As Charles Dickens so aptly put it, in his classic A Tale of Two Cities, “…it was the winter of despair…”
And, so it was in Arizona, starting in the winter of 2008. Revenue shortfalls were wreaking havoc with the state budget, the county budgets, and even the city budgets.
The profligate spending habits of cities like Phoenix were spilling over from year to year. Old habits are hard to break. The people expect all the services and freebies to carry over, just like federal entitlements.
Looking forward with perfect foresight, would the voters have approved spending $1.4 billion on a 15-mile streetcar line, when equal service could already be provided by the Phoenix bus system? How about extracting $200 million from Phoenix taxpayers for an ASU downtown campus building which should have been paid for by all of the state’s taxpayers? Did Phoenix desperately need all the enhancements and improvements in its last bond program, for $880 million?
In stark contrast, and luckily for Scottsdale, after Jim Lane the new Republican Mayor took office six months ago, he and his GOP allies, council members Bob Littlefield, Tony Nelssen and Lisa Borowsky, have turned the Scottsdale City Council into the most fiscally conservative municipal government in Arizona.
Here is just a sampling of the things that the new council majority has done to meet the challenges of this unprecedented economic downturn:
Scottsdale became the first, and likely only, city in Arizona to refuse stimulus funds that would have obligated the city to ongoing future spending. Breaking bad spending habits of the federal government is crucial to budget success.
Scottsdale became the first city in Arizona to file an amicus brief in the CityNorth case supporting the appellate court decision that subsidies given to the developer violate the Gift Clause of the Arizona Constitution. Only the Town of Oro Valley has since joined Scottsdale in supporting that anti-subsidy position.
This new Republican majority council cut the 2009-2010 budget by $14 million beyond the city manager’s proposal, in order to be prepared for the continuing revenue shortfalls caused by the economic downturn.
They accomplished this feat without cutting core services. Libraries did not close, nor were police, fire or code enforcement officers taken off the streets. They refused to use gimmicks such as raiding the city’s reserves and contingency funds. Even better, they did this while holding the line on water rate increases and cutting the city’s property-tax rate enough to reduce, not just the rate, but actually the overall amount city residents will pay — a real tax cut!
Unlike the federal government, where a slowing in the rate of growth of the budget is counted as a cut, Scottsdale’s city spending will actually decrease next fiscal year by at least $63 million. There is also a decrease in the number of city employees. The new Republican majority on the Scottsdale City Council is making real, permanent reductions in the size of Scottsdale city government, a reflection of the basic value system of the Republican majority.
Cities and towns spend billions of taxpayer dollars each year. While it is important to elect fiscal conservatives to state and national office, the accomplishments in Scottsdale pinpoint the need to elect fiscal conservatives to our municipal offices as well.
Perhaps the City Councils can act as role models for our state legislators