Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton makes his monthly visit to Arizona Horizon to discuss the latest city issues, including continued work on eliminating a budget shortfall.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear arguments to lift an injunction against part of Arizona's controversial SB-, deciding without comment to let stand an injunction against a statute that makes it illegal to transport or harbor illegal immigrants. It had been blocked by a federal judge and upheld by the federal Court of Appeals. Governor Brewer says she's disappointed by the decision. Once a month Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton joins us in studio to discuss a variety of municipal issues. Including budget concerns, something very much at the forefront of the city's affairs. Here now is Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton. Now there was a plan to raise taxes and a plan to raise fees. Was it okayed? I thought it was okayed with a small O, small K.
Greg Stanton: This is on which difficult. People don't understand how we do our budgeting process. We have a hyper public budgeting process, very different than the state legislature, where there may be back room deals and there's a budget hearing but it's almost a fait accompli. In the city of Phoenix the city manager proposes a budget and the mayor and city council will take that on the road across the city holding dozens and dozens of budget hearings. There have been tons of citizen activity, thousands of people have participated. One of the things we heard loud and clear was don't close senior centers. Don't close youth centers. The core city services that we love to provide, do what you can to avoid that. As a result the city manage hear asked that the council at least consider certain revenue increases because of what's called a 60-day truth in taxation period. We had to at least affirm that we would analyze those so it could be included next year in the budget. We didn't approve any particular fee increase or any particular revenue increase but we agreed to at least put it out there so that we could legally consider it for this year's upcoming budget.
Ted Simons: We're talking water meter size and these sorts of things?
Greg Stanton: Correct. For 21 years we have had a fee on the water bill. It's been upwards of $2 in the past. We reduced it. This mayor and council reduced it to $1 because our jail fees were lower than expect. One potential option is to look at whether or not we ought to increase that fee. It's not part of the water system. It's a separate fee, just a way to get that out there in the community to look at whether or not we ought to go back to a number we were at a couple of years ago. A few of the options are, of course, do we increase the fees that we charge residents to use our community health centers and workout facilities and things like that? One option is whether or not we should look at metered parking for the premium parking spaces at some parks and preserves. Those are very popular places. Whether those locations ought to raise revenue. We're looking at whether to market-base costing on our downtown parking meters so if you park outside a sporting event where the parking lot nearby is at $20 bucks, should it be a bargain just because you happen to find a spot or should we have meter pricing that reflects that? That could raise revenue for the city. Looking at a variety of options.
Ted Simons: Again, rec centers, rec passes, senior center passes, lighting fees, usage fees for athletic fields, what about restoring the food tax?
Greg Stanton: So restoring food taxis not one of the options that is being looked at by this council. When I became mayor, obviously, one of the issues on the table for a long time was an issue of the food tax and commitment that we would end it by march 2015. Do it earlier if it didn't hurt public safety or core city services. Last year we made a very important decision to reduce the food tax by half. The idea is that it is a glide path down. We know we're going to eliminate it at the latest in May of 2015. By eliminating half of it this year we sent a strong message that we are going to accomplish that very important policy goal of the city. So the food tax is not one of the issues that we're looking at for next year's budget.
Ted Simons: Not one of the issues, but what if a number of residents, I have heard quite a few have come forward. You have budget hearings to hear from the public, the public says bring back the tax. We would rather have the tax than closing community centers and recreation centers and swimming pools. Will you reconsider?
Greg Stanton: We have heard from literally thousands of residents. I personally have been at a number of these hearings. By the way, if you haven't had a chance to attend one, everyone is put on video and is online and people can watch. One of the changes I made when I became mayor was to make the process as fully transparent as possible so every statement by elected officials, by the public is captured on video and put on the city website. We have obviously heard from thousands of residents who have said that do what it takes to make sure we don't close senior centers, don't close youth centers. Some of the other core city services that we have provided. I think that's exactly why we are looking at revenue for the city at least taking in input from the public but I made it a commitment as we went through the process last year and certainly in years past that the food tax was not one that we were going to look at. We would eliminate it end of May of 2015. Look, we made a commitment.
Ted Simons: I know some say the passes and fees and water meter sizes and this sort of business is one thing, but the number one thing, employee costs. That needs to be addressed first. Your thoughts.
Greg Stanton: Well, we're in the middle of labor negotiations with our labor groups. We're getting towards the end of it. So those very, very important issues are going to be before this mayor and council in the not too distant future. In years past, for 40 years, we have always reached agreement at the bargaining table through a meet and confer process with our labor groups. I don't know if we'll be able to do so this year. I know this. As mayor I stand ready to do the right thing with regard to our labor groups even if we have to vote as a mayor and council. I'm not going to prejudge that. I want to make sure the meet and confer negotiation process goes to the very last minute. But if not I will stand prepared as mayor to make the necessary changes so that we can do the right thing including, by the way, ending a pension spiking. We did vote to do that at the end of last year. We did that for our management employees that we have say over without a meet and confer. We felt for the rank and file it was important in the middle of a contract year to end pension spiking with the start of a new contract, and we're going to fulfill that commitment.
Ted Simons: For those who say too much out there in the way of sick days, too much in the way of vacation days, too much in the way of retirement, that's fees and such, throws stopgap measures, you and the council have to get serious about bigger budget items. I think people want get your impression on where you stand.
Greg Stanton: Absolutely. Well, if you have been not paying attention to what has been going on at city hall since I have become mayor, when it comes to changes in our pension system, no mayor in the history of Phoenix has made more changes than I have as mayor. We have engaged in a serious pension reform effort that has required new employees to pay three times as much as existing employees to gain the pension, and you know the legal issues associated with making changes for existing employees. We passed last year significant pension spiking changes so we would end pension spiking in the city of Phoenix. We have done that before our senior employees and our management employees, and now we're making those changes for our rank and file employees. We have already made that decision and I would argue you should have me back on, after we voted on our labor agreements and then we can have a more thorough discussion of a labor cost in addition to the pension issues and see where we are. The majority of this mayor and council, we're not going to demagogue on these issues. We're not going to give speeches to try to score political points. We're going to roll up our sleeves, dot heavy lifting and do the right thing for the people of this city.
Ted Simons: Again, the majority of council there are some who think very differently than you do regarding many employment costs and pensions and these sorts of things. I think what a lot of folks, they don't want to hear demagoguery but they want a clear idea of where the city needs to go, especially beyond what, again, seem like stopgap measures. $38 million budget deficit, not fooling around. Something has to be done, the trial budget I think by the city manager had pools closing. What are your thoughts about that trial budget?
Greg Stanton: Well, I think by the very enact we are looking at even open minded to revenue changes within the city, that budget and the proposal is not acceptable to me. I'm not going to be mayor where we close senior centers across the city, close pools so that our youth don't have those incredible opportunities that I had. I grew up in west Phoenix in a working class family. Those youth centers, service centers, public swimming pools, community centers are the exact thing I was lucky enough to have as a kid growing up in west Phoenix. So we're going to work this out in a way I believe that does not involve those proposals that would really hurt this community.
Ted Simons: Last question on this. Has anyone figured out why the revenue projections were so out of whack? $3 million budget deficit in part last time you were here you mentioned in part that in great part was projections didn't pan out. Do we know why? Is someone else doing the projecting?
Greg Stanton: Just a few years ago this city had a $300 million budget deficit. I had to vote as a council member on an over $100 million budget deficit. This council has consistently made the tough choices, the right choices relative to the future of this city. So look, $38 million is nothing to sneeze at. There's some real challenges associated with that. We have to keep this in perspective. We're going to dot right thing to protect those core city services that the community relies on. We're going to make those tough choices as we always have. Look, with the last city manager, should he have brought this issue to our attention earlier? The reality is we would have had to make some of the cuts or choices during the last budget cycle. I certainly myself and councilman gates wrote a memo to our city manager saying this is not acceptable. You have to be much more transparent in coming up with budget projections. If we have choices to make, let's make them the earlier the better. The longer you put them off the tougher it will be. We're leaders. That's what we should be doing. The reality is that we're going to get through this in a smart way that does not involve significant cuts to core city services. I wouldn't be doing my job as mayor if that were to occur.
Ted Simons: I know you have been pushing for gender pay equity, pushing for contractors. How is this a municipal issue? How do you enforce something like this, and are there so many variables in here between hours worked and uninterrupted work and the nature of work, what are we getting into here?
Greg Stanton: Good news, bad news. Good news, on the issue of gender pay equity Arizona is better than the national average. National studies show that. But for people watching this show having any equity issue is not accept able to them. It's certainly not to me. So I have asked an incredible council member, new member of my council, councilman Kate Gallego, to lead the way. She's going to bring businesses, including many who do contracting with the city, bring together leaders in our community and bring together the appropriate city staff and we're going to craft the plan to ensure at least as those that do business with the city of Phoenix that we don't have a gender pay equity issue. Look, Congress has got to deal with this issue on a federal level. That is above my pay grade for folks in Washington D.C. I wish they would do more on a lot of issues. But as mayor, I'm going to do what I can and should do on this critically important issue. I don't want to prejudge the great work I know councilman Gallego is going to do. She has embraced that task, so stay tuned.
Ted Simons: Last point, you know critics are saying all this gender pay equity you're just deflecting from the budget concerns. How do you respond?
Greg Stanton: I deal with a lot of issues at the city of Phoenix. Do you know we're going to open up a trade and tourism office in Mexico as a city of Phoenix? The city is taking incredible leadership roles on the issue of sustainability. We are going to be the first city in the U.S. to have an incubator at our transfer station.
Ted Simons: You're not deflecting again, are you?
Greg Stanton: A great mayor, a great city has to multi-task. As mayor of the city I deal with so many issues that try to advance the interests of our city. That's exactly what I'm going to do. At the same time we're going to appropriately deal with the budget as our city as we balance the budget of our city every single year. That critique of anything other than the budget, any policy proposal we put forward, heck, in my state of the city speech I spoke broadly about the need to create a technology-based export based economy, innovative economy. Even some of the critics then said, that's not the role of the mayor. That's exactly the role of the mayor. A great mayor has to be one who can multi-task on many issues at the same time. That's what I plan to do.
Ted Simons: We plan on having you back on next month. Maybe get more information on that budget and get down to brass tacks. Always a pleasure. Good to have you.
Greg Stanton: Thank you.
Greg Stanton:Mayor, Phoenix;