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Law to levy tax for city band nears final note

Girl Brass Band in red uniform performing

Flagstaff, Mesa, or Tucson may not be River City.

But if you’re counting on music to keep the local kids out of trouble, with a Capital T, you’d better act quickly: The state House voted along party lines Feb. 14 to repeal a law that now allows cities to levy a tax to finance a municipal band.

And if you didn’t know communities had such authority, don’t feel bad. Neither did Ken Strobeck. And he’s executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

The statute says if 10 percent of voters in any city or town sign a petition, the council has to put a measure on the ballot asking to create a band fund. And the levy, if approved, could be as high as one mill a year.

In today’s parlance – Arizona no longer uses mill taxes – that would translate to $200 on a home valued at $200,000.

It does not appear that the idea of taxpayer funding municipal bands was unique with Arizona – or even that Arizona was the first.

According to The Wind Repertory Project, Iowa enacted its law in 1922. More than 40 states passed similar legislation, the organization reports, with Arizona coming into line in 1927.

That’s long before The Music Man appeared on Broadway in 1957 with its theme of a con man who blows into the fictional town of River City, Iowa, convincing the residents that the way to deal with the problem of young men “fritterin’ away” their time playing pool. He warned of trouble, “with a Capital T that rhymes with P that stands for pool.”

His solution: Have local parents buy instruments from him to create a band for the teens to busy themselves – with his idea being skipping town before the local townfolk figure out that their kids can’t play.

Strobeck told Capitol Media Services he knows of no community that now has such a levy, which could be why no one testified against it in the hearing earlier this month at the House Ways and Means Committee. But he quipped that if the measure is approved “there won’t be any 76 trombones marching up the street.”

Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, who is sponsoring HB 2454, told Capitol Media Services that her legislation has nothing to do with her feelings about bands. Instead, she said, it’s part of her effort to rid the statute books of antiquated laws.

Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said his support for the measure is more basic than that.

“I don’t think we need to levy taxes for a municipal band,” he said when the measure came for a hearing earlier this month at the House Ways and Means Committee.

But not everyone supports the idea of repeal.

“I love marching bands, I love music, I love the idea of a band in the gazebo,” Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said when the legislation was debated in committee. “Arizona has a lot of small towns and therefore should be able to have the flexibility to do what they want.”

For other Democrats, their opposition was more political.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said she feared HB 2454 is a “vehicle” bill, a measure that really does nothing when it passes the House but could be converted into something much more meaningful in the Senate, all without the opportunity or need for further House hearings.


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