[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Drowning out the voices of a handful of anti-tax protesters, hundreds of Phoenix residents and employees rallied Wednesday in support of the food tax, saying it was critical to save police, fire and other city services. “As council members, you have a responsibility to help us get through these tough times,” said Phoenix firefighter Greg Morales. “But as citizens we have a responsibility to do our part. I believe this can be done by supporting an emergency food tax.”
About 400 people attended Wednesday’s public hearing at Carl Hayden High School. It was the first of 15 that will be held this month to gather citizen input on the food tax and proposed budget cuts.
Last week, City Council members adopted a 2 percent tax on milk, bread, vegetables and other grocery items. The action came with little notice and just days after city leaders learned they would have to cut $140 million in services and programs to balance the general-fund budget. The 2-cent-per-dollar food tax, which takes effect April 1, would generate $62.5 million through June 2011. The extra revenue could prevent hundreds of job cuts and the halt the closures of senior centers, three libraries and dozens of community and youth-recreation centers. About $100 million in service cuts would still be needed. The council will vote on a revised budget on March 2 and the cuts will take effect in April.
Advocates from every segment of the community voiced support for their programs and services, from public transit to parks and recreation. More than a dozen teens urged the council not to cut funding to the Police Department’s Explorer Program. And about 50 equestrian riders, clearly visible in their cowboy hats, told officials they were willing to help raise money to keep the Arizona Horse Lovers Park operating. “Horse Lovers park is our home, said Ross Libonati, president of the Scottsdale Saddle Club, which uses the park. “We’re not here begging you to keep the park open. We are begging you to let us keep the park open.”
But not all were happy with the food tax. Rudy Pena, 57 and a Carl Hayden graduate, said the city needs to learn how to spend within its means. Tapping into the anti-tax populism sweeping across the country, Pena compared Phoenix to the British government before the American Revolution. “The city of Phoenix is not the British Army or the King of England,” he said, “but they are trying to impose a 2 percent tax on our food.”
For a list of proposed budget cuts and public hearings, visit http://phoenix.gov/budget/.