Several Arizona Cities Voice Opposition To Bill That Would End Food Sales Tax

Several Arizona Cities Voice Opposition To Bill That Would End Food Sales Tax

By Terri Jo Neff |

It sounds simple enough – repeal any sales tax on the purchase of food for home consumption currently being imposed by two-thirds of Arizona’s municipalities and thereby provide relief for residents against the ongoing effects of inflation, high fuel prices, and increases in utility costs.

That is the purpose behind House Bill 2061 introduced earlier this month by House Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci along with 35 co-sponsors. Sales taxes in Arizona are formally known as a transaction privilege tax (TPT).

Arizona does not have a state TPT for the sale of food for home consumption. But supporters of Biasiucci’s bill note that without a change, those who shop in a city or town with a municipal TPT on food will continue to be hit with a double whammy – more TPT being paid along with increasing grocery prices.

There is, of course, a quiet benefactor to those inflation-driven higher grocery prices – the 65 of Arizona’s 91 incorporated cities and towns which tax food for home consumption. The higher the prices, the greater their revenues.

Several municipalities have gone on record against HB2061, including the cities of Apache Junction, Avondale, Buckeye, Chandler, Coolidge, Glendale, Globe, Goodyear, Litchfield Park, Page, Prescott, Scottsdale, and Tempe, as well as the towns of Florence, Fountain Hills, and Gilbert.

Two other cities – Phoenix and Tucson – which do not even have a city sales tax on food for home consumption still oppose HB2061, as do lobbyists such as the League of Arizona Cities & Towns, the Professional Firefighters of Arizona, and Arizona AFL-CIO.

HB2061 cleared its first hurdle last week with a 6 to 4 vote in the House Ways & Means Committee. All four no votes came from Democrats on the committee. One lawmaker who advocated for the legislation during the committee vote was Rep. Travis Grantham (R-Scottdale).  

“It’s unthinkable to me that people can stand up and justify taxing something people need to survive on a day to day basis,” Grantham said. 

HB2061 is slated to be considered by the House Rules Committee on Monday. It will then be debated by the House, where many lawmakers expect to hear complaints that cities and towns will have to cut services if the bill passes.

It is an argument Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City) refuted last week, pointing out that the roughly one-third of Arizona’s cities and towns without a sales tax on food for home consumption are still able to offer municipal services.

If passed into law, the elimination of the food sales tax would take effect later this year. However, there is nothing in state law preventing any municipality that currently has such a tax from repealing it on their own.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates HB2061 could save Arizonans nearly $160 million in Fiscal Year 2022 and potentially growing to a savings of more than $195 million in FY 2026.

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.

New Judge Named To Take Over Decades-Old Water Rights Cases

New Judge Named To Take Over Decades-Old Water Rights Cases

By Terri Jo Neff |

Two major water rights cases that date back to the 1970s are being reassigned to another judge, the first such change in more than 10 years, the Arizona Supreme Court announced last week.

Judge Scott Blaney of the Maricopa County Superior Court will take over the Gila River System and Source case as well as the Little Colorado River System and Source case, both of which were first litigated in the late 1970s. He replaces Judge Mark Brain effective Feb. 4 as what is commonly known as Arizona’s Water Judge.

The cases Blaney is taking over are general stream adjudication proceedings to determine the extent and priority of water rights in the Gila River system (Maricopa County case nos. W-1, W-2, W-3, and W-4), and in the Little Colorado River system (Apache County Superior Court case no. 6417).  

The Gila River General Stream Adjudication civil case began in the 1970s as a series of petitions to the Arizona State Land Department to determine, or adjudicate, conflicting surface water rights for the Salt, Verde, Gila, and San Pedro rivers.

The petitions were eventually transferred to the superior courts of the individual counties where the petitions were originally filed, but a 1981 Arizona Supreme Court order consolidated all four cases into the Gila River case. The justices also ordered the matters would be heard in Maricopa County.  

Similarly, the Little Colorado River Adjudication began in the late 1970s when mining company Phelps Dodge Corp. filed a petition with the state land department to determine water rights to the Little Colorado River system and source. The litigation was later transferred to the Apache County Superior Court as the county where the largest number of potential claimants reside.

Blaney, a graduate of the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, served on the civil and family court benches of Maricopa County Superior Court since 2018. Prior to that, Blaney worked in private practice from 2003 to 2015 before becoming State Judge Advocate for the Arizona National Guard and general counsel for the Arizona Department of Emergency & Military Affairs (DEMA).

The state’s Water Judge is assisted by an appointed Special Master who hears disputes arising out of the cases, such as objections to hydrographic survey reports and other legal and factual issues designated by the judge.

Court records show the current Special Master is Susan Ward Harris, who was appointed in 2015. She has a master’s degree in hydrology from the University of Arizona’s College of Science as well as a Master of Law degree from Georgetown University.

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.

New Funding Needed For I-10 Widening After Feds Deny Grant Application

New Funding Needed For I-10 Widening After Feds Deny Grant Application

By Terri Jo Neff |

The day before five people died Thursday in a horrific vehicle fire on Interstate 10 near Riggs Road, Arizona officials learned that the U.S. Department of Transportation denied a request for $360 million to widen another dangerous stretch of the interstate through Pinal County.   

Last year the Arizona Legislature approved $400 million for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) as part of a project to widen 26 miles of the interstate to three lanes in each direction from Casa Grande and Chandler.

The three-year project, which will include a new bridge over the Gila River, was funded enough with the allocation and other state money to complete about 20 miles.

Meanwhile, ADOT applied for $360 million through the National Infrastructure Project Assistance grant program. Those funds would have ensured the widening work and other safety improvements extended farther south into Pinal County, an area which has experienced a high rate of residential and commercial growth in recent years.

Arizona Sen. T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge) and Rep. Teresa Martinez (R-Casa Grande) were disappointed to learn the grant application was denied. Both say they intend to introduce new legislation to use state funds to cover the $360 million so the full project can be completed.

The lawmakers are also encouraging ADOT to seek other funding options which could lower the amount of the second allocation.

One of the biggest advocates for the interstate improvement project is Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland, who believes construction must begin sooner than later.

“We can’t wait for us to get all the money and begin the process,” McFardland said, adding he is looking forward to feedback on why ADOT’s grant application was rejected.

Various guesses have been put forth by some parties for rejection of the application, which had the support of U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly. Some are pointing to the fact Arizona was seeking nearly one-third of all the funding available nationwide in the current award round.

Others suggest the Biden administration is prioritizing more “green” transportation projects. More information is expected to be released soon, including possible tips on what ADOT can do differently if it reapplies for the next funding cycle.

Kelly issued a statement affirming his support for the I-10 improvements.

“Arizonans rely on the I-10 to connect them to jobs, educational opportunities and their families, which is why improving and expanding this highway is still a top priority for me,” the statement reads.

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.

Committee Dems Vote Against Bill That Cuts Arizona’s Corporate Tax Rate

Committee Dems Vote Against Bill That Cuts Arizona’s Corporate Tax Rate

By Terri Jo Neff |

The Republican-controlled Arizona House of Representatives took its first steps this week to lower the state’s corporate income tax rate in four successive years starting Jan. 1, 2026

House Bill 2003 would gradually decrease the current 4.9 percent business tax rate to only 2.5 percent. The bill sponsored by Rep. David Livingston was approved Wednesday by the House Ways & Means Committee and the House Appropriations Committee.

All of the Democrats on the two committees cast nay votes.

Arizona’s current corporate income tax rate in place since Tax Year 2017 is the greater of $50 or 4.9 percent of net income. Under HB 2003, that rate would drop to 4 percent for Tax Year 2023, then 3.5 percent the next year, and 3 percent the following year. For Tax Year 2026 and each year thereafter the rate would be only 2.5 percent.

Livingston (R-Peoria), who serves as chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said reducing Arizona’s corporate income tax (CIT) rate is a matter of fairness and sound tax policy.  

“Cutting the corporate rate continues the state’s commitment to creating a low tax environment,” Livingston said after the two committee votes. “We’ve done great work to lower the rate on personal income and now we must take the next step to equalize our rate for C-Corps to make them even with other businesses who file via the personal income tax, such as S-Corps and partnerships.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) advised lawmakers it is difficult to determine the revenue impact from the proposed change, due to the fact most corporations do not follow a calendar-year fiscal year.  A final note issued by JBLC includes a “highly speculative” estimated impact on state coffers of nearly $1.7 billion.

But such estimates must be interpreted with caution at this time, according to JLBC.

“Finally, we would note that the estimates above do not reflect the potential behavioral response of taxpayers to the changes under the proposed CIT rate reduction,” the final note explained. “For example, all else equal, a reduction of corporate income taxes can serve as an incentive for businesses to invest in more capital and hire more labor than they would otherwise. Such ‘dynamic’ effects may result in an increase in economic output, which in turn may generate more tax revenue dollars for the state General Fund than what a ‘static’ analysis assumes.”

HB 2003 will move on to the House Committee of the Whole on a date to be announced.

READ HB2003 HERE

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.

Phoenix Sued For Giving NFL, Super Bowl Committee Authority Over Local Free Speech Rights

Phoenix Sued For Giving NFL, Super Bowl Committee Authority Over Local Free Speech Rights

By Terri Jo Neff |

A judge has been asked to put an end to a City of Phoenix ordinance which grants the NFL and the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee authority over how and where residents and property owners can exercise their free speech rights before and after the Feb. 12 Super Bowl.

Although Super Bowl LVII is being played at Glendale’s State Farm Stadium, many of the NFL’s pregame festivities will be held in Phoenix. As a result, the Phoenix City Council quietly approved an ordinance establishing a nearly two-square-mile Special Promotional and Civic Event Area which encompasses most of downtown.  

Anyone in the event area, also known as the “Clean Zone” is barred for the three weeks before the big game and one week after from displaying any temporary signage without the approval of the city as well as the NFL and the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee.

The Goldwater Institute warned city officials weeks ago to put an end to the prohibitive ordinance or face legal action. There was hope the matter would be resolved Tuesday when council members met in a non-public Executive Session on Tuesday.

But when the ordinance was not repealed, the Goldwater Institute followed through on its pledge to defend those whose constitutional rights are being infringed by the ordinance. Its lawsuit filed Wednesday seeks an injunction blocking enforcement of the ordinance.

Phoenix resident Bramley Paulin is the plaintiff represented by the Goldwater Institute, while Mayor Kate Gallego and City Manager Jeff Barton are defendants in their official capacity along with the city as a municipal corporation.

“The Phoenix signage restrictions are just the latest instance in a disturbing, years-long nationwide trend of local governments forcing their own citizens to beg the NFL’s permission to speak freely. But Goldwater intends to stop this trend,”  according to John Thorpe, an attorney for the Goldwater Institute.   

READ MORE

Thorpe says Paulin, who is also a local business owner, has suffered firsthand the effects of city’s special deal with the NFL.  

“While Bramley would like to lease his property for temporary signage placements, businesses won’t even talk to him because they’re afraid to do anything – even on private property, in compliance with all the regular city ordinances – without the express approval of the NFL.”

Thorpe argues that the signage restrictions violate the Arizona Constitution’s free speech protections while also flouting the Constitution’s due process of law guarantee by infringing on residents’ rights without providing any of the minimum procedural safeguards the Constitution requires.

“Moreover, the restrictions violate the Arizona Constitution’s principles of separation of powers, giving two unaccountable private entities—the NFL and the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee—a blank check to wield government power against private citizens,” Thorpe says.

It is estimated the ordinance encroaches on the rights of hundreds of businesses and thousands of residents.

Paulin issued a statement after the lawsuit was filed on his behalf. He said it is not right that Phoenix city officials are letting the NFL decide what he can and cannot say on his own property.

“The government shouldn’t censor business owners like me, or any residents of the downtown area, when we communicate with the public—and it certainly shouldn’t let private companies decide what we can say,” Paulin said.

Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.