Pinal County taxpayers want to know why the Pinal County Community College District Governing Board imposed the largest college tax increase in state history. As the Pinal County economy struggles to recover from the recession, tax increases such as these help Pinal County retain the unfortunate position as one of the highest property tax counties in the state. The Arizona Tax Research Association has tracked college finance for decades and can provide context to a complicated situation.
The politically expedient response from the college has been to blame state lawmakers. The reality is while the state budget battled massive revenue losses through the Great Recession, the impact was mild at Central Arizona College. Their general fund budget rose in each year during and since the recession. Enrollment swelled as did tuition rates.
While it is true state lawmakers have asked CAC to participate in the recession by sharing in state aid cuts, local property tax levy increases outpaced state cuts by a 5:1 ratio. The $47 million primary property tax levy this year marks a 23 percent increase from last year and a 57 percent increase from a decade ago. While CAC instinctively points to the high watermark year in 2007, when their state aid funding jumped 46 percent in one year to $10 million, their annual state allocation averaged $6.5 million for several years prior. The $2 million they will receive in FY 2016 is a small cut from 2015, but it’s not the devastation they describe.
Interestingly, CAC has experienced a 20 percent decline in students since the recession ended, which led to their constitutional expenditure limit dropping 2.7 percent for FY 2016. Expenditures from “local revenue sources” like property taxes should be slimming, not exploding.
The charge of a community college district is to educate students, not simply exist as another arm of local government. Massive tax increases in a single year can devastate taxpayers and a struggling economy.