Prop 310 would create tax to help fund rural Arizona fire districts
Sep 27, 2022, 4:45 AM | Updated: Oct 10, 2022, 11:38 am
(Facebook Photo/Rio Verde Fire District)
PHOENIX – Arizona voters will get to vote on 10 ballot initiatives in the Nov. 8 general election, including Proposition 310, which would levy a sales tax to establish a Fire District Safety Fund.
If it passes, Prop 310 would create a 0.1% statewide sales tax for the next 20 years to provide funding for the state fire districts. A vast majority of the districts are in rural areas. The funding would be distributed to districts on a monthly basis.
Proponents say the tax would be a small price to pay for better fire services, while opponents say it would be an unnecessary burden on taxpayers statewide.
Will Humble, executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association and former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, supports the proposed tax, which comes out to 10 cents for every $100 spent.
“Not every single one of them, but almost all the rural fire districts that do emergency medical services are badly underfunded,” Humble said. “A lot of times it’s just volunteers. Their equipment is old, nonfunctional or nonexistent.”
The Arizona Free Enterprise Club opposes Prop 310. In a blog post opposing the resolution that the Legislature eventually passed to put the initiative on the ballot, the group said it would result in a nearly $200 million tax hike statewide.
The post said Prop 310 unfairly increases taxes on all Arizonans to subsidize a few and does not include reforms to ensure responsible and accountable use of taxpayer money in the future.
“To the average voter, this may not sound like a big deal. After all, firefighters provide an important service that keep people and their property safe. But this policy would be a disaster,” the group wrote.
“If enacted, all Arizona taxpayers would be forced to subsidize 1.5 million other Arizona taxpayers despite already paying taxes for fire and emergency services in their own communities.”
Humble doesn’t dispute that.
“This is a subsidy, make no mistake about it,” he said. “This is subsidizing rural fire districts, and I think that’s a good thing. These people at the Arizona Free Enterprise Club think that’s a bad thing. We have a difference of opinion.”
The Arizona Free Enterprise Club also said Prop 310 is essentially a bailout for many of these fire districts that have mismanaged their budgets and wastefully and recklessly spent tax money in the past.
Humble says the rural fire districts aren’t wasting money to the best of his knowledge.
“Now, can you find instances where they did something bad? Probably. But for the most part they’re doing everything they possibly can to keep the wheels on, and it hasn’t been working,” he said.
Humble also says fire districts won’t be getting a free lunch though if the initiative passes. The lion’s share of fire and EMS district funding will still come from local property taxes.