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Signs show economy may be picking up

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Posted: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 12:00 am

The economy may have finally begun to turn around.

Records show that consumers are spending more, which has translated into a slow rise in sales tax revenue for cities and the state.

It’s a reversal of an 18-month trend of declining sales tax revenues.

“It’s moving in the right direction,” said Cathy Gleason, Phoenix budget director.

In the city of Phoenix, January collections were just 0.4 percent behind collections from a year ago, a vast improvement over the 22 percent shortfall recorded in July.

And state sales revenues were down just 2 percent from a year ago, marking the first time since September 2008 that the decrease wasn’t double digits.

“It’s the first, somewhat bright light we’ve seen in 18 months,” said Rep. John McComish (R-Ahwatukee Foothills).

But for local business owners like Greg Stewart of Fast Frame on Chandler Boulevard, times are still tough.

“I do not see this economy turning around at all,” Stewart said. “I think when people are living in fear they are reluctant to spend on anything but essentials. I find a fairly somber mood.”

The news that consumer spending may be increasing comes as the city trimmed almost $240 million from its budget and the state still has a $700 million shortfall for this year and a $2.6 billion deficit for next year, all attributed to a decline in sales tax revenue.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee reported that retail sales tax revenues were down just 1 percent in January, compared to a year ago and corporate income tax collections were up $23.8 million over forecast.

McComish said that he has seen “help wanted” signs recently, which is a good sign the economy is improving.

Still holding the economy down is construction.

“Construction will continue to lag because commercial real estate is on the downward trend. We have enough commercial space for the next few years,” McComish said.

January sales tax figures reflect activity during the Christmas shopping season and may or may not reflect a fundamental change in the economy.

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