Republicans in the Arizona legislature are on the cusp of passing significant tax relief for hardworking families and small business. With historic levels of surplus cash sitting in the state coffers (over $4 billion for FY 2022 alone), returning this money to taxpayers makes sense. In fact, it would have already happened if not for two lone holdouts within the Republican caucus, claiming the $1.9B tax cut is just “too big.”
Are they right? Should the size of the tax package be reduced to avoid a funding cliff in the future?
For an answer to this criticism, it makes sense to examine current revenue projections being provided by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC). For years JLBC has been relied upon as an independent source for revenue and budget projections by the state legislature. JLBC has never been accused of partisanship or of “cooking the books” to produce rosy budget scenarios. If anything, they have historically been too conservative in their figures, often because they don’t use dynamic modeling for their growth projections.
With this in mind, JLBC is projecting that by FY2024, baseline revenue for the state will be over $14.5 billion, a figure that has been growing with each month. For perspective, legislators were budgeting just shy of $11.1 billion in ongoing revenue prior to the pandemic—meaning that Arizona is expected to see a 31% increase in state revenue in four years.
Where is all this new revenue coming from? While a portion of this surplus is expected from economic growth, that is not the only source. Much of this new revenue is from a series of tax increases that continued to be ignored by opponents of the budget.
Remember the “monumental” new gaming compact Ducey signed in April—the one allowing for sports and fantasy sports betting? That is projected to rake in $300 million of new revenue annually by FY2024.
The Arizona state coffers are running over with cash. The state is set to receive $12B in federal recovery funds, more than the entire annual state budget. On top of that, forecasting by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee projects by 2024 the state will have a $6.4B cash balance with $1.5B in ongoing revenues. Republicans in the Legislature and Governor Ducey are looking to return the record high, multi-billion-dollar state surplus to taxpayers by passing major tax cuts.
On the front lines to defeat these efforts—the cities—that are claiming major income tax reductions will significantly impact their bottom line. But it isn’t just the state sitting comfortably on a mountain of cash, the cities are too.
In opposing the proposed tax cuts, cities are arguing that the package will result in a $225 million decrease in their shared revenue from income tax collections. Despite this estimate being seriously flawed, their projections are in reality insignificant.
Based on research from the Arizona Tax Research Association, we’ll look at 4 cities—urban, rural, small, and large—comparing their estimated “cut” from the tax package to their cash balances and scored against additional revenues generated from the 2019 Wayfair legislation, which permanently expanded the cities’ tax base.
The city of Chandler has a budget of just under $317 million in general fund expenditures for FY2021, leaving nearly $135 million in the general fund.
So far in FY2021, the city has collected close to $3.6 million in new, local TPT revenue and $1.2 million in state shared TPT collections by remote sellers. Taking the average from the 8 months of collections so far in FY2021, this would result in just over $7 million annually.
The estimate of Chandler’s decrease in shared revenue? Just over $10 million.
With a cash balance of $135 million, $7 million in new revenue from Wayfair, Prop 207 revenue, and nearly $36 million in Covid cash from the latest package, residents of Chandler need not worry about their city providing a high level of service.
Their estimated “cut” represents a 0.67% decrease in Chandler’s general fund when scored against new ongoing tax revenues.
The city of Flagstaff budgeted $81.7 million in general fund expenditures for FY2021, leaving the city with a cash balance of over $33 million.
From Wayfair, Flagstaff has already collected $1.3 million from remote sellers and their estimated state share is $340,000. Averaged out this is just under $2.5 million in new annual revenue. Flagstaff has also received $15.2 million in new Covid cash.
The estimated “cut” from income tax reductions? $2.9 million. This represents a mere 0.36% decrease in the general fund when scored against new ongoing tax revenues…