By Linda Bentley | october 14, 2015

Why hold voters to lower standard when it comes to tax increases?

Citizens and taxpayers are responsible for holding CCUSD93 officials accountable for the dollars they choose to spend
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PHOENIX – Last week Boaz Witbeck, policy analyst for the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), issued a rebuttal of sorts to the policy letter Maricopa County Treasurer Charles “Hos” Hoskins included with Maricopa County property tax bills about why residential property taxes have gone up.

Witbeck says Hoskins’ letter has reopened the policy debate about the extent to which property tax burdens have been shifted from business property taxpayers to residential property taxpayers.

Boaz Witbeck

However, while acknowledging the usefulness of the debate about the shifting tax burden, he calls Hoskins claim, “Voicing your opinion to anyone other than your legislators will change nothing,” a claim emphasized repeatedly in his letter, “highly misleading.”

Witbeck directs taxpayers’ attention to a few examples found on their property tax bill, pointing out several line-item levy amounts from various local government taxing authorities, including local K-12 school districts, community college districts, city government, county government and other special taxing districts.

Witbeck states, “Each of those taxing districts have authority, completely independent of the state legislature, to raise (or more rarely, lower) your property tax levy.”

In Cave Creek, those taxes make up the majority of our tax bill.

However, he also points out, as Sonoran News has done in the past to counter the Cave Creek Unified School District’s (CCUSD93) claim that it has one of the lowest tax rates in the state, to always focus on the levy, which is the actual number of dollars that must be paid, as opposed to the rate.

Witbeck stated, “If local officials brag to you that they have lowered property tax rates, hold on to your wallet and ask them what is going to happen to your actual levy.”

As voters may have noticed, numerous school districts, including CCUSD93, Phoenix Union, Paradise Valley Unified and Scottsdale Unified, have placed budget overrides and bond measures on the Nov. 3 ballot, which, if passed by voters, will increase property tax bills.

According to Witbeck, these tax increase measures are on the ballot, driving up property taxes, at the sole discretion of local elected officials, such as the local school board, not the state legislature.

Using Phoenix Union as an example, Witbeck said the school board members could have decided spending $9,627 per student is enough.

However, even without the override, Phoenix Union will spend over $9,000 per student, which he states is enough money to put two teachers, with salaries of $75,000 each, in every classroom of 25 students.

Instead of trying to raise taxes with an override measure, the school board could have opted to cut excess administration and other waste.

Citizens and taxpayers are the ones responsible for holding local officials accountable for the dollars they choose to spend.

However, when it comes to property tax levies, voters are held to a lower standard than our legislature.

In order for the legislature to impose new or increase existing taxes, they must have a super-majority vote.

Voters, on the other hand, who impose the majority of taxes found on property tax bills, are able to do so with a simple majority vote.

So, perhaps the legislature can do something after all.

The legislature could, if someone were to ask them, introduce legislation that requires a super-majority vote of all votes cast in order to pass bonds, overrides and other special district property taxes.

AFP is in the process of finalizing its legislative agenda and, according to Witbeck, they will definitely include a bill related to overrides and bond elections.

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