The Maricopa County budget will be tentatively adopted May 18. The county must balance its budget in light of $31.9 million in cost shifts and mandatory contributions needed to balance the state budget. In addition, the county has absorbed drops in property tax and sales tax revenues during the recession years. Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chair Steve Chucri will tell us more about the budget of the state’s largest county.
TED SIMONS: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved a new $2.2 billion budget yesterday, with much of the money going to public safety and criminal justice. Joining us now is Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chair Steve Chucri. Good to see you again.
STEVE CHUCRI: Good to see you, nice to be here.
TED SIMONS: $2.2 billion dollars, is this thing balanced?
STEVE CHUCRI: It is balanced. And as you know, this new Board of Supervisors who's coming in to the county, I guess most of us have been there two and a half years have been more business focused. You know, how do we bring this business money to government? The product you see before you, the tentative budget we passed yesterday, I think is a good work product with a business perspective to it.
TED SIMONS: We mentioned balance. It's one thing to be balanced and another to be structurally balanced. Is this structurally balanced?
STEVE CHUCRI: It is structurally balanced. And Ted I could tell you reading a P & L in business and a P & L government are two different things. What we mean by structurally balanced means that we're providing a budget that works, we're providing a budget that isn't necessarily drawing down on surpluses to meet the obligation. We're actually working with the dollars we have and appropriating those dollars to make sure we're balancing.
TED SIMONS: Speaking of the dollars you have, $32 million in state budget impacts everything from cost shifts, mandatory -- what's this all about? How far does this go in your dealings with the state?
STEVE CHUCRI: If you look back to 2008 going forward, really that number is approaching about $280-some million. As some of my colleagues would admit, I think it's tough to take on those burdens from the state. But at the end of the day we all have to realize the county not only Maricopa County but all 15 counties in Arizona, we are an arm of the state. With that, that means we have certain responsibilities and mandates to follow. I look at it more as we're putting our shoulder to the wheel with the legislature, we'retaking on this burden, and we're going to work through it. We also want to say, look, this cannot be in perpetuity, ongoing. You're shifting the cost to the other hand and you're going to force eventually increases in taxes.
TED SIMONS: How do you make that argument when it seems like it increases, it goes on and on -- critics look at this budget and see $269 since the recession absorbed by the county they say the state is balancing its budget on your back.
STEVE CHUCRI: In many ways you can make that argument. I don't think we can lose sight and I appreciate your thought process here, but I don't think we can lose sight that we are an arm of the state. With that we have a fundamental responsibility to work with our Speaker of the House, legislators and President of the Senate. However, I will tell you I don't believe we can continue to do this in perpetuity. Some of these cost shifts Ted must go back to the state or we're doing exactly what you're saying. Or should I should say the legislature is doing what you're saying, and that is shifting these costs, and we have to tackle them each and every year. At some point we're going to have to cry Uncle because we won't be able to fulfill it.
TED SIMONS: Another concern of drops in revenue, property taxes, sales taxes. How much of an impact was that on the discussion for this budget?
STEVE CHUCRI: We're fortunately starting to see an increase now as the economy starts to heal, although it's very tepid, we're inching our way out of this, not growing our way out. We're starting to see new construction come on which is great. We are starting to see the values of homes start to increase, naturally not because investors are coming in and driving prices up. It's what I call a healthy increase in home values going up. As we continue to see that go, forward, we're optimistic that it helps with these shortfalls, but that's only one slice of the pie as you know, as far as the income coming into Maricopa County.
TED SIMONS: You can look at it two ways, it's been a factor before but it's getting better. How do you forecast that in the budget?
STEVE CHUCRI: We do so very carefully and cautiously. I would tell you that few years back before the new board came into existence, they were almost overly cautious. Where you would call that padding one's budget. We're more focused I think now than we are historically, but putting a sensible budget that's practical. We're seeing an increase in sales tax revenues which is encouraging, and vehicle license tax revenues.
TED SIMONS: Does that mean that these zero-based budgets--talk to us a little about that because I know it's relatively new there at the county. It's submitting zero-based budgets, will that continue once tax revenues and property revenues the whole nine yardsâ€¦ once they get back on track?
STEVE CHUCRI: We are shifting the whole mindset in Maricopa County. We're shifting it to a business mindset where you have zero-based budgeting. Let me give you a great example. We had several departments, more than 50% of departments asking for an increase in year over year budgets. By the time we went and sat with them and said here are the vacancy savings, and other ways to get money without increasing your budget, a fraction of those ended up getting an increase. We're sitting down, which never happened before until last year. It wasn't until the chairman of the Board of Supervisors went and sat with the electeds and went over their budget. So not only is it zero-based we're bringing in a new mindset that's pragmatic that's saying, look, we've got do something differently, and we have to roll up our sleeves and stop just increasing budgets for the sake of increasing budgets.
TED SIMONS: And yet the only departments that did get an increase is criminal justice, public safety and over half of this budget is devoted to those areas why?
STEVE CHUCRI: That goes back to something we spoke about earlier. My emphasis has been â€˜it's about needs, not wants.' We have all these capital projects that are definitely necessary, but not necessary today. It's like driving your car to 100,000 miles right? We're trying to maximum the best we can all of our capital. And then as we need to expend on dollars for new improvements, we will. But 52% of our budget is to public safety, and that's important. And that's something you can't chance on. So that's where we put our money, we had to do it, no other choice. Other costs were sitting to the side and waiting.
TED SIMONS: How much of the budget has to be spent on the case regarding the sheriff's department that, ongoing case and just the penalties and costs involved, we're reading anything from $50 million total and then some. What's going on there?
STEVE CHUCRI: Well, it's unfortunate in many ways. I don't think anyone wants to in any way celebrate what's happened here. It's not what we'd like to see happen. And what we're doing to end up complying with Judge Snow's ruling. I think it's important that you and your viewers know that Maricopa County is positioned and will follow Judge Snow's order. We will be in compliance. We want to work with our deputies and went want to work with the sheriff's office to make sure we're carrying out these duties. I am pleased to tell you that year over year in the past two years lawsuits against Maricopa County have gone down 10 percent. On one track we're making great progress, on the other track we continue to make progress there so those dollars spent will come down over time as compliance continues to go onward.
TED SIMONS: This budget, the money involved impacts on delivering county services. Will there be much of an impact, if any?
STEVE CHUCRI: No, I think the good news is we're looking at environmental services you know the mosquitos we have during the summer. We are look at making sure we have enough deputies on the streets and sheriffs and the resources we have impacts to be what we should be at the fourth largest county in the nation. So no I expect things to only be better in that regard, not less.
TED SIMONS: Thanks you so much for joining us.
STEVE CHUCRI: Thank you for having me.
TED SIMONS: Appreciate it.
TED SIMONS: The national assessment of educational progress recently announced its 2014 report card, and it shows no improvement in the low proficiency of the nation's eighth graders in the subjects of history, geography and civics. Here now is Frank Riggs, President and CEO of the Joe Foss Institute which works to improve civics education.
TED SIMONS: Nice to see you.
Steve Chucri:Maricopa County Board of Supervisor Chair