Smith: need for infrastructure reinvestment ought to supersede political posture

On April 17, the Scottsdale City Council was scheduled to consider ballot language that would ask voters to approve a bond issue of $350 million for capital improvements in the city.

David Smith

What should have been a discussion of the needs of the city and a dialogue of alternatives soon turned into chaos, indecision, political posturing and procrastination.

Early in the meeting, I made a motion we increase the bond issue size to $380 million, to provide half the cost of Scottsdale Stadium renovations, now estimated at $60 million. We don’t have that kind of money at the city … even if we dedicate all the carry-over cash and debt service capacity of the Tourism Development Fund.

Citizens will have to help on this stadium project. Together, we must preserve, protect and grow this valuable community and tourism asset. Voters supported stadium renovations the last time we asked; hopefully, they would do so again.

My motion was superseded by another motion that we ask voters to approve a small increase in the sales tax to generate $15 million a year, then wait until 2020 to ask for the hundreds of millions we urgently need to invest. Sadly, for our City, the Council majority voted for the alternative to “kick the can down the road” for another two years.

I have argued since long before I joined council that the city is investing too little in our depreciating assets. The financial strategy followed since the recession is unsustainable; we are on an orderly path of liquidation. The city needs to invest $100 million a year, starting now — $15 million is not nearly enough. While we wait, deterioration will accelerate, costs will escalate and the special city we all call home will become less special.

I support a bond election completely!

Using property-tax-backed bonds is the only way we get a contribution from the business community. It is also the only way we get a contribution from out-of-town investors and snowbirds. With contributions from these non-citizen constituents, residents of our city are only burdened with half the costs. Plus, a property tax represents the most progressive tax on citizens, by taxing according to ability to pay, which is measured by the value of an individual’s home. Our neediest citizens are taxed the least.

Paying for capital needs with a sales tax is exactly the opposite. No contribution from the business community. None from out-of-town investors or snowbirds except the tax on what they spend while they winter here. The city estimates only 15 percent of our sales tax is paid by tourists; the other 85 percent falls squarely on the shoulders of residents. Plus, a sales tax — particularly when applied to essentials like food and rent — is the most punitive tax we can impose on citizens. Our neediest citizens pay proportionately more of their income.

That’s not right!

Regardless of whether councilmembers believe voters will approve or reject a ballot measure, it is our responsibility as elected leaders to alert our fellow citizens to the capital needs of their city. Anything less on our part is a breach of our fiduciary responsibility.

I don’t know whether this discussion can get out of the ditch in the weeks to come; if it doesn’t, our community and our citizens will be the losers.

Editor’s note: Mr. Smith is a member of Scottsdale City Council

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