Our American system of government, the best in the world, is founded on the principle of checks and balances. The legislative branch writes the law, the executive branch carries out the law and the judicial branch interprets the law. When the legislative branch enacts an unfair law, an aggrieved party can ask the judicial branch of government to review what they believe to be an unfair and unconstitutional law.
This is what Pima County has done in petitioning the Arizona Supreme Court to review and invalidate a portion of the recently adopted state budget law approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor.
We made every effort to avoid having to enter into litigation against the state. Our representative spent countless hours in testimony before legislative committees pointing out the unfair and unconstitutional provisions of this budget law. Our representative discussed our concerns with the speaker of the house and the president of the senate and explained our concerns with this law to the staff of the governor. In the end, we received no relief and were left with the only option available to the county — to petition the Arizona Supreme Court for relief.
The budget adopted by the Legislature and approved by the governor transferred significant state costs to Pima County. This year alone, more than $21 million of previous state financial obligations were transferred to Pima County. The most outrageous transfer occurred when the state decided the county should now begin paying for state aid to education. The state budget is written so poorly, we do not know if $8.1 million or $18.6 million in costs have been transferred. We believe this cost transfer is unconstitutional and is a classic example of taxation without representation. There are 18 school districts within Pima County. This unfair state budget law requires Pima County to levy a property tax for the owners of properties within 17 of these school districts and transfer the tax revenue to another school district.
For example, in the northwest, the county will levy a property tax against property owners in the Marana, Amphitheater, Flowing Wells and Catalina Foothills school districts and give those taxes to the Tucson Unified School District. Yet, the property owners in Marana, Amphitheater, Flowing Wells and Catalina Foothills school districts are not able to vote for the governing board of TUSD. Even worse, Pima County will tax residents in the Ajo School District and transfer those taxes to TUSD. Of what possible benefit could a resident in Ajo, 110 miles from Tucson, receive?
Taxation without representation was one of the reasons for the American Revolution and the founding of this country. We hope the Arizona Supreme Court will come to the same conclusion we have and invalidate this law before Aug. 17, when the county is required to levy property taxes. If invalidated, the proposed primary property tax increase we have included in the fiscal year 2015/16 budget will be eliminated — the outcome we certainly hope occurs.
It is not the first time the state has transferred their costs to the county. They have been doing so for decades. This year, the state shifted a total of $104 million of their costs to Pima County taxpayers, which is one third of your county primary property tax bill.
This is why we unfortunately had to sue the state.
(Chuck Huckelberry is the Pima County Administrator.)