Dear Arizona Taxpayer:
Maricopa County Treasurer Hos Hoskins made headlines with the policy letter he included with recent property tax bills for Maricopa County residents. (Note for those living outside of the “Great State of Maricopa”: this does apply to you, as well.) Hoskins has re-opened an interesting policy debate about the extent to which property tax burdens have been shifted from business property taxpayers to residential property taxpayers (or vice-versa, depending on your point of view). We have included some links below about that debate.
Setting aside the debate about the burden shift, Hoskins made a claim that is very counterproductive to the efforts of property taxpayers to fight for tax relief. Multiple times in his letter, Hoskins made the following claim: “Voicing your opinion to anyone other than your legislators will change nothing.”
That claim is highly misleading.
Consider just a few examples from your property tax bill. If you look closely, you will see several line-item levy amounts from several different local government taxing authorities: your K-12 school districts, your community college district, your city government, your county government, and multiple special taxing districts. Each of those taxing districts have authority, completely independent of the state Legislature, to raise (or more rarely, lower) your property tax levy.
(Note: Always focus on the levy, which is the actual number of dollars you must pay, rather than the rate. If local officials brag to you that they have lowered property tax rates, hold onto your wallet and ask them what is going to happen to your actual levy.)
Many Arizona school districts and municipalities have put budget override and bond measures on your November 3 ballot. If passed by voters, those measures will increase your property tax bill. Those measures were not placed on your ballot by the Arizona Legislature. They are on your ballot, and driving up your tax bill, at the sole discretion of local elected officials. Your school district board members are under no legal (or in our opinion, moral) obligation to try to push for an override.
For example, Phoenix Union school board members could have decided that spending $9,627 per student (in current expenditures, not counting capital and other costs) is enough. Even without the override, Phoenix Union will spend more than $9,000 per student – enough money to put two teachers in every classroom of 25 students and pay each of those teachers $75,000 per year. Instead of trying to raise taxes via an override, the Phoenix Union board members could cut excess administration and other waste. See our Phoenix Union flyer HERE, and contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want us to send you a flyer for your own school district.
We as citizens and taxpayers must hold the local officials in our cities, counties and school districts accountable for the dollars they choose to spend. See AFP’s Local Government Scorecard to learn more about holding your local officials accountable.
Back to the interesting debate on the business-residential property tax levy shift… For a defense of the shift and Proposition 117 (which passed in 2012), go here for the response of the Arizona Tax Research Association to the Hoskins letter. Or go here for Senator Debbie Lesko’s response.
Arizona Policy Analyst
Americans for Prosperity