Tucson voters won't be asked to hike sales tax this summer

Despite requesting a legal opinion from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office regarding whether it was legal to put a sales-tax proposal on the July primary ballot, the Tucson City Council will not be asking voters to approve a tax hike this summer.

Councilmembers would have had to have approved ballot language by the April 25 Council meeting to send a measure to voters in the July 30 election, according to Tucson City Clerk Suzanne Mesich.

But officials are still assembling a package to send to voters in the future, according to Councilmember Paul Cunningham.

“We could do November, we could do March,” Cunningham said. “We’re just trying to figure out our options. We don’t want to roll something out that people aren’t ready for.”

While some political observers had speculated the city might be proposing a half-cent sales tax to pay for transportation projects rather than being part of the countywide Regional Transportation Authority, Cunningham said current discussions were focused on other services.

“I don’t think it’s really about transportation,” Cunningham said. “It’s actually more geared for community wellness and safety.”

The types of projects and assets in the proposition could include new equipment aboard fire trucks, more funding for affordable housing, new computers and software and more funding for affordable housing.

“We have to craft something that is fiscally responsible, that manages some of the needs of the community and also meets the priorities of the community,” Cunningham said.

County officials have already begun preparing ballots for the July election, and will be sent to the printer in just a little more than a week. Ballots are mailed out to military voters in mid-June, with other early voters getting theirs at the beginning of July, officials said.

The East Side councilman didn’t rule the possibility of the Council moving ahead with a separate sales-tax proposal related to transportation in the future if the city doesn’t come to an agreement with neighboring jurisdictions across Pima County.

“Maybe we’ll add another half-cent and do something instead of the RTA as well and just do a big penny,” Cunningham said. “But right now, I don’t think that’s the discussion.”

While details had been sketchy about what would appear on the July 30 ballot, the council began discussing putting a sales tax proposition “to promote quality of life for our residents and businesses” in February. In March, in response to a request from state Sen. Rosanna Gabaldón, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes said the city could move forward with the election because it was “a matter of purely municipal concern.”

While state law requires most municipalities to hold sales-tax elections on the November ballot, Tucson is exempt from the law because it is a charter city.

“Under Arizona law, when action under a city’s charter conflicts with state law, the municipal action prevails if it is on a matter of purely municipal concern. The timing of Tucson’s special election to amend its charter is a matter of purely municipal concern, even though the proposed amendment concerns a transaction privilege tax,” Mayes wrote.

Mayor Regina Romero’s office declined to comment on the possibility of a future sales-tax proposition.