Initiative would roll back property taxes

The Arizona Republic
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Matthew Benson

Hoping to capitalize on homeowners' angst over rising property-tax bills, another citizens group is targeting the tax with a Proposition 13-style initiative planned for the 2008 state ballot.

Calling itself Prop 13 Arizona, the group filed language Monday for an initiative modeled after its California namesake. The measure would roll back property valuations, for tax purposes, and institute strict limits on future value increases and tax bills.

"All we're really doing is protecting property owners from tax increases," Prop 13 Arizona Chairwoman Lynne Weaver said. "We're just putting property owners and government on equal footing."

The Phoenix resident explained that the run-up in property values of the past several years, which saw some homes increase in value by 50 percent or more, has left many homeowners feeling the burn from increased tax bills. Weaver's is the third initiative filed this year with its sights on property taxes.

But the measure is already generating concern in some quarters, such as Maricopa County government, where property-tax revenue accounts for roughly one-third of the general fund.

"Lowering the property-tax limits as much as this does might have a big impact," said Chris Bradley, deputy budget director for the county.

Weaver's measure has three main provisions. It would:

* Adjust property valuations to their 2003 level or, in the case of properties sold after 2003, to their most recent purchase price.

* From there, the property value could increase no more than 2 percent annually.

* Residential property taxes would be capped at no more than 0.5 percent of the home's value, or $2,000 for a $400,000 home. A 1 percent cap would be instituted for commercial and other real-property taxes.

The provisions are modeled after the Proposition 13 approved by California voters in 1978. Weaver noted that the proposal is battle-tested, having survived numerous challenges to its constitutionality.

But Ken Strobeck questions whether it's needed here.

The executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns said, "We already have constitutional limits on property tax. There are safeguards already built in."

He also suggested that artificially limiting property taxes would simply force hikes in other areas. About half of Arizona municipalities collect property taxes, and it's a key revenue source for counties, school districts and special districts.

Weaver attempted a similar initiative in 2006 that fell short of the ballot when she failed to collect enough signatures.

She is getting an earlier start this time around and is confident about her chances.

To make the ballot, her group must submit 230,047 valid signatures by July 3.

"I don't know of anyone who's against it, except those in government," she said. "It's truly a nonpartisan idea. We have backers from all parties."