Tucson proposes a new tax to pay for public safety

Posted: Updated:

Every time it's been suggested, it's prompted large protests -- and has been shot down.

But it's back.

The city says it will once again try to place a tax on rental properties in the city of Tucson.
City leaders say that's the only way to avoid layoffs in the police and fire departments.
“No city employees have ever been through what we're going through now, except, potentially, during the great depression,” said Tucson City Manager Mike Letcher.
Letcher has a grim outlook on the city's current financial situation at a time when Tucson faces a $32 million revenue shortfall.
“So the question of who's at fault - it's the economy,” Letcher said.
More than half of the city's $420 million budget comes from sales tax revenue, so to avoid layoffs to the police and fire departments, Letcher Monday re-introduced the idea of a 2-percent tax on renters -- called a landlord tax.
It's an idea Tucsonans overwhelmingly opposed in 2004, and as recently as this past April.
“It's not a good situation that we're in,” said Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor. “But this one at least allows me to go forward without laying off any of my current police officers.”
“That tax enables us to do that, it's that simple,” Letcher said.
The proposed landlord tax would keep doors open at fire and police stations around town, but in the process, 89 city of Tucson employees could face layoffs.
“The schedule would call for the layoffs sometime toward the end of February,” Letcher said.
Meanwhile, if the city council approves the landlord tax January 5, it would stay in place unless Tucson voters approve a property tax increase dedicated to funding core services.
People seemed lukewarm on the idea.
“The sales tax here is very high already,” said Martha Seger, a Tucson homeowner. “And, I think the citizens have got to say, look, there's an end to this.”
“I'd rather see a temporary increase on say maybe sales tax,” said Tucson homeowner Jerry Chacon. “Or some luxury items like tanning salons.”
Yet, Letcher didn't seem concerned about opposition because this wouldn't be a general property tax.
“It will only be dedicated to public safety. Can't go anywhere else, by the people's vote, that's where it will go,” Letcher said.
No word yet on when the people will have that vote.
Meantime, city employees would also have to take a 3 percent pay cut and pay substantially more for medical benefits.