More than half of Arizona cities use home rule, which goes to a vote in Mesa Nov. 6.
So what is home rule?
Home rule is a provision that, in essence, allows a city to spend the money it collects from taxes and other sources. It allows the city council, rather than a nearly 40-year-old state spending formula, to decide what local services the community needs.
Home rule puts the budgeting power in the home community, although the city council must still balance the budget, as required by state law.
Why do we have home rule?
The reason for home rule dates back to 1980 when Arizona voters amended the state Constitution to keep cities’ spending in check. The amendment set spending limits that increase with population growth and inflation.
For a city or town to exceed the state-set spending limit, the council could send the home rule provision, formally called an Alternative Expenditure Limitation, to voters every four years.
Or the city or town could ask voters to permanently adjust the base.
Most AZ cities use home rule or alternative
More than half of Arizona’s 91 cities and towns use home rule.
Data from the League of Arizona Cities and Towns shows:
- 49 municipalities use home rule, including Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, Queen Creek, Avondale and Apache Junction.
- 29 use a permanent base adjustment to the state-set limit, including Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Buckeye, Fountain Hills, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Tempe, Peoria and Surprise.
- 13 municipalities go with the state-set limit. All are outside of metro Phoenix and include smaller cities such as Bullhead City, San Luis and Quartzsite.
Impact of home rule
Home rule isn’t a tax increase, but it allows a city or town to spend the tax or other revenues it has in place.
Mesa voters have agreed to home rule since 1982, although city leaders opted not to pursue it through most of the 1990s, saying they could work within the state-set spending limit.
Then, in 1998, Mesa voters approved a “Quality of Life” sales tax to pay for an extensive civic wish list. Without home rule, Mesa could not have spent that money because it would have been above the state-set spending limit. So the question went back on the ballot in 2000. It won strong support and has been approved since then.
City officials say a “no” vote would require a $200 million spending cut that would impact public safety and other departments.
Mesa officials say the state-set spending limit doesn’t work for the city because:
- The formula’s population and inflation adjustments are based on national trends, which don’t match the fast-growing city’s needs.
- Certain voter-approved revenue sources, such as those dedicated to road improvements, are not anticipated in the state-set funding formula.
- The cost of federal regulations, from safe drinking water mandates to security needs that arose after 9/11, have increased faster than inflation.
Congressional reporter Ron Hansen details all the info you’ll need to know going into the next election.
Noah Lau, Arizona Republic
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