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County association touts 'significant gains' in legislative session
The organization representing Arizona counties made “significant gains” on its top priorities, according to Craig Sullivan, executive director of the Arizona County Supervisors Association.
In a legislative report presented Monday to the Yuma County Board of Supervisors, Sullivan addressed issues facing counties.
The budget was the top priority this past legislative session. At the annual Legislative Summit held in October, the CSA Board of Directors were concerned by the ongoing impact of state cost shifts onto counties. Counties faced increased mandated costs and significant losses in local and federal revenue, straining county budgets.
Since 2008, Arizona counties have absorbed $288 million in state budget impacts, including $130 million in mandated county “contributions,” $73 million in diverted Highway User Revenue Fund (road building and maintenance money) revenue and $66 million in program shifts.
In addition, counties' property tax bases fell, with statewide assessed values down for two consecutive years (5 percent in fiscal year 2011 and 15 percent in fiscal yearl 2012).
In an effort to address these concerns, county supervisors adopted three priorities for the 2012 legislative session:
• Repeal the prisoner shift contained in SB1621
CSA charged that action jeopardizes public safety and threatens fiscal solvency of county governments; continues disturbing pattern of funding state functions with county tax dollars; and represents an abdication of state responsibility by shifting prisoners the state no longer wishes to fund.
• Eliminate the mandated county “contributions”
CSA charged that these “contributions” represent an arbitrary and unfair “taking” of county resources and exacerbate county budget shortfalls. CSA also claimed the state needs to wean itself off the county tax base.
• Freeze and/or reduce HURF shifts to the Department of Public Safety and Motor Vehicle Department
CSA charged that HURF was created to fund state and local road building and maintenance efforts, not state agencies. It also pointed out that county roads are not being maintained adequately, requiring costly future repairs, and that constituents are angry.
At the supervisors meeting, Sullivan noted that CSA focused on “revers(ing) the trend” of sweeping local transportation monies.
Sullivan pointed out that CSA also managed to advance client-initiated legislation and “get the message out.” The CSA board met with Gov. Jan Brewer and participated in numerous briefings with governor's and legislative staff.
As a result, the governor responded to county concerns and legislative leadership indicated support, Sullivan said.
The outcome was the repeal of the prisoner shift and elimination of the HURF shift to MVD, with $12.3 million restored. “Another thing I think was important to Yuma County,” Sullivan said.
The state also eliminated the mandated county “contributions,” with a savings of $38.6 million. “We won't be held hostage anymore,” he noted.
“But it's not at all a perfect scenario,” Sullivan said, pointing to revenue losses in the 2012-13 state budget, including:
• HURF shift to DPS with a statewide county loss of $20.8 million and in Yuma County, a loss of $979,537;
• 100 percent of Rural RTC (Restoration to Competency program administered through the Arizona Department of Health Services at the Arizona State Hospital) costs statewide, a loss of $5.1 million; Yuma County, a loss of $425,414
• Reduce state share of Justice of the Peace salaries statewide, a loss of $1.1 million; Yuma County, a loss of $52,986.
• Arizona Criminal Justice Commission grants to indigent defense statewide, a loss of $700,300; Yuma County, a loss of $20,777.
The total statewide impact is a loss of $43.1 million; in Yuma County, a loss of $1.4 million.
“Lingering effects of eliminated revenue streams” include the County Assistance Fund (lottery), with a loss of $550,035 in Yuma County.
“It doesn't sound like much, but when you don't have other streams of revenue, that matters,” Sullivan said.
This brings the total lost revenue in Yuma County to $2 million.
However, Sullivan noted, “a very good thing happened this year.” The Legislature produced a three-year outlook and “socked away” $450 million in a rainy day fund for fiscal year 2013.
Sullivan also reviewed other legislative actions. Although it enacted four CSA-sponsored bills, “most disappointing” was that the governor vetoed HB 2495 which deals with local purchases.
“It had very little opposition but then it got to the governor's office where there were concerns,” Sullivan explained. “There was a short time frame by the time the issues were brought to us.”
Five other bills did not advance through the process.
The next step for CSA is to evaluate changes to the political landscape in view of the new district maps and evaluate the state and federal revenue situation. Sullivan noted a reduction of federal payments continues to be a “major threat.”
CSA will also connect with counties to determine what bills they want pursued and meet with managers to discuss initiatives and strategies.
“We have a lot of work to do in the off session. I want you to know we will continue to work hard for you,” Sullivan said.