When state lawmakers passed a series of budget bills earlier this month, they had to scramble to fill a nearly $2 billion projected deficit.

One of those budget provisions has local government officials concerned that legislators in Phoenix plan to loot local coffers to pay off the state’s debt.

A section in one of the bills that makes up the state’s nearly $10 billion spending plan stipulates that counties, cities and towns pay the state $29.7 million.

“Nobody’s ever seen a provision like this before,” said Ken Stroebeck of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns.

The little-known provision mandates that local governments pay the state based on a formula used for Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF).

“It’s going to be hard,” said Mary Davis, Oro Valley’s spokeswoman.

Davis said town leaders are not yet sure how much Oro Valley will be expected to pay when the state’s collectors come calling. Where the money will come from also remains undetermined.

Pima County officials were less surprised but displeased nonetheless.

“It’s a way to tap into our local tax revenues,” said Martin Willett, Chief Deputy Pima County Administrator.  

Willett said county leaders have grown accustomed to legislators in Phoenix handing down mandates.

“They won’t raise taxes, but the number of mandates that can’t be undone is enormous,” Willett said.

He estimates Pima County would likely pay nearly $2 million to the state to satisfy the budget provision.

Even state legislators who voted for the provision find it difficult to justify.

“This is undoubtedly unprecedented,” said Pete Hershberger, representative from Legislative District 26.

Hershberger said the plan reflects the state’s ongoing financial difficulties.

He said the choice to vote for the budget was difficult because it meant approving the budget or shutting down state government.

“It was all or nothing,” Hershberger said.

Even before the ink dries on the Governor’s signature, some lawmakers have hinted that a special session may be called to tackle some of the outstanding budget issues.

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