There’s a very large bond issue that is being put forth to voters in Pima County this November. The bond issue has been divided into seven propositions. If all seven propositions pass, the county would be authorized to “borrow” almost $816 million. The key word in the prior sentence is borrow. It has to be paid back – with interest. There’s no free lunch here.
Let’s examine two propositions as they pertain to the University of Arizona. The University of Arizona has requested $30 million from the county taxpayer. They want $10 million for roads called “Science Park Drive at UA Tech Park” and $20 million for a building called “Innovation/Technology Building, UA Tech Park at The Bridges.” I want to remind you that UA is a state university, not a county university.
If you were to ask, “Is this a good investment” for the county and the taxpayers in Pima County, it is certainly a resounding “NO!”
Here’s why… The UA Tech Park is a non-profit entity. They don’t pay property taxes. They get a free ride from the taxpayer and at the expense of any business that competes against them who is in the private sector. If you are in the private sector, you pay taxes. Property taxes are what pays for your police and fire protection, libraries and road maintenance. Companies here will lease at below market value, which the taxpayer subsidizes.
The $30 million doesn’t include maintenance for the roads and buildings. So, the figure for these two specific line items are guaranteed to be higher. Much higher.
Let’s compare that with a private sector investor who receives a loan (where the private borrower and the bank assume the risk). There’s no $30 million for the taxpayer to pay back. Taxpayers are cheated in two ways. First they have to spend $30 million extra to UA, and second, they receive no property taxes under these bond issues without receiving any of the benefits of lease revenue in return for assuming the risk.
Every company and individual working at the UA Tech Park is well compensated and highly educated. Should the county taxpayer provide a welfare stipend to individuals and companies that already earn good incomes? Would we ever consider going to a private company and saying, “Here is $20 million, build yourself a building and by the way, don’t worry about paying property taxes on it ever again.” Of course not. But that is exactly what UA is asking of the Pima County taxpayer.
There’s another issue involved in this as well. And that is once a technology is invented or commercialized, who shares in the wealth? Most certainly it’s not the taxpayer who invested in this bond issue by building the roads and offices which they will lease out below market value.
For the taxpayer, the best option is for a tenant to rent space from the private sector. It provides a stable source of revenue to the county. True entrepreneurialism takes place in the private sector and not in government funded buildings.
Although I’ve chosen to highlight only one issue that is terribly unfair to constituents in Pima County, there are many more items that deserve critical scrutiny. For example, $18 million for a visitor center is a waste of taxpayer dollars when a website would suffice. For a company looking to establish a business in either Pima or Maricopa County, taxes are a differentiator. Pima County taxes are three times higher than Maricopa County. Moving a business encompasses many facets and taxes is one of them. Pima County needs to lower taxes and have more taxpayers to help make up the difference.
For Pima County residents, this bond issue is a bad deal. It saddles the residents with long-term debt payments. It discourages outside businesses from investing in Pima County since it already has the state’s highest property tax rates. It does nothing to enhance our image in the business community nationally. Taxpayer funded economic development isn’t sustainable and I encourage you to vote NO on all 7 propositions.
Ally Miller is serving her first term as Pima County Supervisor, District 1.