Property tax initiatives need independent review

East Valley Tribune
Wednesday, August 8, 2007

There’s been some buzz this summer among low-tax advocates about a pair of ballot initiative drives intended to stop large increases in property taxes. Both proposed amendments to the state constitution are sponsored by a group based in Mohave County called Arizona Tax Revolt.

One initiative would extend the current property tax levy limit on cities, counties and community colleges to school districts and specialty taxing districts such as rural fire departments. In essence, each government would be able to raise property taxes by only 2 percent a year, but also would be able to capture the value of new building construction. The measure also would require two-thirds of voters to approve any property taxes above the proposed limits, similar to California’s Proposition 13. This would be the first time in Arizona that a majority vote wouldn’t be enough to decide an issue at the ballot box.

The second measure would “roll back” tax valuations on individual properties to 2003 levels. This wouldn’t automatically reduce the taxes we pay, as governments could raise their property tax rates to make up for the valuation decreases (depending on some other tax limits already in state law). But property owners who have seen huge increases in their property valuations probably would see some relief.

We’re not certain how seriously to take these petition drives, as Arizona Tax Revolt has refiled the proposed initiatives several times to update the language. This implies a lack of organization and legwork that could thwart efforts to collect the needed 230,000 voter signatures by July 3 for each initiative to qualify for the 2008 general election.

But in a telephone interview last week, chairman Marc Goldstone thoughtfully and patiently explained the ultimate goal of both initiatives is to force governments to live within their existing revenues instead of raising property taxes without regard of whether residents can afford to pay. He argues passionately that property taxes should subject to far more restrictions than other taxes because of the government’s power to seize someone’s home.

Goldstone acknowledges the two measures include complex, arcane formulas, which raises concerns because we could be amending the state’s founding document in a way that few people understand.

As Arizona Tax Revolt moves ahead, independent tax experts should review the initiatives and explain in factual, easy to-understand terms how the proposed changes would work. This is especially important for school districts, which rely heavily on property taxes and have been a priority for proper funding for most Arizonans in recent years.

We look forward to additional explanations and debate on these initiatives as the petition drives get under way.