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What the Devil won't tell you

Dear legislators: Open letter from a pissed-off taxpayer

A note from a POed conservative explains new normal in local property taxes

Last winter, the Arizona Legislature passed a law that Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says unfairly burdens the Board of Supervisors with the job of paying for schools. That's a new one for the county, which generally deals in things like roads, parks and criminal justice. The move was also meant to teach the Tucson Unified School District a lesson because some say TUSD uses "desegregation" allowances to spend more than other districts in the state.

A conversation with county lobbyist Michael Racy pointed out a truth as certain as math. There is only one set of losers in the state's new plan to — muah-ha-hah — get out of subsidizing high-tax local governments in Pima County. Those victims are Republicans in low-tax governing districts in Pima County.

Taxpayers in unincorporated GOP strongholds throughout Pima County now get the joy of picking up the bill for everything they hate about Tucson and TUSD. However short homeowner's tax bills are from a one-percent threshold is exactly how on the hook they now are for other jurisdictions — ones in which they can't elect folks to govern because they don't live there.

In May, I explained how the law got changed but this letter to state lawmakers from a Tea Party Republican better details who gets screwed and how. A source who asked to remain anonymous emailed a copy in our direction, so here's what a conservative might say, if they found out what was going on with their taxes....

Open letter: Dear lawmakers

Dear Dumb-ass Legislators who think I'm dumber than them:

Please tell me why my taxes just went up to pay for Tucson Unified School District when I live in the Catalina Foothills.

Please explain why I'm paying for a school district nowhere near my residence to comply with a state constitutional amendment intended to protect me from unfair taxation.

Please explain further, how you didn't just raise my taxes and put me on the hook for every future tax hike those leftist, Nazi socialists can justify. Do you think they will justify more or fewer, now that they are free and clear from paying for them?

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After a bunch of us up here on East Skyline got together for Independence Day, my idiot libtard cousin told me that you conservatives in the Legislature raised my taxes. Well, to say I defended your honor would be a bit of an understatement. I tore into him so hard that all my buddies laughed at him until he fled in his Prius crying. He cried so hard and went so dark he didn't go to work for three days and his girlfriend left him. It was hilarious!

I got to thinking that I'm a conservative because I think government is, on its face, run by idiots and thank you, Arizona Legislature for proving my point all these years.

What you aren't though, are tax-raisers. I can count on that like I can count on my Dodge and my pump-action Mossberg. But then you have that idiot streak. I called my America-hating, Muslim-loving cousin and after promising to take him to the vegan place Downtown that he likes so much, he explained to me how you raised my taxes, put me on the hook for more and strut around saying you didn't. (Note, I can call my cousin the chairman of Al Qaeda Tucson, because he's family. If you do it, you will end up like the Shemansky kid back in Chicago. He can't leave home anymore without wearing his helmet.)

Convoluted back story

In 1980, voters passed a constitutional amendment limiting taxes on my $200,000 house to $2,000 a year. That's one percent. It's a one-percent limit. However, as the state was then figuring out how to redo the formula to equalize school funding, the Legislature realized their constitutional referendum would destroy that new formula so they agreed to a taxpayer subsidy to fix the mess.

I get that. The state paid that subsidy for about 35 years and fixed their own mess. This year, you guys up in the state Capitol decided you didn't want to, which puts me in a bit of a pickle because I hate subsidies, but I hate taxes more.

However big of a pickle I may be in, you were in a bigger vat of dill juice because you couldn't just end the subsidy of taxpayers' bills without technically raising taxes. Instead, you decided to keep the subsidy but turn it over local governments. The upshot is that the Pima County Board of Supervisors is on the hook for 95 percent of it. I figured that was cool, because those Dum-o-crats are worse than the libtard no-account cousin of mine who lives down by the streetcar tracks.

Then I remembered county taxpayers are the ones paying it and not the Board of Freaking Supervisors. This ain't coming out of Richard Elias' hide, it's coming out of mine.

Folks hate government because it is so often this convoluted. The Arizona Legislature is to convoluted governing what Bono is to sunglasses and skinny African kids.

Here's what my no-account cousin says you did: Say, for instance, TUSD and the city of Tucson raised taxes — shocker — so his $100,000 patchouli-reeking house down by those tracks gets taxed at $1,300 — that' s $300 more than one percent. Ha ha ha on him. Right? Wrong. The joke is on me because that $300 isn't coming out of the state coffers anymore, it's coming out of my money clip. Plus, because he's over the limit already, any new tax hike by those Sharia law-loving liberals is also charged to me and not them.

Here's how he said you did it: You didn't end the subsidy but told a third party — some bureaucratic backwater called the Property Tax Oversight Commission — to assess the subsidy among governments in a given county. The local government taxed higher than the average of their "peers" in the state paid the bill. Pima County only fits that profile because they subsist solely on property taxes, which no other county in Arizona does.

That's me, asshat! My $200,000 house has a tax bill of $1,700 and some change. Through voting, canvassing and the implied threat of lynching, I've kept my tax bill $300 below the constitutional limit. So even though we are both taxpayers in the county, I have to pay for his tax hikes and he doesn't.

He said/he said, I'm screwed!

I figured it out only after an infuriating game of back and forth with the Republican Party chairman in my legislative district and that idiot commie whose genes I share.

The chairman first assured me it was fine. He told me that the subsidy was shifted back to local governments to put pressure on the school board to cut their taxes. Thank you. So the next time I saw my cousin, I slapped him silly with a handful of shaving cream and laughed at what a total tool he was for missing how subsidies just encourage profligate spending.

After his concussion symptoms wore off, he pointed out an uncomfortable fact — well, two of them. He lives in TUSD and had no reason to pressure the school board to cut taxes because I was now paying for his (M-er! F-er! He's right). I don't live in TUSD and can't vote in their elections.

I went to explain this recent turn of events to the big cheese Republican who shook his head and pointed a finger in my chest, saying, "Look! If the county has so mismanaged its budget that it can't find $21 million in a $500 million general fund then that's their problem." Right, right. Right. Dim-o-patsies do that.

I found my cousin napping and changed his Facebook status to "in a relationship with Caitlin Jenner," before waking him to explain that the county only has to find $20 million in its bloated $500 million general fund. This is about county budget mismanagement. Groggily, he asked me why the state couldn't find $20 million in its $10 billion general fund — 20 times larger — to make sure I didn't have to pay his taxes. That would mean this problem is much more about the state mismanaging its finances.

Well, back to the LD chairman, who told me all the county had to do was impose a sales tax. I asked him if that wasn't the same sales tax we've always opposed because it gave those freaking Maoists another revenue source to play around? Isn't that theft? I also pointed out that if we managed to get the county government out from under the subsidy, what good would it do us if we just made the Community College Governing Board pay — that's still us. Right?

The chairman looked at me and just said, "Huh, right. Yeah. S'pose so."

It gets worse ...

As fate would have it, my cousin called right then and pointed out that he figured that local governments getting my subsidies under this new law could just raise my taxes with impunity, so long as the tax rate remained "below average." Hint: There is little political downside to raising those taxes if folks 10, 20, 100 miles away are paying for it. He thanked me for the new Pancho Villa statue and modern street car I was going to have to buy the city because of it and hung up on me.

The shaving cream was metaphorically dripping down my neck when he called back to point out that I could just harangue the county board to cut the county sheriff's budget every time TUSD decides to hire a new climate-change teacher. Click.

Then he texted me and asked if I supported the city bonds in 2013. Hell no, I gave money to oppose them and he knows that. He replied, "Heh, heh, heh." Oh, it's worse.

Now, the chairman and I logged onto his computer and pulled up the city budget. "Yeah, what I figured," the chairman said. "We need the city to bond a lot." 

The city of Tucson's charter, see, limits their combined property primary tax to pay for operations and secondary to pay for bonds. Today, the combined taxes only hit me — in the freaking Foothills — for another $22 a year (unless the value of my house increases and then they can hit me with more) because their bonds gobble up 1.05 cents of their $1.75 limit.

If the bond goes down, it leaves more room for primary taxes to go up and leave me footing the bill for a city I don't live in. If Tucson's secondary taxes dropped to 2012 levels, my hit could be as much as $200 a year if the city were to max out their primary property tax. And why wouldn't they, now that you in the Legislature told them their homeowners don't have to pay it?

I felt whoozy, when another thought hit me. Could Marana start collecting property taxes and have us pay in the Foothills? We checked it out. Voters in Marana Unified School District are just a hair's breadth beneath the limit, so any primary property tax hike will put them over. Then, yes, the town of Marana could impose a property tax that no one in Marana would pay but every county taxpayer outside that town would.

A simple proposition

I've come to understand that if my tax bill rises by $300 to surpass $2,000, I won't be on the hook for future tax hikes. Which means that to comply with a constitutional provision protecting me from undo tax burden, I have to ask the Catalina Foothills School District for a tax hike of about 20 percent to protect me from higher taxes. Effing wonderful.

After some soul-searching and more online research it seems that I found the problems. One, you lawmakers are up with Reveille at the sunrise because that's what "makers" do while "takers" sleep 'til 9 a.m and beyond. Then you stayed up all night voting on this legislation well after 2 a.m. and were maybe sleep-deprived. Why else would you think that you could shift tax burdens away from the Legislature to elsewhere in Arizona without raising taxes on Arizonans? Do you see now the flaw in this logic?

Maybe save the tequila shots until after you adjourn.

Local government is a very simple proposition. I move to a place and I bitch and moan about the taxes I have to pay there and not some place else. When I move to the Foothills and outside the city limits, why the fuck am I paying TUSD and Tucson city taxes that their voters don't have to pay?

I go to sleep now realizing that Adelita Grijalva and Paul Cunningham now decide whether or not I get a pothole fixed. If they decide to start a curriculum in Polish-Mexican studies or commission artists to turn the Sun Tran stops Rococo I can either lose county services or fork over more Jacksons. If it can be paid for out of the primary property tax, and someone else wants it, it's suddenly all about me. I moved out here so that wouldn't happen. Then you got a neat idea at 3 a.m.

For those of us with a bit of scratch, subsidizing them without is dog bites man. I get that. But it's a matter of scale. The state budget general fund is $10 billion. All the counties' general funds combined are $2 billion

If U.S. Rep. Martha McSally voted to force the Legislature to pay for Fort Huachuca, Davis-Monthan and Luke Air Force bases but denied it wasn't a tax hike, you state lawmakers would lose your minds, and I would be with you.

No, I can't vote out Paul Cunningham or Adelita Grijalva to fix my new tax problem created in Phoenix. I can only vote you out. I see you have $266 million in unexpected revenues. Show me/us some love and admit you were wrong.

Meanwhile, I now live in a world where my idiot, libtard incense-burning cousin is right and I have to eat it. Does that ever suck. Strap on the feedbag yourself, state Legislature.

F-you very much,

A Very Pissed Off White Guy

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.
Correction: An earlier version of this column misspelled the last name of Michael Racy, the lobbyist for Pima County.


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We're not sure if the author of this letter used a fountain pen, or clipped out individual letters from old copies of Guns & Ammo and Ladies Home Journal and carefully pasted them into sentences.

Running down the numbers

The primary property tax part of your tax bill funds daily government operations. For 35 years the state has subsidized part of the bill to pay for schools. Some of that subsidy has been shifted over to local governments this year. In Pima County, the net effect is illustrated below. 

Constitutionally, homeowners are only on the hook for one percent of the value of their home when all primary property taxes are added up. The state used to pay for anything more than that. In Pima County, now county taxpayers will pick up the extra tab — but those who live in TUSD won't.

As school districts are the major variable in tax bills, who gets the subsidy is a matter of which school district property owners pay taxes to fund.

The limit applies only to owner-occupied homes and not apartments, business or industry.

Taxes are levied per $100 in assessed valuation — a $.01 increase costs $1 more on a $100,000 home, $2 more on a $200,000 home etc.

Below is an example of tax bills from three different school districts to show where they are in relation to the one-percent limit. I'm using homes assessed at the average home value in each district, according to the U.S. Census. 

(Note: Taxes are based on assessed value, which is generally less than the market value of a home).

Subsidized

Tucson Unified School District

  • Median home price: $137,000
    PCC $1.3689
  • Tucson $1.59
  • Pima County $4.2777
  • TUSD $6.4672
  • Total primary property tax; 1,3701 per $100 of assessed valuation,
  • Total tax on house: $1,877
  • Result: the one percent threshold on the average home is $1,370, leaving a subsidy of $507 to be spread across Pima County, paid by all other homeowners except TUSD taxpayers — who have reached their limit.

Subsidizer

Typical Catalina Foothills bill

  • Median home price: $416,000
  • PCC $1.3689
  • Pima County $4.2777
  • Catalina Foothills SD $3.15
  • Total primary: $8.70 per $100 of assessed valuation
  • Property tax: $3,619
  • Result: the one-percent threshold is $4,160, leaving room for $541 in future tax increases to subsidize TUSD and other school districts who would also exceed the limit, such as ...

On the brink...

Marana Unified School District

  • Median home price $155,000
  • PCC $1.3689
  • Pima County $4.2777
  • MUSD $4.390
  • Total primary: $9.9945 per $100 assessed valuation
  • Property tax: $1,549.
  • Result: the one-percent threshold is $1,550, so any increase will put MUSD over the one-percent limit and taxpayers in other school districts will end up subsidizing them.