Last week, Mayor Greg Stanton backed away from his campaign promise to the repeal of the food tax. Although I and many other Phoenicians are disappointed in his decision, I have appealed to the city manager and the other city councilmembers to help provide a plan that allows us to wean ourselves off the food tax revenue.
I believe this is just the beginning of the discussion, not an end. I have provided several reasonable plans or ideas that I am asking the city manager to explore. However, right now we have four members of the City Council who want this tax repealed and are open to other alternatives. Exploring means we put all ideas on the table and have a sincere discussion about the future and direction of Phoenix. It does not mean providing a doom and gloom scenario, as was recently presented, that automatically cuts off discussion.
If we don’t begin phasing out the food tax now, in 2015, when its life span comes to a natural end, Phoenix will be facing its own version of the fiscal cliff. I will continue to support full repeal of the food tax as quickly as possibly, but the time has come to look to the future as well.
The food tax was sold to the public as a way to protect police and fire. History now tells us that was not true, nor does it show that it was ever meant to protect police and fire. We now know where the food tax has gone — just look at the budget. Here are just a few examples: over $106 million for pay raises and bonuses for government staff, over $2 million for PR people, and over $1.3 million for lobbying.
The simplest way to see this is through the eyes of a single mother of two, who works as a cashier and is barely making ends meet. Ask her if two hours a month of her pay should go towards the food tax. Ask her if feeding her family is more important than millions of dollars in pay raises for government employees, PR people and lobbying. Remind her not one penny of her money went to hire new police or fire, which was promised. Ask her what she thinks.
Since the mayor would have been the all important swing vote on the City Council to repeal the tax in its entirety, we must now move the conversation forward. On March 25, I sent a letter to City Manager David Cavazos outlining different possibilities in dealing with the food tax. I have asked that the city explore phasing out the tax over the remaining years. As part of the phase out, I also directed the city manager to look at obtaining these savings through innovation and efficiencies. Vice Mayor Bill Gates, who chairs the council subcommittee, has already identified millions of dollars that can be saved through making government more efficient.
The savings needed to phase out the food tax would represent about two-tenths of 1 percent of the city’s overall operating budget. Surely the city can step up its efforts and find two-tenths of 1 percent to relieve the taxpayers’ burden.
Phasing out the food tax, through savings, is the most interesting option since repeal appears now to be politically unachievable with the mayor’s evolving position.
Another alternative, which Mayor Stanton mentioned in earlier comments, would be to send this matter to the ballot and allow the voters to make the ultimate decision. While this is not the best alternative, it does work toward repealing the food tax sooner than the 2015 sunset date.
While these are just a couple of options, it is important to move this issue forward. We do not want to lose the opportunity to remove the food tax as soon as possible, nor do we want to miss the opportunity to push the city a little harder to be more efficient.
I have promised to protect our community and our families by pushing to repeal this food tax as soon as possible. Promises made should be promises kept. I vow to keep my promises on this all-important issue!
• Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio represents District 6, which includes Ahwatukee Foothills. Reach him at email@example.com or (602) 262-7491.