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June 11, 2012

Host: Ted Simons

Arizona Sales Tax Reform

  |   Video
  • Governor Jan Brewer’s Transaction Privilege Tax Simplification Task Force is set to start working on recommendations for simplifying Arizona’s sales tax code. Hear what Arizona Horizon's own panel of experts thinks the task force should focus on. Guests include Executive Director of the Arizona Retailers Association Michelle Ahlmer and tax attorney James Busby of Gallagher and Kennedy.
  • Michelle Ahlmer - Executive Director, Arizona Retailers Association
  • James Busby - Tax Attorney, Gallagher and Kennedy
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: sales, taxes, reform, update, ,

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Ted Simons: A governor's task force set to start work on recommendations for simplifying Arizona's sales tax code. Here to discuss what the task force should do is Michelle Ahlmer, Executive Director of the Arizona Retailers Association, and tax attorney James Busby of the law firm Gallagher and Kennedy. Thanks for being here. What exactly is this task force tasked charged to do?

Michelle Ahlmer: The big picture is to simply our privilege tax and the way it's administered, collected. That's a big hurdle. It may not sound that complicated to the average citizen, but it's a huge undertaking. We have one of the most complicated tax regions in the nation.

Ted Simons: It sounds as though something needs to be simplified. Does something need to be simplified?

James Busby: Absolutely, Ted. Arizona is one of just a few states in the nation that requires separate reports for some cities. We collect taxes for the Department of Revenue from any taxpayers. Then we have cities collecting taxes from the very same taxpayers. It's a very burdensome system.

Ted Simons: How’d that system come into play? Why is it like this?

James Busby: It's actually better than it used to be. In 1987, the Municipal Tax Code Commission was created and they created a model city tax code so today our city selects from an option of items that are taxable or exempt. It used to be before this tax code that every city could have a completely different tax code so it made some steps in the right direction but with over 52 options to choose from we have too much complexity.

Ted Simons: So a standard for state and local governments would be a nice start?

Michelle Ahlmer: It would be terrific. Right now Arizona's among four states that cost more if you operate on a nationwide basis. Arizona and three others cost more to collect than the rest of the nation combined. That's a huge hit to businesses that are operating nationally.

Ted Simons: I asked how this came into play now let me turn it around. Why hasn't this been addressed a long time ago? Sounds like this is a lose/lose situation. Who is slowing this down? What's the impediment?

Michelle Ahlmer: Arizona has a strong bent toward local control. So any time you go in and you want to take away some authority from the cities, that's a big challenge. It's not that we don't want local control, but a centralized collection point, one point of collection would be really significant along with one point of auditing. When you do that, and we have such a commerce that is moved from one city to the next without a lot of regard to where they purchased it, for instance if you return something, does that return apply to the city that you bought it in or to the city that's receiving it if you don't take it back to the same exact store? Things like that that will be very complicated to work out but it's workable. It has worked in other states that have undertaken it or never had it. So there's ways to fix it.

Ted Simons: Talk about the dynamic between states, cities, town, states. Sounds like a mishmash but everybody seems to know, but it's like a messy house but you know where all the stuff is.

James Busby: That's right. We have 91 cities in the state of Arizona that decided to collect a sales tax. Of those 91, 78 are collected by the state of Arizona but there's -- I'm sorry, 73. That leaves 18 cities still out there collecting their very own taxes. So each month you have to prepare a separate report and that's both to the city as well as the state.

Ted Simons: That's a cost to the state, isn't it that extra work?

James Busby: It's a cost to the taxpayers to begin with then of course a cost to the state. We have duplicate systems where the Department of Revenue will collect taxes and they’ll do it for free for any city that wants them too but the cities have the option to opt out of that central collection system and collect their own. So we have duplicate systems in place.

Ted Simons: Is a streamlined sales tax movement afoot nationally. What's that all about?

James Busby: That started back in the year 2000. I remember when that came -- when there was first discussion about that I thought this is going to be a great thing. So far there are 24 states that have adopted this streamlined sales tax code. They went through and came up with uniform definitions that apply not just in a state basis but nationwide. But to implement those definitions the state legislatures had to change their respective state laws. So today we have only got 24 state legislatures that have done that. They only represent about 31% of the national population, which means the large states, the California’s, the Texas’s, New York’s, the Florida’s, haven't come close to complying nor has the state of Arizona.

Ted Simons: Why not Arizona? It can't be done in Arizona? Is it viable?

Michelle Ahlmer: The streamlined sales tax project, probably not.

Ted Simons: How come.

Michelle Ahlmer: Because of the complicated nature that we have. To make those changes some of it would be very controversial. While I believe that task force that's going to be meeting can make great strides towards that, I think what will really happen instead of the streamlined sales tax project taking effect everywhere eventually at some point perhaps years from now, the federal government may act but if they do, it will say streamlined states you can start collecting, but if you have not adopted streamline these are the requirements. Some will be addressed by the task force meeting. We're grateful. We appreciate the governor for taking this initiative. It's a big job, but I'm grateful that they are able to take the challenge and do it.

Ted Simons: A big issue is internet and catalog sales tax revenue. That's just a whole big can of worms here. What do you want to see the task force do in addressing that?

James Busby: You're absolutely right. That’s a huge issue. States lose billions of dollars every year for failing to collect taxes on internet sales. It's actually an issue that affects not just Arizona but it's a nationwide issue. The problem is that under the commerce clause of the U.S. supreme Constitution, you have to have a certain physical presence in the state before a state can reach out and have the authority to tax you. If we have these companies that don't have any physical presence in the state of Arizona under current law it's very difficult for any state to reach out and collect taxes from them or touch them in any way that affects their legal rights and responsibilities.

Ted Simons: One thing you want to see the task force recommend?

James Busby: Simplification in the sense we want a uniformed tax base between the state and the cities.

Ted Simons: What would you like? One thing?

Michelle Ahlmer: We want it all. You brought up online sales. I think changing the definition of a presence is key to fixing some of the problems. We don't buy things the same way we did when that definition was created. We believe there's a presence for an online retailer, so we have been told that that will be a significant issue that will be addressed.

Ted Simons: Very good. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us we appreciate it.

Former Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano

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  • Former Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano talks about his new book, The Campaign Within: A Mayor's Private Journey to Public Leadership. It’s a personal memoir of his private and public life as Tempe Mayor, during which he was forced to reveal he is gay.
  • Neil Giuliano - Tempe Mayor
Category: Government   |   Keywords: tempe, mayor, giuliano, former,

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Ted Simons: Former Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano has been a public figure for most of his professional life. For most of that time he tried to keep his personal life a secret. That all changed in 1996 when he announced he was gay after a Tempe resident threatened to out him. Since then he's been a prominent spokesman for gay and lesbian rights and he’s just written a book about his struggles to balance his personal and private lives. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us. A typical question is why did you write the book. I’m not going to ask you that.

Neil Giuliano: Okay.

Ted Simons: I'm going to ask, when did you decide to write it?

Neil Giuliano: I started writing it when I was still in office shortly after I came out publicly. Bill Davis was a reporter for the then Tempe Tribune and he suggested this was an interesting story, that it could possibly be historic. That's a long time ago now in the arc of the gay rights movement. We worked on it together, brain stormed, then my story changed over time and here it is a long time later and it’s finally out.

Ted Simons: Did you intend for this book to be as personal as it is? Because folks may be looking for political operations and others at campaign issues. This is a very personal book. Did you intend that from the start?

Neil Giuliano: No. In fact my first thought was I wanted to just do an autobiography and kind of just do a very nuts and bolts this is what happened from my coming out in a very political sense. What I realized was especially because of the historic times we live in for gay and lesbian Americans it was important to give the back story that informs my behavior, my decisions, my activities over a long period of time really that helped form my personality. That's why it turned into a memoir.

Ted Simons: Who encouraged you to write a book like this? Who discouraged you?

Neil Giuliano: It's interesting. Some of my political supporters, some of the political people that I have counted on for great advice over many, many years said, “Do you really want to be that honest? Do you really want to come that clean on so many different topics?” They were more hesitant. The people who were supporting me were personal friends, people from the gay rights movement who said, I believe now having led GLAD Gays and Lesbians Against Defamation for four years, telling our stories is the way we change hearts and minds. I decided I would fully tell my story as well.

Ted Simons: The process of writing can be a self-discovery kind of process. When you were writing this, now even when you were writing it now that it's in hard cover, did you learn things about yourself?

Neil Giuliano: I learned things about myself. There's so many parts that I actually wrote about that didn't end up in the final book. What’s fascinating about writing a book is that it's my story but the publisher owns it, it's the publisher's product so to speak. There were I thought really great stories with great excitement that didn't get into the book in the end.

Ted Simons: Did it ever feel like -- I ask this a lot of authors, especially people writing about themselves, did it ever feel like you were writing about someone else?

Neil Giuliano: I think when I was writing about when I was very young, a child. I didn't remember a lot of my childhood. I talked to some family members to help remember some things, piece some things together. At that point it was like how much of that was really me? Then I was assured by others, “Yeah that was you. You were that little not kid. That little snot kid, that destructive kid in the classroom.” It was really interesting to come to terms with that.

Ted Simons: As far as coming to terms with other aspects of your life, you are such a different person now than before you came out.

Neil Giuliano: Of course.

Ted Simons: That person, is that still you?

Neil Giuliano: I'm not as guarded. In the sense I guess you have to say not entirely is that still me. I'm just so fortunate and feel so grateful that I chose to live openly, that I didn't choose to live a life of deceit, a fake life. I could have easily married a woman, gotten into that kind of relationship, had children like many, many people do. I'm so grateful that I didn't choose that.

Ted Simons: Couple of things in the book when I read them I thought, you still read about this kind of stuff from folks who have been politicians and may have political ambitions. You had a mystical experience regarding your father. Talk to us about that.

Neil Giuliano: Well, it was a crazy time. He had been dead for a while. A fraternity brother of mine at Arizona State University when I was resident advisor was killed in a tragic car accident on the Friday of homecoming weekends. I was struggling with my own self-worth, who am I, what am I really all about, and I firmly believe after Chuck's funeral and all of the drama with that that my father stood at the end of my bed and told me, “It's okay. It's okay.” And I know people will say, “You were delusional, under stress. But I really believe he was there.”

Ted Simons: You wrote about this.

Neil Giuliano: Yes.

Ted Simons: No hesitation writing about it.

Neil Giuliano: No. I think opening up and allowing people to see that we're all complex in one way or another, that's why I called it the Campaign Within. Obviously it has the political thing but really that within journey and that experience with my father after he passed away was a very real one.

Ted Simons: One other point I read in the book, I thought you don't read this from aspiring politicians of the past very often. Suicide was contemplated at one point. Contemplated it sounds relatively seriously.

Neil Giuliano: It was a really rough time when I was in college, when I was a sophomore in college. I didn't fit in with the straight guys. I felt really bad about it at the time. But I would walk right by the group of guys on campus that were at the gay student organization table. Some of them knew that I was one of them, that I was gay also. Some of them didn't. There was never that kind of conversation about that. But it was a very, very difficult time, very time of really struggling. I really got to the point where I didn't think I was ever going to fit in, that I would ever be successful, ever accomplish mission, ever make anyone proud of me which as the Italian American Catholic kid growing up it was all about making someone proud of you. I thought about well, I can just walk out into the street in front of these big trucks that are coming by and not deal with this anymore. What I had read, what I had heard from my church and from society was you're immoral, disordered, you have nothing to offer because you're not like everybody else.

Ted Simons: Difficult to write about?

Neil Giuliano: It was difficult to write about but also I think because so many even today so many young people still struggle with their sexual orientation, even their gender identity, it's important for people to realize you may have those feelings, but you put them aside and move on and you find people who can help you. You just press on as hard as you have to and you can become anything you want to become.

Ted Simons: When you were writing the book sometimes authors will have a person in mind or a kind of person, composite person. Who did you write this book for?

Neil Giuliano: I wrote it for young people who are still struggling about their own identity. I also wrote it for the broader society, straight folks, to help them understand that even someone who from all outward appearances was successful and was involved in politics and hopefully did a good job in politics still had a really tough time as a young adult and still struggled growing into adulthood with some of these issues.

Ted Simons: Do you have political ambitions for the future?

Neil Giuliano: I haven’t decided that. I'm so fortunate, I have a great position, I'm CEO at San Francisco Aids Foundation, keep my permanent residency here in the valley, which is really great. I love being able to come back and forth on that 90 minute flight. I just don’t know. I watch what’s going on in politics right now. The voices of the extremes are dominating everything. I hope we'll come back to the center at some point.

Ted Simons: Do you think that's what happened in the last mayoral race in Tempe? That was a really nasty race.

Neil Giuliano: I think it was reflective of what's going on nationally. When the only voices getting a lot of play are the extremes people get drawn to those. We need to put that aside. We need to get back to governing for the 60% to 70% that are in the middle.

Ted Simons: We have about 30 seconds left. Do you think that all those years that you kept your private life secret, quiet, do you think you would be the person you are now if you had not done that, if you had been open earlier?

Neil Giuliano: The way that I led my life certainly provided me the foundation and the internal fortitude, gave me the strength to be able to become what I have become, accomplish what I have been able to accomplish with a tremendous support group and a whole lot of other people haven't accomplished anything by myself. The way my life has played out has been right for me. Everyone has to see and understand their own campaign within.

Ted Simons: Fascinating read. Thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon," a discussion on the potential impact of a merger between US Airways and American Airlines. We'll look at the issue from a marketing perspective. That's Tuesday at 5:30 and 10:00 right here on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simon. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Glendale-Coyotes Deal

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  • The City of Glendale is expected to approve a 20-year, $300 Million deal to keep the Coyotes in Glendale. Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal explains the details.
  • Mike Sunnucks - Reporter, Phoenix Business Journal
Category: Sports   |   Keywords: Glendale, coyotes, sports, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Glendale City Council voted to approve a deal to keep the Coyotes in the city for the next 20 years but the new owner still needs to secure financing, the NHL still has to give its okay and the Goldwater Institute is planning another court challenge. Here with more is Mike Sunnucks who has been covering the story for the Phoenix Business Journal. What exactly did the council approve?

Mike Sunnucks: It was a 20-year deal $15 million a year to manage the arena. That's $300 million dollars that’s a big chunk of change, probably the biggest arena management deal in the country. I haven't found a bigger one than that. He does pay rent if he buys the Coyotes the city will have a surcharge on tickets, $2.75, $3 a ticket. The city will get a piece of naming rights revenue if they rename arena and Mr. Jameson’s group also gets the right to charge for parking. They don't charge for the Coyotes games now. It's a controversial deal. It's geared towards helping grease the skids to get the sale done and bring in the investors and equity that he needs to make it happen.

Ted Simons: It sounds like he's supposed to manage and improve the arena. What does that mean?

Mike Sunnucks: He will manage the arena like somebody would manage any arena throughout the country. Most deals aren't big, flat fees like that, though. They might get a piece of revenue if they do a lot of concerts. They may control all the revenue and not get paid. This is a different kind of deal it’s a flat fee that the city will shell out every year for him to do it ranging between 17, 20, down to 10 after a while. It's geared toward giving a long-term tenant in there long term money streams for Jameson's group.

Ted Simons: Did I hear there was also something in the deal allowing him to actually buy the arena after a certain amount of time?

Mike Sunnucks: He would have the option to buy at whatever the market value is. First right if the city wants to sell it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the arena deal. Someone said, “If he buys it we won't have to pay the arena management fee but who would buy the arena when you have that revenue stream coming in?” It's a controversial deal. The city thinks it's legal under the gift clause. They think it fits in, if you take all the revenue going out and coming in, it may not be the best deal in the world to people but it doesn't go against the court cases on gift clause subsidies.

Ted Simons: Yet this is a city with $35 million shortfall, layoffs in cuts and services, tax issues as well. That obviously has to play. The city council meeting, what was the mood there?

Mike Sunnucks: More people have come out against this deal than the other Coyotes deals that have come out. In the past deals you had a lot of Coyotes people show up and a lot of fans show up. You had Gary Batman and Jameson and Bill Daily from NHL were all there talking about how this is important but there was much more animosity towards the council this time. Couple folks running for mayor out there they testified against it. There's a realization that it's Glendale. We have budget problems out here. The Coyotes are losing money. But they are in this quandary. Maybe hockey doesn't work out there what happens with the arena? I think the Glendale folks that voted think they see this arena if it will be a white elephant if we let it go and West Gate will follow.

Ted Simons: And yet the mayor saw past that.

Mike Sunnucks: The mayor voted no. She's been in the past a vociferous Coyotes supporter. She supported past deals. Her patience ran out this time. She's more skeptical about whether the sale will get done. We have heard this for a couple years. The city approves it, the sale is going to get done, just fork over a few more bucks and we'll make this happen. I think she's skeptical. One thing they did which would spark what Goldwater sued over was the flow of public documents was not coming out until the last week. They wanted to keep the information away from Goldwater so they couldn't scuttle this deal like in the past. That worked against the mayor because felt left out of the loop.

Ted Simons: Interesting, I know that the Goldwater Institute is looking at two different avenues in public information and access, or lack thereof, and the gift clause. What is the Goldwater Institute saying?

Mike Sunnucks: They will come back most likely and try to get the vote voided saying they violated open meetings, public records laws. Glendale released a lot of information kind of last second. They tried to get the vote stopped on Friday. The judge said, “No you can’t really do that but if you want to try to void it afterwards you can.” That's still a tough go to have a court void an elected body's action. Then they will come back with the gift clause argument and maybe go after that. I think what could happen here is Goldwater doesn't need to win in court to scuttle the deal. If Jameson's investors are so tenuous or not there right now and there's a lot of uncertainty and lawsuits, that may be enough to scare them off. This is a tough sell.

Ted Simons: And that happened the last time.

Mike Sunnucks: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: They got scared off because of threat of a lawsuit.

Mike Sunnucks: The city wanted to sell bonds, Goldwater sent letters to the banks saying we're going to challenge this. That scared everyone off. That may be the end game for Goldwater. He better have his money in place to get this done.

Ted Simons: Yes or no: closer than ever for a deal here?

Mike Sunnucks: Skeptical. It is. This certainly helped move the puck along but it's a tough deal. Tough sell.

Ted Simons: Alright, good to have you here. Thanks for the information.