Cities and the Legislature

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The state legislature dealt with several issues regarding Arizona cities and towns, such as a bill that would prevent the localities from passing stricter gun laws. Ken Strobeck, executive director of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, will discuss the bills.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The recent state legislative session continued to trend toward preempting local control at the city and county level in favor of what lawmakers see as state-wide concerns. Here to talk about the session and its impact on state municipalities is Ken Strobeck, executive director of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns. Good to see you again, thanks for joining us.

Ken Strobeck: Thanks Ted.

Ted Simons: Overall impact on Arizona cities and towns?

Ken Strobeck: It's a very busy session, a lot of bills that we had to work on a lot but overall, I think it turned out fairly good for cities and towns. There was some impacts that we're really not too happy with, but overall it could have been a whole lot worse.

Ted Simons: What are those?

Ken Strobeck: There are several. One of them that we're not delighted about but my board early on said we'll take it, a deal was $10.7 million to pay for some operations of the department of revenue and this is kind of continuing a trend that's happened over the last few years of asking local governments to pay for more and more state agency operations. So my board agreed to do that. In the past we've actually sued over those kinds of demands but we've said we've made a lot of changes to the T.P.T. system, we understand DOR has got a lot of pressure, if we can do an M.O.U. arrangement that says we're paying a fee for a certain service, we'll go along with that.

Ted Simons: We've had a couple of debates on those topics, the local tax on home rentals, that was a big one for cities and that did not make it. Obviously, the concerns are there.

Ken Strobeck: Yeah, absolutely. Those kind of preemptions and again, a bill that was introduced really without any kind of policy discussion. There wasn't any task force or any report that said this is something that needs to be done and it would have had an impact of $90 million to cities and towns in Arizona, an amazing amount of money just for one policy bill, just because somebody said let's eliminate that tax. That would be a nice idea. Without understanding the context of our system of financing local government, it's really primarily based on sales tax rather than on property tax as it is in many other states. So this came out of the blue and it took a herculean effort to defeat that one.

Ted Simons: Some of the smaller cities and towns in the state, which are normally pretty conservative when it comes to those kinds of things, they were saying you can't do this to us.

Ken Strobeck: This is a tax that's been on the books for more than 40 years, it's grown up with the state, especially as we have multihousing apartment buildings and all these kinds of complexes. This is a key part of funding local government.

Ted Simons: What about the ban on city bans on plastic bags?

Ken Strobeck: That was one that ultimately got through the legislature and I assume the governor will side that. That had a couple of provisions having to do with an energy reporting, I'm not sure what that was about and also, a ban on containers and, you know, Styrofoam containers and plastic bags that basically says cities and towns can't pick and choose to ban those.

Ted Simons: Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems as though the argument is especially from cities and towns is there's a disconnect on state lawmakers just even understanding how local governments work. Is that accurate?

Ken Strobeck: I think it is very accurate and in part it's because so many people get involved in the legislative process who haven't ever gone through a local government process. They have not served on a school board or at the local city or town council and so they get to the state legislature and they're approached by special interest groups and lobbying groups that say wouldn't it be great if we stopped the cities from doing this or that so they introduce bills without understanding that what works in one city doesn't always work in another city. We think that most of those kind of decisions should be locally made rather than dictated at the state level.

Ted Simons: And many of the bills as we mentioned in the intro, matter of statewide concern was the quote we saw on many of these bills. This seems to be an increasing tendency.

Ken Strobeck: It's been around for a number of years but I think it is increasing. I just clipped a few bills just before I came over, property rights are a matter of statewide concern. The sale, use and disposition of auxiliary containers is a matter of statewide concern. So the legislators often go to the lawyers and the lawyers say put this in in case you're sued so we can say it's a matter of statewide concern and we're seeing more and more of that.

Ted Simons: How much should the state have on local decisions?

Ken Strobeck: Again, it's going to be a matter of pull and tug. At the local level we say don't tread on us and at the state level they say we're the higher government we can tell you what to do. There's always going to be a bit of give and take but when it gets into some really micromanagement of the local government decision making, I think that's when it crosses the line and there's always going to be debate over where that line is.

Ted Simons: I noticed you were concerned with inserting punishment into legislation. Is this a newer trend?

Ken Strobeck: It's an increasing trend that if you don't do what the law says, then we are not only going to have the attorney general or the county attorney file charges against you, we'll also put in statute that you will be fined a certain amount, that you can't use public resources to defend yourself, that you can be removed from office, we're seeing more and more of those kinds of sort of substituting for the judiciary putting those in to state statutes and we had several examples of that this year on the gun bills, on other bills that affected city officials.

Ted Simons: That guns in public buildings bill, that failed. Your thoughts on that particular legislation.

Ken Strobeck: 23-20. That was an interesting one because it's a little different than the guns in public buildings bills that governor brewer vetoed for the last three years. This one sort of made a distinction between the common man and somebody that has a ccw permit, a concealed carry weapons permit and it said that you can't ban somebody from bringing a weapon in if they had a ccw permit. That's a little different than saying you can't have any kind of ban whatsoever. So that was a little different but it still would have required any city or any actually state or county that wanted to ban guns in a particular building would have required staff, screeners, $130,000 per entrance per year and that would have been ongoing.

Ted Simons: So with all this in mind and we're kind of seeing the trend, we're seeing things moving in a certain direction. What does the league say -- I'm a lawmaker, what do you say when I say the state does have control?

Ken Strobeck: The state in a way it does, the Constitution says charter cities do have some authority, but there's always going to be that argument, that discussion. What I would say to lawmakers is go back and talk to the mayors and the council members in your district. Ask them what they think about these particular laws and maybe some of them would say we like this, you know, set of laws or we don't care for this set of laws. I think what they need to do is respond more to the constituents that they are representing rather than to the special interest groups that come and approach them.

Ted Simons: All right. Good stuff. Good to see you again. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ken Strobeck:Executive Director, Arizona League of Cities and Towns;

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