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Robbing cities to pay universities not a viable option

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Throughout Arizona, cities large and small partner with the state university system to help provide a first class educational experience for students.

Municipal leaders understand the value our public universities bring to the state and they aren’t timid about shouldering some of the costs to help Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University safely and effectively serve their student populations.

We also acknowledge that universities have taken budget hits in recent years. That hurts us all. But the way to remedy these funding decisions isn’t to take money from cities.

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Christian Price

Yet, that is exactly what the state’s three universities want to do. The governor’s proposed budget released in January includes a permanent annual shift of about $36 million of sales tax dollars away from state and local government to the universities.

The state’s portion of the money – estimated to be about $30 million – would pay for universities to improve current buildings and erect new ones. And, an additional $6 million a year would come from local governments. That’s a shift of at least $60 million over a ten year period for funds that are already budgeted to provide important services like police, fire and other core government responsibilities.  And, even the total number of $36 million is highly speculative; it may be a much greater amount.

Cities already significantly support our public universities. ASU’s growing downtown campus would not have been possible but for the partnership with the City of Phoenix. Tempe and Tucson, as homes to the two largest universities, regularly provide services and infrastructure to the schools with local resources.

Universities add a great deal to the state and may require more financial aid, but robbing money that is budgeted locally and belongs to cities is not a viable option.

Universities aren’t the only group that lost ground during the Great Recession. The Legislature shifted some state costs onto cities, including seizing road funds to pay for State Highway Patrol, millions of dollars to pay for operations at the State Department of Revenue, diverting 911 funds, and many others. Many of us empathize with the universities’ need to add more money to cover costs. We fight the same struggle.

However, it is not appropriate to target fellow government entities that rely on tax dollars to fund core government functions. The universities should make clear to the Legislature they need more money from the state. But city leaders across the state oppose pitting higher education against our police, fire and municipal employees. Universities deserve more resources, just not at the expense of city services.

Christian Price is mayor of the City of Maricopa and treasurer of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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