It is hardly debatable that Phoenix’s decision to get into the hotel business nearly a decade ago has been a costly mistake for taxpayers.  Since opening, the city-owned Sheraton has sustained millions in operating losses and does not anticipate being a profitable enterprise anytime in the near future.

So, when the City announced it was going to sell the Sheraton, an opportunity was created for city hall to recoup its costs and make taxpayers as whole as possible. Unfortunately, Phoenix Leadership instead decided to use this opportunity to once again soak taxpayer for short term political gain.

Last week, Phoenix completed a deal to sell the Sheraton hotel to a developer for $255 million.  The City built the hotel for $350 million, and even after the sale still owes almost $50 million in debt.

If swallowing a $50 million-dollar loss wasn’t bad enough, Phoenix also gave away millions in subsidies to the developer. Inserted into the deal was a massive $97 million property tax incentive package and the City’s hotel replacement fund, worth approximately $11 million.  With all incentives factored in, the real sale price is closer to $144 million, less than half its original value.

All of this begs the question: Why now accept such a lousy deal when for years a majority of councilmembers and Mayor Greg Stanton fought the sale of the Sheraton?

The reason should anger taxpayers even more. To pay for the construction and operation of the Sheraton hotel, the city has used the sports facilities tax, a revenue stream that generates around $10 million a year. It is no secret that Mayor Stanton and others want to use this tax to build a new sports arena (perhaps for hockey or basketball), and needed to unload the Sheraton to make this happen.  It is outrageous that taxpayers should endure a $200 million-dollar loss on the Sheraton hotel just so a group of city insiders can use the revenue stream to invest in another project.

Furthermore, the property tax carveout included in the deal (GPLET) is currently under litigation.  The Goldwater Institute has sued for several major Constitutional violations with the property tax scheme, one being the “Gift Clause” which precludes municipalities from giving a private person or entity a financial benefit without receiving a benefit to the public at large.

While most of City Hall was on board with this scheme, it should be noted that not everyone went along with this insanity – Councilmen Jim Waring and Sal Dicicio voted against the transaction in an effort to protect taxpayers.  But as is most everything in the City of Phoenix politics – insanity reigns.

For Tucson voters, seeing another tax increase on the November ballot probably doesn’t come as a shock. Yet the latest big government spending plan is especially bizarre: a ½ cent sales tax increase to fund a city-wide preschool program.

The audacity and complexity of Proposition 204 is generating opposition not just from conservatives, but liberal groups as well.  The nature of the resistance is centered around the plan’s lack of accountability, transparency, and threat to other education funding priorities.

The most obvious problem with Prop 204 is that Tucson simply is not qualified to administer or manage a preschool program.  Since statehood, public education has been overseen and funded through school districts and the state, not municipalities.  Tucson will waste a great deal of taxpayer money developing, implementing and overseeing a new government program in a field they know nothing about and is already handled by other public entities.

The vague, ambiguous language contained in the initiative has only added to the confusion and has raised more questions than answers.  According to Prop 204, a 7-person commission appointed by the City Council would be the decision makers on how the program would work.  The commission would then hire and oversee a non-profit corporation to administer the program.

Critical details such as which citizens would qualify for the program, rates of reimbursement, oversight of which pre-k providers would be eligible, a sliding economic scale, etc would all be made by this unaccountable commission.  Additionally, a couple of the commissioners would be early childhood education providers, raising serious questions of conflict of interest.  The entire structure is long on bureaucracy and short on transparency and accountability: the City Council would oversee a commission, that would oversee a non-profit, that would oversee the pre-k program.

Proponents of Prop 204 have cited programs in Denver and San Antonio as examples of success.  However, in both examples the preschool programs enacted were much smaller and included only a 1/8 cent tax increase. Tucson’s proposal is four times larger and proponents have not provided an explanation of why their program would require such a large contribution from taxpayers. Perhaps the answer lies in the complicated governance of the program, eating up efficiency and potential impact.

Even if Prop 204 wasn’t so poorly crafted, it is doubtful that Tucson can afford another large tax increase.  It was only a few months ago that voters approved a ½ cent sales tax increase dedicated to road repairs and public safety equipment and facilities.  If the latest increase is accepted, residents will shoulder a 50 percent increase to their sales tax within just a year!

The tax hike looks even worse when considering Tucson’s poor economic and job performance over the last decade. It was just announced that Tucson was ranked as the most distressed city in the nation, with 58.6 percent of its population living in economically distressed zip codes.  Considering their dire economic situation, passing higher taxes will only make the city more unaffordable to its residents and less attractive to potential job-creators.  Hopefully voters will realize the foolishness of Tucson getting into the preschool business and will reject this poorly vetted initiative.

Prescott is at a crossroads.  Due to a crippling pension debt that has the city staring at possible bankruptcy in the next decade, the voters of Prescott will have an important decision to make in the upcoming election for Mayor.

Add in critical issues surrounding water and job crushing regulations,  the decisions made by voters today will determine whether Prescott continues to grow and prosper for years to come, or begins down a path of financial and economic turmoil.

With two candidates remaining on the ballot following the August election, it is clear that  Councilwoman Jean Wilcox would be the WRONG choice for Prescott Mayor.

Jean Wilcox has been a dedicated tax-and-spend politician from her first moments in office.  She has publicly supported increases in the property tax, gas tax and a water tax. It’s hard to find a tax Wilcox does not want to raise.

Since being elected to Council in 2014, Wilcox has been beating the drum to raise taxes at every turn.  The first tax increase she pushed for was an increase to the City’s sales tax in June of 2014.  She had barely taken office but it did not take long for her to be convinced that increasing taxes was the only option for the city.

Wilcox then voted in June of 2014 to raise Prescott taxpayers’ property taxes. While casting her vote, Wilcox arrogantly stated that she was disappointed that they were “stuck” with Arizona’s voter enacted constitutional limitations on how high property taxes could go.  Just two years later Wilcox voted again to raise property taxes.

After raising property taxes, Wilcox began pushing the council to increase water rates to pursue her environmentalist agenda and subsidize various crony capitalist pet projects.  When it comes to municipal water service, taxpayers should have 100 percent confidence that water rates are based solely on the cost of providing the service. Water bills shouldn’t include extra taxes and fees to pay for special interest projects, which is exactly what Jean Wilcox wanted to do.

Jean Wilcox used her position on the council to work around these important protections for rate payers.  Wilcox even entertained the idea that higher water fees could be cycled into select industries Jean Wilcox liked. In other words, she wanted to raise water rates in order to provide a few politically-connected commercial users with a subsidy.

What is even more telling of Jean Wilcox’s character is how she responded when voters didn’t agree with her high tax mentality.  Two years ago, Councilwoman Wilcox pushed to roll a series of tax increases for open space, pension funding and street improvements into one package. The purpose of this maneuver was to increase the chances that her favored tax increase—more money for open space—would pass.

She failed in this endeavor to log roll the measures and the triple tax proposition went to the ballot as three separate proposals.  After voters rejected two of the three measures, Wilcox expressed her disgust for taxpayers, stating those who did not vote for the tax were duped and that they “don’t understand that paying this tax will benefit the whole community.”

Just as startling as her support for higher taxes, Jean Wilcox has also been a staunch advocate for more gun control. At a council hearing last July, Wilcox stated that any discussions related to guns is really part of a “much bigger problem” that involves too little gun control.  It is not clear what gun restrictions  Wilcox would like to implement in the City of Prescott, but it is in voters best interest not to find out.

Don’t let Prescott fall into the trap of higher taxes, regulations and more gun control. Vote against Jean Wilcox for Mayor.



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