Ted Simons: Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton stops by the "Arizona Horizon" studios each month to discuss issues of importance to the state's largest city. Tonight we address a number of issues, including community budget hearings and a new proposal to reduce the city's food tax. Here now is Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton. Good to see you again.
Greg Stanton: Happy to be here again.
Ted Simons: With these community hearings on the budget, what we are talking about here?
Greg Stanton: The city of Phoenix is hyper-transparent. Every year the city manager proposes a budget for the city and we take that show on the road. We don't do late-night presentations of the budget and votes the next day like some other governmental entities do. We spend a month and a half on the road. We have do 20 budget hearings. I will personally have been to seven or eight of them. I am heading to one in the west Phoenix as well. We do a live online budget hearing tomorrow night on channel at the city of Phoenix. We really, really want to hear from the public as to what they think about the proposed budget and we will take that into consideration and ultimately change the proposed budget based upon what we hear at these hearings.
Ted Simons: What are you hearing?
Greg Stanton: Support for biking in Phoenix. Believe it or not the group that has showed up the most are people that want the city to become more bikeable. People that support parks and arts and libraries. These are well-organize groups that care passionately about the future of the city. After school programs, come up regularly. People need to see more and more after school programs particularly in these tough budget times. Those programs when done right and well really enhance the academic experience of our children and so they are very, very popular. So as you would expect it's people who come to these hearings that really like the programs that the city provides, believe in those programs. And hopefully that budget as it improves we are able to provide more of those programs to the people of Phoenix.
Ted Simons: Do they understand the limitations of the budget as it is? And as it pertains to these kinds of requests?
Greg Stanton: Sure. In fact, as you know the budget this year is essentially a break-even budget. There are some increases, small increases for things like arts and after-school programs. We are actually for the first time in many years going to be hiring new police officers under this proposed budget. But it's about $5 million in new programs on a budget of about $1 billion. So it is essentially a break-even budget. Obviously, I wish we were much further along economically, that our revenues were higher. We still have some budget challenges that we need to be cognizant of those budget challenges. There's a long term trust that builds up between the city and the residents of the city. And I certainly have inherited that trust as mayor of this city. And so when we say it's a break-even budget we can't do more, I think people are generally understanding of the situation.
Ted Simons: There's a move afoot by a couple of council members,regarding a partial repeal of the food tax. What are they talking about? How viable is such an idea?
Greg Stanton: Sure. At beginning of the budget cycle, of course, I asked the city manager to present a budget with the food tax and without the food tax because it's important. I think most people would agree in the city that they want to eliminate the food tax you this but they don't want to do it in the way that would hurt our core mission, public safety or our core services or a negatively impact our budget rating. There are some members of my council of course who want to get rid of the food tax tomorrow regardless of circumstances, even if it would require almost 100 police officers being laid off. That doesn't represent the majority of the council. What the councilor are asking for is to see if we can eliminate half the food tax on January 1st of 2014, but only if we can do it in a way that doesn't impact police, fire, and other community services. I think the majority of council agree with that sentiment that we should always be kicking the tires. We want to get rid of the food tax but we want to do it in the most responsible way. If the budget improves over the next eight months, and we can reduce the food tax in a way that does it so we don't hurt public safety or core services we ought to be open minded to that.
Ted Simons: Councilwoman Williams says she thinks you can find $25 million or so to cover the lost revenue and the police and fire and community service won't get hit. Again, is that realistic?
Greg Stanton: Well, we will see. That's the honest truth. By the way, they want to implementation of receipt do you said food tax to start January 1st of 2015, not immediately which means that instead of a $25 million hit on our budget it would be about a $12 million hit on our budget. And my position is, if we can do that responsibly in a way that doesn't impact public safety, we can do it in a way that doesn't negatively impact our core services, and we can protect our credit rating. Because that's important that we don't engage in budget tricks. As long as I have been in elected office in Phoenix we have maintained our triple A credit rating. We don't want to do anything that would put that at risk. If we can accomplish that of course we should be looking at ways to reduce the food tax.
Ted Simons: How much has this issue divided the city? How much has it divided the council?
Greg Stanton: We are in the business of making tough decisions. Yes, the food tax is a high-profile issue. It tends to make the front page of the paper on a regular basis. Ted, we deal with tough issues all the time at the City of Phoenix. We passed an access to care ordinance to provide Medicaid just like they are doing it with the state. We did it on a 6-3 vote. Guess what? I don't mind division on my council. In fact, I want my council members to lead with what they think is in the best interests of the city. As long as they are acting in good faith I don't mind division on the council. I think good solid division, we debate the issues in a healthy ways for the city.
Ted Simons: Is it a healthy division on this issue?
Greg Stanton: Yeah. I don't mind people speaking their mind and saying what they believe it. And I work closely with all of my members. I treat everyone professionally and I want everyone to present what they believe is in the best interests of the city. And I think if you talk to every member of the council you will find that is the way I operate as mayor. Division per se is not a bad thing. Negativity for the sake of negativity is not healthy for the city of Phoenix but, no, healthy division on a tough issue is not a problem as long as we are all professional and move forward in good faith.
Ted Simons: The State Senate is look at, actually OK'd a gun by buyback bill. That would be a bill that requires cities to sell guns from gun buy back programs, not destroy them. They say destroying is a waste of money and time, et cetera, et cetera. What are your thoughts on this?
Greg Stanton: I don't think that's good public policy. I actually think that law enforcement should make that decision. Local law enforcement. And so I think that any time our friends at the Legislature try to pass laws which take away local control, take away local decision-making, particularly in the area of public safety, I really think that public safety decision-making should be left in the hands of our police chief and the leadership of the Phoenix police department. We don't want to substitute a political agenda for a true law enforcement agenda. I actually defer and believe that law enforcement decisions are best made at the local level.
Ted Simons: How would this, let's say this gets through. Let's say it gets signed. How would it impact Phoenix and gun buy back programs in your city?
Greg Stanton: I am proposing a gun buy-back bill. This would have no impact on the bill I am proposing because it's privately funded. Money from our donor is going directly to Arizonans for gun safety. They will be the fun that actually is the entity is the receiver of the money and makes the decision of the disposition of the weapons. Obviously our friends at the Legislature have been strong proponents of private property rights and they would not want to violate people's private property rights by telling them how to dispose of their personal private property. City of Phoenix will be partnering because as weapons get handed in we want to see if it's been stolen so or if it's been used in a crime so we can help solve that crime. It's what we owe victims of crimes. So the city of Phoenix does have an important role to play in the gun buy back but it's important to know this is a private-public gun by buyback.
Greg Stanton:It starts the first Saturday in May. It will happen at churches in South Phoenix, Sunny Slope and in West Phoenix and we have a great team that's putting this together and we will obviously watch the news. There will be a lot more details about it but I expect it's going to be a huge, huge success.
Ted Simons: Couple of issues real quickly. The civil action about what happened in Bisbee with the attorney general has said and has done. What Bisbee wound up doing. And just what Phoenix has done.
Greg Stanton: Well, I actually think it's much ado about nothing what Bisbee did. That's why when the attorney general threatened a lawsuit, I thought you might as well sue the Phoenix. While they call theirs a civil union we have had a domestic partner registry. Which is used for a variety of sources including allowing couples, gay and lesbian couples, to have hospital visitation rights in the city of Phoenix. It allows companies who want to provide domestic partner benefits for their employees to use that as a legal basis if a couple is registered on our registry. And so my thought was if you are going to pick on Bisbee you might as well pick on the city of Phoenix. People are reasonable. Bisbee was trying to make a statement about their support for the gay and lesbian residents. Their community. I have tried to be very supportive of gay and lesbian residents in Phoenix. We don't need heavyhanded lawsuits. We need to work together to be more supportive of the people are our communities. That's why I spoke on that issue.
Ted Simons: The attorney general said basically you can't grant community property and inheritance rights the way Bisbee, Phoenix didn't do that. Bisbee did. That's how Bisbee overstepped its bounds. Valid?
Greg Stanton: If you read the actual ordinance that Bisbee had passed, it said it's only limited to rights that can be granted by the city. They may have listed some possible additions that they shouldn't have done. But why don't you call the city attorney and say, hey, there's a few issues here. I think it's fairly patently obvious what was going on and threats of lawsuits are very heavy handed and meant for front-page news. It's unfortunate. We need to be more supportive of again all the diverse communities within our cities including our gay and lesbian members of our citizenry. I thought Bisbee did the right thing in sending that message.
Ted Simons: Last question. It sounds like the Goldwater institute is tar getting the town of Gilbert over some city-run operations here. What are your thoughts there? Because everything from libraries to swimming pools, the whole nine yards could be affected here.
Greg Stanton: Yes. I have no idea what Goldwater is thinking. I have spoken directly with mayor john Lewis of Gilbert saying Phoenix and I as mayor stand with you. We are trying to organize all the mayors to get out there and do a little workout at that facility and send a message that good community services including recreation services is part and parcel of what cities do. We provide services for the people of our cities. And for the Goldwater institute to threaten a lawsuit against Gilbert for simply providing recreation services, I think most people are going to be angry about that. I am certainly angry about it because this again as you just said threatens so many core services that cities provide. And I think our friends at Goldwater may have overplayed their hand on this threatened lawsuit.
Ted Simons: Is there not a case for someone who runs a gym, a books store and they are look at the library saying what am I doing, what am I doing because they have this recreation center? Is there a case to be made that it's not fair to those businesses?
Greg Stanton: No. If libraries are a threat in our society, a threat to anyone, man, we are in trouble. Libraries are so, so important for our young people giving them an opportunity to read so many books that they otherwise wouldn't be able to read, providing reading programs for our kids. Community rec centers providing maybe an opportunity for people in a very cost effective way who have diabetes or other conditions where they need exercise. Let's be honest it's very different than the services provided at the private workout facilities. I respect those folks. But let's get our priorities straight. Providing library service, recreation services that's what cities do. That's why we exist.
Ted Simons: Speaking of priorities, ASU baseball going to be playing at Phoenix Muni?
Greg Stanton: Absolutely. We have reached an agreement with our friends at ASU, ASU baseball is an awesome institution in our community. Literally championship level baseball. One of the top countries in the country. I am super excited that Phoenix Muni will now be the home of ASU baseball. We got to get it all worked out. They will play a couple more sense there but we are preparing for that transition. You will see the ASU name all over Phoenix MUNI where I used to watch Phoenix giants games as a kid.
Ted Simons: Good to have you here.
Greg Stanton: Thanks very much.