By Scot Mussi
Since 1987, Pinal County taxpayers have paid a dedicated half-cent sales tax to build transportation improvements in the region. More than $350 million dollars later the results have been a failure.
Now the County Board of Supervisors and Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) are back asking residents to approve Proposition 417, an additional $640-million-dollar sales tax increase to fund road construction. The entire plan is ill-conceived, unnecessary, tilted to benefit the politically well-connected and is likely illegal.
Among the reasons Prop 417 should be rejected is that the existing half-cent transportation tax has been misused and wasted over the past 15 years, which is why the proponents of the ballot proposition do everything they can to pretend the current tax doesn’t exist.
The abuse has been well documented in several state Auditor General reports. Since 1998, several municipalities have used their disbursements for unknown credit card expenses, an employee appreciation breakfast and even Christmas bonuses. Mammoth used the money they received to backfill deficits in non-transportation departments. In the case of Superior, the town literally siphoned off millions of dollars.
Apache Junction, Kearny, and Eloy were cited for such offenses as poor accounting, inadequate planning processes for future projects and deficient record-keeping for road projects. Despite the multiple infractions, the current proposal awards millions more to these same offenders. Superior, Kearny, Mammoth, and Eloy each receive $6 million in Prop 417 for undefined “local projects.”
Of the funds not being abused and wasted, most of the rest has been doled out to fund local street projects in municipalities throughout the county. Using a regional tax to build city streets was never the purpose of the tax and is a major reason why Pinal County lags behind Maricopa County (which has the same half-cent transportation tax) in regional freeway and roadway construction. Rather than passing a new transportation tax, Pinal taxpayers would be better served by fixing the existing tax and directing the funds to worthy county projects.
The entire planning process was gamed by the political establishment in Pinal County. Communities with representation on the Regional Transportation Authority are the winners in the plan. The rest of the county’s residents are the losers.
San Tan Valley – a community of nearly 90,000 people and approximately 22 percent of the entire county population, sees zero benefit from Prop 417. Saddlebrooke doesn’t fare much better. The only project going to the community of 26,000 is a proposed 6/10ths-mile stretch of road at a cost of $1 million, 0.1 percent of the total revenue included in the $640-million-dollar plan. If you live in Arizona City, all you get is a park-and-ride. Gold Canyon is left out of the plan entirely.
Well over one-third of county taxpayers will be paying a tax in which they receive no benefit in return.
Additionally, Pinal County already has the highest sales tax in the region at 6.7 percent. If the new tax were to pass, Pinal’s sales tax would be a penny higher than both Maricopa and Pima counties. Pinal County already struggles to compete for new jobs and businesses; Prop 417 will only make matters worse.
It would be hard to dream up a worse plan to punish taxpayers and paper over past mistakes, which is probably why the proponents of Prop 417 are trying to sneak this proposition through in November. A vote to raise taxes could have been put on the ballot in 2018 at a regularly scheduled election, but the political establishment believes that a low-turnout election later this year increases their chance of success.
Hopefully voters will see through their electoral ploy and reject this poorly crafted, unnecessary tax increase.
Scot Mussi is the president of Arizona Free Enterprise Club. Proposition 417 is on the November ballot.