Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton makes his monthly appearance on Arizona Horizon to discuss the latest issues in the city of Phoenix.
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Attorney general Tom Horne has reportedly reached a settlement with a former employee who claims that Horne retaliated against her for her political leanings and initiating an FBI investigation of Horne. The Arizona Capitol Times reports that Margaret "Meg" Hinchey today reached an agreement in her $10 million suit against the state, and Horne is looking to settle separate allegations he illegally worked with an independent campaign committee. Well, once a month, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton joins us here on "Arizona Horizon" to discuss city issues, including tonight, some concerns about the budget and some good news regarding homeless Veterans. Here now is Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. Good to see you again.
Greg Stanton: Great to be back. We do this once a month, we should do it more often, it's fun!
Ted Simons: We'll see if you feel that way after we are done. Acting city manager says we have 39 some odd million, give or take a third here or there. Deficit this fiscal year, what's going on?
Greg Stanton: This is part of the budget process, and early on the city manager presents the up to the minute budget situation, and last year, the budget estimates were that we thought this recovery was going to be faster than it is, as you know, and this recovery has been the slowest on record, and not just here in Phoenix but throughout the country. This recession hammered us, and the rest of the country in the worst economy since the great depression, and the recovery has been very, very slow, last year's budget estimates were based on a faster recovery, and the economy hasn't recovered as quickly as we would have liked, so, look, in my two years as Mayor, we dealt with some very, very difficult budget situations, and obviously, we did significant reform to the pension, and reformed pension spiking, as well, both the measures will save us $800 million over the next 20 to 25 years. We've balanced our budget every year, we have to focus in on efficiency, and we have got to focus on innovation and job creation, we will balance the budget and make the tough decisions like we do every year, again, I was hopeful that the economy would have approved more quickly -- and the budget situation would have been better than it is, but we have got to deal with reality the way it is.
Ted Simons: Are you surprised it's $39 million?
Greg Stanton: Well, look, the budget estimate was dependent on growth at 6% and came in a little over 4%, so it was about 2% lower, and that's a wider diversion than it should be. We need to make sure as we do our budget estimates, that and the reality come in as close as possible. I've been involved in city, city, city council since the year 2000, and normally, the budget office gets it almost exactly right. This year where there is a bit of divergence, again, it's all based upon the economic analysis coming from a variety of information sources. We have got to look back and see how can we do better in the future. In the meantime, we're going to be doing dozens of budget hearings, we're going to do it both live and in person, as well as online through social media, and we're going to make tough budget decisions but we're not going to do it without first hearing from the people in the City of Phoenix about what they want to see more of and what they want to see less of. At the same time, we're having ongoing negotiations, and with the labor groups representing many, many city employees, and so, we have to make sure that, that the budget realities are reflected in both those conversations but I'm not going to prejudge what the outcome will be other than I want to listen to the public before making a decision.
Ted Simons: The acting city manager report mentioned that slowing tax collections were greatly to blame and the city, this is a quote, sales tax collections lag state collections, why?
Greg Stanton: Well, first off, we are a bit behind as you know the way that they do the, the sales tax analysis through state share revenue. We have come behind in terms of the state share revenue from what the cities are, but separate and apart from that, we need to make sure that we offer in the City of Phoenix places to go and places to shop that people want to, to, to shop in, and look, we have been a high growth community with a lot of growth on the outskirts of town, a lot of development on the outskirts, that's the reality of Phoenix, Arizona. My job and the job of the council and those that care about the future of Phoenix is to make sure that areas inside the City of Phoenix, downtown areas, the Biltmore area, the Desert Ridge area, the Metros centers, which is revitalizing, Arrowhead mall, so many other malls within the city, they are doing as strong as possible in terms of sales and, and we have to do as much as we can to support those malls, as well.
Ted Simons: And services, will services be cut? Will they likely be cut? We got to 39 this year, and maybe 26-54 to next fiscal year? A possibility?
Greg Stanton: Well, I think that it's not likely, but I want to go through the public process, first and foremost. Look, we've been able to deal with much more significant budget deficits within the City of Phoenix and, and done so in a way that minimized any service cuts, and obviously, the number one thing that we want to do is to minimize any chances that it's going to hit police and fire and public safety, the core service that we provide at the city. So, I have a track record of success in that regard and I think this council does, of dealing with very, very difficult budget issues but do it in a way that minimizes cuts to our core city services, most especially, public safety.
Ted Simons: And Phoenix, the first U.S. city to house all chronically homeless vets. 222 off the streets since 2011. What's going on?
Greg Stanton: I made a commitment when I became Mayor that ending homelessness would be one of my top priorities, for many years I was chair of the of the continuum of care, which is the region-wide advocacy group to end homelessness, and the President of the United States challenged cities, big cities across the country, to try to be the first to really work hard to end chronic homelessness among the Veteran population, and obviously it's one of the great shames of, of this country, so many Veterans that served us served us well and even in combat positions, that they, themselves, have come back to the United States of America and fallen on hard times, including being homeless, and we have got to do more, and that's what Phoenix did. Not just the City of Phoenix, but what I would say Phoenix, I mean, the city, business leaders, through the Valley of the Sun United Way, and nonprofit leaders, through great nonprofits like Community Bridges, which go out and try to get the Veterans to, to, to build a trust relationship with them so they get of off the streets and into a housing situation, and working with the housing providers, and the county and the faith community, and we have all come together to work on this important cast, and because we worked with such a team effort and focus to get the job done, yes, Phoenix was the first in the country to end chronic homelessness among the Veteran population, and our friends in Salt Lake City, Mayor Becker, a friend of mine, finished second, and right about the same time. And that's why the President was so complimentary of, of both cities, and here's the trick. You have got to make sure that you are not just providing a roof over the Veteran's head. But also, provide them the support services to treat what ales them. Maybe it's maybe mental health treatment, maybe it's substance abuse treatment, whatever is causing their homelessness, make sure that, that you provide services so that you can break the cycle of homelessness. And that was the stretch called housing first. That was the strategy that we employed and by doing so, we have a 94% success rate. Meaning when we get someone off the streets and in housing, there is a very small likelihood that they are going to end up on the streets, housing first works and that's why we are doing it.
Ted Simons: Indeed, and housing first provides homes even if some folks still have the problem with drugs and drink with the idea being to get them housed you get to attack those problems easier than if they are not housed. With that in mind, vouchers from the Federal Government. How much of a factor in terms of the effort?
Greg Stanton: A huge factor. The stimulus program put many more housing vouchers available to us and we chose to make housing Veterans, those that had served us, in military and in some cases combat situation, we chose to make Veterans our highest priority, so the availability of housing was a huge force. Look, the chronically homeless Veterans that we served, the over that we found housing for, had been on the streets an average of eight years. And many were abusing drugs and alcohol. We know that just putting a roof over the head is not going to be the cure all. You have got to provide them treatment and you have to give them a second chance if they occasionally abuse. We know that the chances of them breaking that cycle are highest if they have more certainty that they are going to continue to have a roof over the head and the support services so they can break the cycle of homelessness, and that's what we are trying to do.
Ted Simons: That treatment, that care, that effort, let's dovetail back to the first topic. How much when you see a deficit projected for the next fiscal year, do you look at those services? The impact, what do you see?
Greg Stanton: Let me tell you something, the good news is, is that ending chronic homelessness is not just the right social policy, it's the right thing for our fellow human beings that have fallen on hard time. My opinion, and my belief, from the bottom of my heart is but for the grace of God go you or I, they could be you or I on the streets if our lives spiral out of contorl, but it's not just the right thing to do for fellow human beings, it's good economic policy. Study after study shows that finding a solid, consistent housing, safe housing for people, and the medical treatment that they need is a lot cheaper than spending so much time in the emergency rooms. It's four times more expensive than to provide them that than solid housing, so it's not just good social policy but good economic policy, it the right thing to do.
Ted Simons: Last question, we'll tie it all together. We've got the Vice President giving you a shot out there at the national conference of Mayors and we talked about the deficit as far as that is concerned. How do you see growth -- you talked about the fact that the sales tax collections are down. Ok. The growth rate is not what it was expected. It can be better. How do you make it better?
Greg Stanton: Our focus, our number one focus as it has been in my two years in office, and will continue to be for however long I am lucky enough to serve as Mayor of the City of Phoenix, is the right kind of job creation. What worked in the past, where we relied on growth, we almost atrophied in a way. We relied on it and thought that was going to be the fix to the economic issues. And I think that we were overly reliant on this. We need to focus on building the right kind of economy and jobs, which means that we need to get more of our young people graduating college, we need to increase the college attainment rate if we are going to be competitive for science-based jobs, and engineering and mathematics. We have to do a better job of having an increased college graduation rate, which what happens at the legislature at the University funding, is important for the future of cities, we need to make sure the best and brightest young people stay here in Phoenix to have their lives and careers and make sure that we are attracting entrepreneur that is will create the jobs of the future here, and which means, we need to have not only a competitive tax policy and programs that can compete but also, we need great neighborhoods, and great arts and culture, and things like, like multi-modal transaction and not just light rail but biking and a more walkable city. All the things that make us competitive as people have choices as to where they want to live. It's what's going to build the economy of the future. And that's why I champion those things as Mayor of Phoenix.
Ted Simons: All right, Mayor, good to see you again and thanks for joining us. Always.
Greg Stanton: I love it, thank you.
Greg Stanton:Mayor, Phoenix;