I always thought a serious proposal to defund the police would come from the left. I never imagined it would come from Republicans. Yet the flat tax proposal currently under consideration would decimate Arizona’s cities and towns, most of which devote 70% or more of their budgets to public safety – police and fire. I do not for a second believe this is the intent of my colleagues, but if passed, this would end up harming police and fire more than any “defund the police” movement ever could.
In 1972, Arizona cities and towns entered into a voter approved local revenue (VALR) partnership with the Arizona Legislature to permanently ban municipalities from ever imposing an income tax. In exchange for this agreement that benefits all taxpayers, the state agreed to share 15% of its income tax revenues with all cities and towns in Arizona. Not coincidentally, roughly 90% of Arizona’s income tax is generated in cities and towns and distributed statewide. This benefits the taxpayers, cities, and the state.
For fiscal year 2021, the municipal share of VALR equates to $750 million. The flat tax proposal being floated in the Legislature would result in a $225 million budget cut to Arizona cities and towns. For the cities in my legislative district, this proposal would result in a $65 million budget cut to the city of Phoenix, and a $9.8 million budget cut to the city of Glendale.
What this means is a significant reduction in the public safety budgets of cities and towns. Phoenix spends 71% of its budget on public safety, with Glendale spending 66% of its budget on public safety. If the Legislature cuts these VALR dollars, local governments will be forced to cut spending, which means fewer sworn law enforcement patrolling the streets and fewer firefighters responding to calls.
Incidentally, the VALR acronym is fitting given its support of men and women of valor.
Valor comes from the Latin valēre meaning to be strong or well. Romans would commonly greet one another in their letters by beginning with the phrase si vales valeō meaning “if you are well, I am well.” Indeed. If police and fire are strong and doing well, we are all doing well as a state and in our neighborhoods.
Which makes the flat tax proposal all the more tone deaf, given the Herculean challenges police and fire face daily while we continue to ask them to do more with less. As Republicans, we have always been the party of law and order. We are the party that looks out for public safety. We cannot stop supporting public safety now.
Local governments and their public safety operations have relied on this unique VALR taxing arrangement for half a century. As Arizona’s population has grown, so too has the income tax revenue to municipalities. Use of these monies does not stop at public safety. Other critical public services like drinking water, trash pick-up, wastewater services, infrastructure critical to economic development and other essential public services rely on this revenue stream.
My colleagues have always understood this crucial partnership. Just a few weeks ago the Legislature worked in conjunction with cities and towns to pass important economic development legislation (HB2321) that had immediate gains, securing a $20 billion investment by Intel to grow in Chandler. We have also passed legislation that helped secure the Taiwan Semiconductors move to Phoenix. My colleagues know that our partnership between Arizona cities and towns is critical to further stimulate future economic growth. Now is not the time to break this partnership.
I urge my Republican colleagues in the Legislature to stand with me in upholding the basic Republican principals of law, order, and public safety, and oppose this misguided attempt to defund local police and fire services.
Republican state Senator Paul Boyer is a junior high school Latin teacher. He represents Legislative District 20 in Phoenix and Glendale.