Should the Arizona Legislature help Microsoft pay its APS bills?
Tuesday was a light day at the Capital. There was no floor action, but I had time to catch up with colleagues and sign some of their bills. I wanted to tell you about the conversation I had with two Microsoft lobbyists about the tax break that Microsoft wants.
You may remember my blog post on Powers For The People (back in December) about the tax review committee that I was on, due to my membership on the Ways and Means Committee. One of the income tax credits that we reviewed was for an Apple international data center to be built with renewable energy in Mesa. At the time, Apple was offered a TPT (sales tax) break also, but the committee reviewed only the income tax break.
The lobbyists were in my office because Microsoft wants the TPT tax break that was offered to Apple. I told them that I really don’t support tax giveaways to multinational corporations. ￼Period. I don’t support any tax giveaways when ~68% of Arizona women aren’t getting first trimester prenatal care, and that is contributing to AHCCCS wasting $2-4 billion dollars on premature births (Not to mention the long-term health effects of prematurity.) When thousands of Arizona mothers and their children are living in poverty with food and housing insecurity, why would I prioritize a tax break for one of the most successful corporations in the US?
The lobbyist told me that the reason Microsoft needed a TPT tax break because “electricity is too expensive in the state of Arizona.” Microsoft doesn’t want to pay sales tax on electricity for this giant data center. International data centers take a use a lot of electricity because it is a building full of servers and cooled to ~65 degrees. This particular tax break is related to data centers built with renewable (solar) energy, which will already lower their energy cost significantly.
For years, Democrats in the Legislature have been calling for a review of the tax credits and the other tax giveaways. The goal of the review process is to recommend continuation, amendment or repeal of tax credits.
Decades of “business friendly” bipartisan votes in the Legislature to reduce income taxes and boost the economy have left us with $661 million in income tax credits claimed (AKA lost revenue) and more than $1.6 billion in unclaimed tax credits, ready to be cashed in, according to David Lujan, executive director of the Center for Economic Progress. This is not sustainable.
For the first time since 2014, the Joint Legislative Committee to Review Income Tax Credits met on Dec. 19, 2019. This was an historic day, and I was proud to be part of it.
According to statute, this committee is supposed to meet before the end of each calendar year and review tax credits that were passed in designated years. For this meeting, we reviewed tax credits that were passed in years ending in four and nine. We reviewed three tax credits that were recommended for elimination in 2014 (motion made by then Rep. J.D. Mesnard), but no action was taken by the Legislature to actually repeal them. Two of those– Healthy Forest Tax Credit and the Agriculture Pollution Control Tax Credit– were again recommended for elimination at 2019 meeting because they have been mostly unused for years. Income tax credits that are not used for more than four fiscal years are supposed to disappear, but somehow they hang around in the code, even Senator and Committee Chair J.D. Mesnard complained about this at the meeting. The majority voted to continue the other tax credits with additional performance measures attached in some cases. (For the recorded, I voted to repeal all of them. Read on and learn why.)
Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now radio show has a long history of hard-hitting, investigative journalism. Today’s show (October 25) juxtaposed Progressive Congresswomen Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib grilling Facebook CEO with a story about homelessness in California.
These stories represent the two sides of California– a land of extreme wealth and innovation that also houses 50 percent of our country’s homeless population, according to Goodman.
“In a Democracy Now! special report, we look at the rise in homelessness in many major cities across the United States. California has become the poster child for this economic and humanitarian disaster, with growing encampments in Los Angeles and the Bay Area as more people are forced onto the streets. The state is home to 12% of the country’s population but half of the country’s unsheltered people. As the crisis deepens, so has the criminalization of homelessness, with increasing efforts by city and state officials to crack down on unhoused people occupying public space. President Donald Trump made headlines this month for attacking California’s politicians over the homelessness crisis, threatening to destroy encampments, increase police enforcement and even jail unhoused people. But advocates say California has already employed hostile policies that criminalize homelessness, from laws against unsheltered people sitting on sidewalks to frequent sweeps of the encampments that have popped up on thoroughfares and under freeways across the state’s cities. One of these crackdowns is currently unfolding at a massive Oakland encampment that Democracy Now! visited just a few weeks ago.”
Do you remember the controversy surrounding redevelopment of the Ronstadt Transit Center? Back in 2013-2014, developers were making a play to redevelopment the Ronstadt Transit Center. They had pitched redevelopment of the Ronstadt in the past and failed; the 2013-14 plans revolved around building something on top of the Ronstadt. I mention this ancient history because the Ronstadt redevelopment project– which I mistakenly thought had died a silent death– popped up at a recent Mayor and Council candidate forum as a good idea. Now I realize that demolition of the Ronstadt Transit Center is on the horizon– along with construction of more luxury apartments and yet another “boutique hotel.” Groan. Why are we doing this? Why are we destroying our sense of place and community on Congress Street and 4th Ave. in exchange for big boxy buildings?
Old timers like me remember the original design and intent of the Ronstadt Transit Center as not only a transit hub to bring people in and out of downtown but also a community gathering space. In fact, I often wrote about and photographed downtown when I had my writing, photography, and design business in the 1980s and later in the 2000s as a downtown artist. In addition to writing for Dateline Downtown, a weekly downtown newspaper, the Tucson Arts District Partnership was one of my clients. In the 2000s, as Wind Dancer Design, I was a member of Central Arts Gallery, one of the former on Congress Street galleries that were replaced by restaurants and bars.
The low brick walls were designed as benches and gathering spaces around the Ronstadt Center. The rustic brick, custom decorative tiles, and the large decorative brick patio area (with bricks from the Ronstadt Hardware Store, that once stood there) gave the design a sense if place and purpose. Form + function makes for good design. The patio, which had tables at one point, was designed for people to sit while they waited for the bus or had sandwich from one of the restaurants or a food cart set up on the patio.
There’s nothing like waiting until the last minute to make a decision. Today, the Drought Contingency Plan, tax conformity and the first Ethics Committee Meeting related to the complaints against Rep. David Stringer. As usual, you can watch all of the floor and committee action on azleg.gov by clicking on the Capitol TV link.
The House Ways and Means Committee passed HB2522 today. This is the revenue-neutral tax conformity bill, which would give the richest Arizonans a tax cut.
The Democrats stood strong and said that we should not give a tax cut when there are so many needs in our country. Also we must look at investment for the future rather than giving away money today. Our rainy day fund is underfunded. If Wall Street crashes the economy again, Arizona will face more devastating cuts, when we haven’t recovered fully from the last cuts.
This bill and the mirror bill SB 1143 need a 2/3 majority due to the emergency enactment clause, since we waited until the last minute to act on tax conformity. It will be difficult to get these out of the Senate or the House. Democrats need to stand strong on this.
Tax conformity with the Trump tax plan which was passed by Congress in December 2017 has been loping along in the Arizona Legislature … until today. This morning, the former Speaker and current Senator JD Mesnard did a presentation on what he wants us to pass for tax conformity. He has been quoted in the newspaper as saying that he wants tax conformity to be “revenue neutral”.
If Arizona decides to do full tax conformity, as Governor Ducey has suggested, Arizona will gain an estimated $150-$200 million per year extra for the general fund. If we do revenue neutral tax conformity as Mesnard has suggested, we will throw that extra $150-200 million revenue out the window by offering tax cuts along with tax conformity.
The December 2017 Trump tax plan raised the standard deduction and eliminated some itemized deductions. If you make less than a six-figure salary and you don’t itemize your taxes, you will be better off with tax conformity.
In order to ram these bills through the committees, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee have been rescheduled for Monday, January 28 at 10 AM. This is not the regular meeting time. We are required to vote on HB2522 and SB1143 simultaneously.
These bills were placed on agendas late today. If you are on Request to Speak (RTS), you have until Monday morning to voice your opinion. If you believe that Arizona should say “NO!” to more tax cuts and should use the money to cover state needs (or prop up the rainy day fund in the event of a Wall Street downturn), you want clean tax conformity— NOT revenue-neutral tax conformity as HB2522 and SB1143 propose. All hands on deck.
Unlike many years, the Arizona Legislature will have money to spend when it convenes the 54th Legislative Session on opening day, January 14, 2019. We have an unexpected $900 million in one-time funding due to unexpectedly high sales tax returns and personal income tax returns.(Gosh, could the minimum wage have played a role in this?) We also have $200 million in the structural budget (money that should be available for three years).In addition, there’s tax conformity and review of the tax giveaways.
Today’s video topic is tax giveaways. Do tax breaks for developers, sports teams and big corporations really spur economic development? In Arizona’s 53rd Legislative Session there was a growing bipartisan backlash against tax giveaways (including tax exemptions, tax cuts and tax credits). Many tax giveaway deals died like the capital gains tax cut and the tax exemption for digital goods purchases in 2018 and several corporate welfare bills in 2017.
After all, Arizona state government is giving away or otherwise excusing more than $13 billion in taxes each year and saving only about $10 billion to run the state. The teacher raise was accomplished through 50 fund transfers from one department to another, plus several efficiency savings which transfer programs to other funding sources outside of the general fund. That is no way to run a government.
I stand against the tax giveaways and with #RedForEd. If we ever want to fully fund public education, we have to stop cutting taxes and stop giving tax revenue away.
For this reason, I am a Rio Nuevo skeptic. Rio Nuevo is a $14 million sales tax giveaway that passed in 2018 and was extended to 2035. Rio Nuevo is a tax increment financing district (tif). If you look on the Internet, the jury is out regarding how well tifs work or if they are a good investment of public funds. I have several unanswered questions about Rio Nuevo. What is the total taxpayer investment in each Rio Nuevo project (ie, Rio Nuevo funds, city sales tax rebate, free land, city GPLET deal, Arizona Commerce Authority, and federal incentives)?