Tucson City Manager Mike Letcher revealed his strategy to handle the city's $32 million shortfall this week—and the options are grim.
Letcher, who wants the City Council to vote on a plan next Tuesday, Jan. 5, laid out a framework most council members will not be eager to support.
For starters, he wants the city to institute a landlord tax of 2 percent on residential rental payments, which will raise an estimated $10 million annually.
Even if he gets the rental tax, Letcher has more nasty medicine for the council to swallow, including laying off 89 employees as part of the elimination of 377 positions (some of which are now vacant) and cutting employee pay by 3 percent.
Letcher also says the city will need to close 17 city pools this summer, along with one recreation center; reduce city assistance for neighborhood associations; suspend the graffiti-abatement program; and cut outside agency funding by 20 percent.
Without the rental tax, Letcher warns, the city would need to reduce outside-agency funding by 60 percent and lay off more employees, including cops and firefighters.
Letcher wants the landlord/rental tax to be a temporary measure that would go away once city voters agree to raise property taxes.
One thing that's not in Letcher's plan: A proposal by council members to cut the pay of higher-paid city employees by a bigger percentage than that of lower-paid employees.
A majority of council members we've spoken to in recent days opposed the rental tax, but whether they'll stand by that next week remains to be seen.
Councilwoman Regina Romero says she and fellow Democrat Karin Uhlich want to go straight to putting a property tax on the ballot in November.
In a memo to Letcher, the two council members said they want the property tax to bring in enough money to fully fund public safety, the afternoon day-care program KIDCO, and graffiti.
Leaving aside the observation that we might have less graffiti to abate if Romero didn't fund graffiti classes with money from her office, we're not exactly sure what "fully funding" means, given that the city could spend tens of millions more on public safety if it were to expand the police force.
As we do at the start of every year, The Skinny has turned to famed psychic Stella Sabrini to gaze into the future and bring us startling predictions for the year 2010.
January: Gov. Jan Brewer gives her State of the State speech, warning that the state's budget crisis has Arizona on the edge of an economic catastrophe. Two hours later, state Treasurer Dean Martin announces he had to take out a billion-dollar payday loan from ACE Cash Express that needs to be paid back in two weeks.
In Pima County, officials announce a plan to replace departing Major League Baseball spring-training teams with high-tech Japanese robots that can, in the words of Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, "throw faster than Randy Johnson, hit harder than Barry Bonds and don't have a constant demand for better field maintenance and more concession revenue." The inaugural teams include the Sony BluRays, the Apple iSox and Raytheon Rockets.
February: Republicans in the Arizona Legislature announce support for a new bill to keep the payday-lending industry alive in Arizona. Democrats reluctantly go along, saying that without payday lenders, the state would be forced to declare bankruptcy, because no legitimate banks are willing to lend money to it.
March: The Apple iSox defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks 42-0 at Tucson Electric Park in the team's debut game. The iSox, led by star player E-Lex Rodriguez, go undefeated through spring training and draw record crowds to the ballpark.
April: As the state's budget deficit continues to grow, Republican lawmakers conclude that the slump in the real-estate industry is slowing the Arizona economy. In an effort to jumpstart homebuilding, they pass an emergency measure to demolish houses in Democratic legislative districts. State Rep. Russell Pearce says the plan "is a win-win: It will reduce the housing glut and get Arizona workers back on the job."
At the University of Arizona, a team of UA computer-science graduate students put an advanced artificial-intelligence system into Apple iSox star E-Rod, who wins over the hearts of Tucsonans with a variety of selfless acts, including serving meals to the homeless at the Casa Maria soup kitchen, breaking up local crime rings and developing a sensible and successful downtown revitalization plan.
May: A Tea Party group gathers at the Capitol to protest the state's decision to continue funding the school system. Protest leader Horace Chidester complains that spending on education is a waste of tax dollars. "I never learned anything useful in school, and I don't believe anyone else could, either," declares Chidester, who announces his plans to run for governor against Brewer, John Munger, Vernon Parker, Dean Martin and 23 other Republicans.
At the University of Arizona, an experiment goes terribly awry when scientists working at a DNA lab accidentally create a highly aggressive slime mold that threatens to disrupt graduation ceremonies. Before it can consume the crowd at Arizona Stadium, the slime mold is defeated by Apple iSox star E-Rod, who uses his advanced programming, super-strength and vats of Formula 409 to create an anti-bacterial foam that renders the slime mold inert.
June: To help Arizona solve its budget problem, the Goldwater Institute proposes a bold new plan: Lease all of Arizona south of the Gila River to Mexico. Republican lawmakers pass enabling legislation, but Mexican President Felipe Calderón says he fears "accepting such a financially troubled region would destabilize Mexico's thriving economy."
July: In a desperate bid to control spending, Maricopa County lawmakers push through a bill that closes both the UA and Northern Arizona University. Brewer declares: "This is another great day for consolidating government and controlling spending." Upon hearing that the UA is closing down, Apple iSox star E-Rod announces his plans to run for governor of Arizona on the Robotarian ticket.
August: Brewer loses the Republican primary to Tea Party activist Horace Chidester, who captures the support of a majority of Republicans by campaigning as someone "who knows nothing about government and is damn proud of it."
September: Still unable to pass a budget, state lawmakers reach a deal to sell off most of the Grand Canyon to Nevada. Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn announces plans to open a casino at South Rim's El Tovar Hotel.
October: Most polls show E-Rod is trailing in the gubernatorial race, but a Rasmussen survey done using a robo-call system shows him leading the race by 20 points.
November: E-Rod pulls off an upset victory in the gubernatorial race, winning the three-way contest with 63 percent of the vote. A subsequent investigation shows that the Diebold tabulating software has been tampered with by an unknown hacker, so the results are tossed out. Declaring that the Arizona Legislature poses a clear and present danger to the future of the state, E-Rod declares himself "lord and ruler of all of Arizona" and begins taking control of citizens through an iPhone app, iDominate.
December: In a last-ditch effort to defeat Gov. E-Rod, Republican lawmakers Russell Pearce, Jack Harper and Sylvia Allen meet with him to discuss Arizona's budget crisis. The legislators' display of illogic during the conversation causes E-Rod to completely short-circuit and explode. Pearce is hailed as a hero and announces his plan to run for governor in a special January election. He promises to shut down Arizona's government completely if elected.
Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch.