Phoenix city budget still doesn’t reflect changing times

by Byron Schlomach, Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute
Adapt and overcome. This is part of a Marine Corps mantra born of a resource scarcity the service suffered when its equipment consisted mostly of hand-me-downs from the Army. This is exactly the kind of can-do spirit that we need from government officials today.

The Arizona economy has lost more than 300,000 jobs. Tax revenues have plummeted at every level. We cannot afford to continue funding government at its former levels. Unfortunately, officials with the City of Phoenix have demonstrated an unwillingness to adapt to changing circumstances.

Phoenix says it has eliminated 500 positions, but that’s only about 3 percent of the city’s 14,000 employees. Due to attrition, the actual number of layoffs will be less than 50, or around three-tenths of 1 percent. The City Council did eliminate an administrative assistant position that paid $95,000 a year. That’s a start, but it begs the question of how many other high-dollar assistant positions have been preserved. And, it lends credence to the assertion that the average cost of a city employee is $100,000.

Residents of Phoenix were told that the city needed to impose a 2-cent food tax to protect police and fire services from budget reductions. But on a recent episode of Sunday Square Off, Mayor Phil Gordon said he was shifting police officers to other city departments whose budgets were partially funded through federal or state tax money.

So, really, the City Council has made it more expensive for people to put food on the table so that they can protect the city’s $1 million budget for “arts and culture” and the $1 million budget for “government relations,” i.e. lobbyists.

When Mayor Gordon delivers the “State of City” address next Tuesday, he will talk about all the changes going on at City Hall, all the hard choices he’s made. But the truth is, the new tax on groceries and the refusal to realign government to focus on core functions show nothing has changed and the state of the city is disappointing.

Dr. Byron Schlomach is an economist and the director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the Goldwater Institute.


  1. Apparently, there are five or six more high paying administrative assistant positions. Phoenix should still be the “best run city” in the West. The food tax is really offensive. It’s time to shop and eat elsewhere until the city comes to their senses. That’s exactly what I will be doing starting in April.

  2. How about they start by firing every diversity coordinator they have?

    Also, that talk of “impose a 2-cent food tax to protect police and fire services from budget reductions” is complete garbage. Money is completely fungible. They raised that tax for those positions to avoid cutting other positions.

  3. Turn off the light – the light ril.
    Sell the cars and cutesy art on eBAY and send the laid off staff to the University of Phoenix to retrain them to private
    sector employment opportunities.

  4. Jon Altmann, PC, State Committeeman LD11 says

    Progress in getting Phoenix leaders to be more frugal is like trying to work someone off narcotic drugs. And Phoenix won’t go “cold turkey.”

    I went to several of the budget hearings. Despite council members getting up and saying the budget was short $250 million and there would be cuts – the masses came forward to ask for dollars. Many must have hearing issues.

    How Phoenix got into so many social services over the past two decades is amazing. I did not know we were running expensive horse parks, arenas and sporting facilities – and these are not things helping the kids in South Phoenix, either.

    Arizona cities do a better job of reducing their budgets faster than the state government. That aside, there is still much for them to learn.

    When public safety labor groups offer back 3.2% of pay, but are getting a 6.9% raise in the same period, I have to ask, where is the pain? (That’s on top of a 5.6% raise last year).

    On top of that, the Republic points out in one article the amount of car allowances given out – and editorializes it is time to cut out that perk.

    Phoenix needs to find more ways to cut back.

    Some bubba blogged on me that the food sales tax was merely $225 more year for the average family and seemed to say why was I being so “cheap” by fighting this tax?

    Gosh, that $225 is someone’s APS bill, or a couple of months of water/sewer; for a retiree on Medicare, that may be a few more of the meds they can’t buy.

    It is always “it’s just $xxx …. just a little bit more.” My Mom taught me years ago how to scrimp and save with coupons and sales to bring the grocery bill down. Somewhere between the days of the Great Depression (my Mom’s days) and today, we have lost the ability to be careful with the dollar.

    We have a two-front war on, yet have you seen anyone suffering a shortage of tires, gas or bread?

    Tough times make for a good clearing down to the basics. I’m all for making sure we have security and that we pay folks a fair wage. Many of us have a neighbor or relative that is using that senior center or a kid that uses that library. For city leadership to hold us hostage by threatening cuts to firefighters & police and cutting services to the most needy is absolutely the wrong budget battle cry.

    It is the wrong budget battle cry unless they have stripped down so there is little else other than that needed to make it go. Perhaps city leaders have simply foregotten how to say “no” and do with less.

    Some city employees have benefit packages as much as 35-50%+ over wages. There are a lot of Arizonan’s right now who would love to have a job and would think 20% over wages would be heaven. On top of all this, Phoenix still paid “retention bonuses” this year.

    Many of us are turning off lights and simply spending less. We only ask that our city government work as hard.

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