 3, Proposition 400, also called the Home Rule Proposition, will allow Tucson the option to spend 100 percent of what it collects in revenue, instead of putting some into savings as Arizona law requires.

Every year, the Arizona Economic Estimates Commission determines the amount municipal and county governments can spend without a city override, based on population growth and revenue from taxes and other income.

Proposition 400 will not raise taxes or fees, according to city officials.

Most city services, including public safety, parks and recreation, and business development are paid for with property taxes and fees from things like parking tickets and permit applications.

“Whatever money we have coming in, we have to spend it for this community,” said Ward 6 City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff. “There’s nothing wrong with saving it or putting it in reserves, but right now we need to be putting the money into the programs.”

Trasoff said the money would be spent to fill holes in the city budget created by the recession.

In 2010, all Tucson services will operate from a total budget of about $1.3 billion, including about $51 million in federal stimulus funds.

While the total has increased $16.5 million from Fiscal Year 2009, the portion over which the council has discretion, the General Fund, has decreased by $49 million.

The General Fund represents only about 32 percent of Tucson’s total bank account, according to the adopted budget for Fiscal Year 2010.

An additional 17 percent accounts for enterprise funds like Tucson Water, which bills citizens directly, and the rest, about 51 percent, is regulated by law.

Although there is much speculation on whether the city will raise taxes if voters pass Proposition 200, which would increase police and fire staffing, the city budget reflected that overall tax rates will drop in 2010.

The council has recently come under fire for spending on non-essential programs like KIDCO, a free afterschool education and recreation program for elementary-age children.

“We could cut everything that promotes quality of life,” Trasoff said in an interview Thursday, “but that would only save us $3 million.”

CBS Tucson affiliate KOLD reported Thursday that the Tucson Association of Realtors, the primary sponsor of Proposition 200, has also endorsed Proposition 400.

Colin Zimmerman, public affairs director for the association, was quoted by KOLD
as saying, “It proves that we’re not out there to push back. If it’s good, it’s good.”

Questions remain as to whether now is the right time for the city to bet the pot.

“We’re learning our lesson for not being responsible with our money,” said Erin Sperling, a political science senior. “(Council members) haven’t been spending our money like they would spend their money.”

Speaking on his own behalf in a phone interview Tuesday night, state chair for Arizona College Republicans Andrew Clark said he’d feel more comfortable if the city kept a cushion in case the economy worsened.

“I would vote against it,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ve seen the bottom yet, but there’s a high degree of probability that we could see that happen.”

Both Propositions can be read in original format on the Tucson City Clerk’s website at http://www.ci.tucson.az.us/clerks.

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