Pima County wins lawsuit against our lawless Tea-Publican legislature


A little less than a year ago, I posted about Pima County sues our lawless Tea-Publican Arizona legislature:

lastgreatactofdefiancePima County sued the state Monday, claiming its new budget illegally forces millions of dollars in education spending onto county taxpayers.

The county’s [lawsuit seeks] to undo the shift of more than $45 million in costs back to counties in Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget plan approved by the Legislature in March.

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In fiscal year 2016, Pima County officials estimate they’ll have to cover as much as $18.6 million in additional aid to TUSD that in past years would have been provided by the state.

Attorneys for Pima County argue that the cost shift amounts to an unconstitutional requirement for the county to raise taxes. The attorneys says it would unconstitutionally require Arizonans in one jurisdiction be taxed to pay for services in another because Pima County residents who don’t live in TUSD would be forced to subsidize the district.

The Arizona Property Tax Oversight Commission and its members are also named as defendants. Attorneys for Pima County argue the budget provision unconstitutionally gives taxing authority to the commission, which would now be responsible for determining which taxing districts require additional education aid.

“I’ve voted against every tax increase that’s come before the Board of Supervisors since I joined the board in 1997. But transferring up to $18 million of former state costs onto Pima County simply because the state doesn’t want to pay it anymore is wrong,” said [Republican] Supervisor Ray Carroll. “That’s not fiscal conservatism. That’s punitive to the taxpayers of Pima County.”

The Court agreed. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge has sided with Pima County in a lawsuit over an effort by the state to shift more of an education tax burden onto taxpayers here. Arizona can’t shift $7.4 million school tax to Pima County, judge says:

Pima County’s lawsuit, filed last summer, claims a state budget change last year unconstitutionally forces millions of dollars in education spending that had previously been handled by the state onto Pima County taxpayers.

Before Monday’s ruling, Pima County was facing a $7.4 million bill, almost all of which was due to the Tucson Unified School District. That’s a result of a 2015 state law that changed the way Arizona handles situations in which homeowners are assessed property taxes that exceed 1 percent of their property’s full cash value.

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In the ruling, Judge Christopher Whitten said the Legislature unconstitutionally gave a state commission the power to determine which jurisdictions are liable when homeowners’ tax bills exceed the 1 percent threshold.

“The power and responsibility to tax is vested in the Arizona Legislature and may not be delegated by it,” he wrote of the responsibilities given to the Property Tax Oversight Commission.

The county had set aside $8.4 million in last year’s budget for payments to TUSD, expecting that the commission would split the $15.8 million bill among Tucson, Pima Community College and TUSD. However, the commission decided in March that Pima County would bear all of the costs.

As a result of the commission’s decision, “77 percent of the parcels in Pima County, the majority of which are located outside TUSD boundaries, will pay this additional property tax to TUSD,” according to a memo written by Huckelberry a month before Whitten’s decision.

Since 1980, when Arizona voters approved the 1 percent primary property tax cap, the state had provided tax credits to property owners to compensate them for school district tax bills that pushed total property tax burdens over the cap, according to several memos written by Huckelberry.

However, Senate Bill 1476, which passed during last year’s legislative session, capped the amount of so-called Additional State Aid to Education that the state would provide to each county at $1 million and gave the oversight commission the power to determine how to apportion the remainder to local jurisdictions.

It was in response to that legislation that Pima County sued the state.

With the legal win, Huckelberry said, the method of dealing with overtaxed property owners reverts to the previous system, at least for the foreseeable future.

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Whitten’s ruling says the defendants have until May 27 to object to it, and that a signed judgment will be provided by June 30.

Huckelberry said the county intends to file a request to recoup attorney’s fees accrued at the Arizona Supreme Court, where the suit was originally filed, and with Maricopa County Superior Court.

Pima County was taking the lead on behalf of the other counties. This decision is not limited to Pima County in its application. Other counties similarly affected by SB 1476 are entitled to relief.

For all you people who like to bitch and moan about your county property taxes going up, just remember that a principal reason for this is your state legislature transferring state tax obligations to the counties as a gimmick to balance the state budget, and to free up more money in the state budget for corporate welfare tax cuts. The GOP culture of corruption suffered a setback in this case.