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County Hospital Taxing District Goes To Governor

Maricopa County voters will be hearing a lot about their county hospital between now and November when they will be asked to approve the establishment of a special countywide hospital district to stop financial bleeding at Maricopa County Medical Center.

Governor Napolitano has indicated she will sign legislation that authorizes the County Board of Supervisors to call for a vote on the district. If approved by voters, the hospital district would levy a secondary property tax that could raise a maximum of $40 million a year for 20 years to help Maricopa Integrated Health System recover from annual losses of $15 million a year at the hospital.

Under the legislation (H2530), voter approval also would give the district general obligation and revenue bonding authority to finance modernization of the medical center.

The medical center, which has the busiest emergency department in the state and provides care for indigent patients and state prisoners, has been losing money for a decade because of uncompensated services and a declining share of federal funds that go to the state.

The legislation, which was opposed by the Arizona Tax Research Association, passed the House 44-13 and the Senate 23-4.

“Existing statutes governing county finances already provide for Maricopa County solving the problems surrounding the hospital without creating a special district,” a position paper from the tax association said. The association said the county in 2002 had the authority to levy an additional $18.3 million without voter approval and also could ask voters to override the county tax levy limit.

Fulton Brock, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, testified in committee hearings that a special district will provide the health system with more flexibility through bulk purchasing and physician contracts and will permit partnerships with private industry.

When enacted, H2530 will require the medical center to provide burn center, trauma and birthing services for at least 10 years.

Under existing law, the county has the option to close the hospital as of July 1. —

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