Supervisor Ray Carroll Holds True To His Promise To Oppose A Half-Cent Sales Tax.
By Chris Limberis
AS A ROOKIE politician, he managed to uphold a key campaign promise. But after he killed a proposed half-cent sales tax for Pima County, did everyone love Raymond?
Raymond Carroll had just won his eastside and Green Valley District 4 seat on the Board of Supervisors two months earlier, in a crushing defeat of Brenda Even and Ken Marcus in the Republican primary. His general election victory over Libertarian Gay Lynn Goetzke was anticlimactic.
Ray won with the help of some influential people, including Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, a Democrat who's held the office with dignity for 18 years.
Now it was Dupnik and the county's much more feared other top cop, County Attorney Barbara LaWall, pressing the Board of Supervisors to hit consumers with a half-cent sales tax that would raise $48 million a year to start.
Nowhere to turn on the Board, either. Carroll's Republican colleague, Chairman Mike Boyd, was happy to join Democrats Sharon Bronson, Dan Eckstrom and Raul Grijalva in full support of half-cent sales tax.
Then there was cheerleading from the daily newspapers, whose editorials encouraged Carroll to levy the tax. The chorus also included Michael Brown, the lame-duck, high-spending presiding judge of the Pima County Superior Court.
But Carroll said no last week to a tax that could have slapped consumers without an election. All that was necessary for this general half-cent sales tax, unlike previous sales-tax proposals that have been slaughtered by voters three times since 1986, was a unanimous vote from the Board of Supervisors.
Pressure was intense. And it will not subside. Despite a rosy economy and steady growth, Pima County is in trouble. Bills for the big bond projects that voters indulged last year are coming due beginning next year.
Still, Carroll's vote was not that difficult to make. His closest advisers, as well as those on the other side of the aisle, all told him that a "yes" vote would be political suicide given his steady pronouncements throughout his campaign against Even and Marcus.
And Carroll picked up some defense from an unlikely source, Mary Schuh, a county watchdog and president of the Pima Association of Taxpayers.
Schuh exposed the county's hollow promise to use part of the revenues from the sales tax to buy down property taxes. That was the plan in 1990, when the county scored a trifecta at the state Legislature: permission for a general half-cent sales tax, renewed authority to ask voters for a half-cent sales tax for roads, and permission to ask voters for quarter-cent sales tax for jails.
"You are going to lower my property tax, but ah, there's a caveat," Schuh told supervisors in what amounted to a typical blistering from the grandmother, writer and commentator. "You may still not. Maybe yes. The next board doesn't have to adhere to this. It (property taxes) will be raised again."
Then Schuh took after the dailies and others who had been encouraging Carroll, not exactly one of her sweethearts, to violate his campaign pledge.
"How dare the media and other make a mockery of a person's promise, their ethical behavior, and their identity and ask someone to break their word to their particular constituents and go back on a promise," Schuh said.
IF CARROLL HAD put himself in a box, it certainly had plenty of holes. Some of the bullets:
Sales taxes are not popular in Pima County. Voters have tried to explain this. The three sales-tax proposals in 1986 and 1990 for roads and in 1994 for jails and the Juvenile Center failed this way: 57-43; 61-39; and 70 (that's seventy) to 30. Carroll wiggled in the weeks before the hearings, saying he wanted the public to vote on this tax as well. But that option was not included in the state law and the county would have to lobby lawmakers for permission to put it on the ballot.
County officials lost their focus on the property tax buy-down, trimming it to $18 million for a 54-cent reduction of the property tax rate by basically eliminating the Library District tax of 22 cents and the Flood Control District tax of 32 cents. Those are per $100 of property's valuation. So for the owner of a $100,000 home, the savings would have been $54 a year. The sales tax, depending on spending, age and family members at home, could have offset that. It should be noted that supervisors have raised property taxes by 12 cents per $100 in the last two years. Boyd made it known that he opposed both increases while voting for four straight tax decreases before that. But his tax cuts came at the expense of county services and also drained the county of its once stable, $20 million reserve fund. Carroll voted against the property tax increases only once.
The need to diversify county revenue--the county relies too heavily on its property tax, which is the highest in the state--is especially vital for the burgeoning needs in criminal justice.
But these needs were sideswiped by two peculiar--and nearly shameful--hits. First, the City of Tucson, which derives the bulk of its revenue from its 2 percent sales tax, suddenly and completely out of the blue released a plan to ask voters to jack up its sales tax. Secondly, arts groups lined up uninvited to demand at least half of the sales-tax revenue from the county.
The arts crowd, officially called the Heritage, Science and Culture Coalition for Pima County, included rivals for Carroll's plan to have a Smithsonian Institution affiliate--a Western Museum at the Canoa Ranch. Members filled the center rows at the hearing. When they spoke, Dupnik's hopes for money for new deputies, new jail officers and other necessities evaporated. Just as important in the fight against crime (particularly juvenile crime), supervisors were told, was a proposed Sonoran Sea Aquarium.
It didn't play. Not in Carroll's Green Valley or Wilshire Heights. Not in Flowing Wells across town.
"These people are all well-heeled and yet they want to take our grocery money for museums," Joyce Oldfather said during a break. "They have no shame. They should raise the money they want from their friends."
Oldfather got in Grijalva's face, asking: "Do you always take money from the poor to give it to the rich?"
Slightly bemused, Grijalva replied: "No, not always."
Grijalva, whose District 5 includes low-income south and west sides as well as affluent Sam Hughes, University of Arizona area and Tucson Mountains, insisted the arts-museum coalition did not create the defeat.
They sure made Carroll's job easier.
The sales tax has put some elected officials, such as LaWall, a Democrat and career prosecutor who is nearing the middle of her first term, in odd positions. She can seek re-election in 2000 as a Pima County politician who sought a sales tax.
Though thoroughly frustrated, Dupnik was cool. He illustrated the differences that separate him from the media hound up north, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Pima County inmates, Dupnik said, don't have pink underwear because Dupnik, unlike Sheriff Joe, doesn't hand out underwear. Nor does he make a big deal out of feeding colored bologna to prisoners. And he doesn't chain up work crews for the television cameras.
Maybe he should. Maricopa County voters gave Arpaio a quarter-cent sales tax to build more jails.
Carroll, who left for Chicago the day after the vote to visit with his ill father, now will face threats that District 4 bond projects will be delayed. He insists the county must cut its spending. He'll need to produces those cuts when budget hearings begin next June.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said after the vote that county property tax growth--new and increased assessments--could accommodate most of the $8 million needed for the opening of the new Juvenile Center next year. But the following year--an election year--the county will need to boost property taxes by five percent.
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