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Mayor Greg Stanton Switches Gears on Food Tax Repeal

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who pledged during this 2011 mayoral campaign to repeal the city's 2 percent emergency food tax by April 1, is not likely to deliver on that promise.

Stanton says he not betraying public trust.

"I believed the economy was going to be in a better place, and a lot of economists also believed that," Stanton says. "And during the campaign, I was criticized for taking the cautious even approach."

That approach was couching his pledge to repeal the food tax with a qualifier -- saying he was in favor of repealing the tax in a responsible way that protects public safety.

City Manager David Cavazos -- who got a $78,000 pay raise, bumping his salary to $315,000 -- crafted a proposed budget that looks at city services without the 2 percent food tax.

That preliminary budget shows that city officials would be forced to:

  • Lay off 99 sworn police officers and sergeants and leave three positions unfilled.
  • Eliminate half of the city's after-school programs.
  • Close Burton Barr Central Library one day a week.
  • Cut domestic violence and child victims' advocacy programs by $550,000.
  • Close five of the city's 13 recreation centers.

    "From a purely political perspective, I could just get rid of it. That would be the easy thing to do," he tells New Times. "But I'm a leader, and I have to take the facts as they are, not as I wish they were."

    He said that he knew he'd take "political hits," but his first job was to do what's right for the people, not what's politically popular.

    Stanton said in a statement that he couldn't jeopardize public safety.

    "The fact is our police department hasn't hired a single officer in the last three years. Two hundred and thirty-two officers have left our department since 2010, and we haven't been able to fill those positions because of a hiring freeze. That's already placed a heavy burden on our police, and making even deeper cuts would put the department at long-term risk."

    Former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon pushed for the tax in 2010, which was set to expire in five years.

    During Stanton's election, he pledged an early repeal of the tax -- but note the caveats.

    He wrote in a January 30, 2013 budget memo that "during my 2011 mayoral campaign, I made a commitment to the people of Phoenix from which I have never wavered. As a candidate, I told Phoenix residents that I would support early removal of the food tax by developing a plan that ensures reduced spending without affecting public safety and other key city services."

    In the midst of his campaign, Stanton responded to an ABC 15 question about the food tax: "The food tax needs to be repealed as soon as possible. If I was able to vote last week, I would have supported a repeal of the food tax two years early, and in a way that does not require termination or layoffs of sworn police officers and fire fighters. We can do this as soon as April 2013 and save taxpayers $100 million while also protecting key city services."

    He continued: "Sadly, my opponent [Wes Gullett] is playing politics with this issue and promising an immediate repeal. As Mayor, I will work to repeal the food tax in a manner that is thoughtful, responsible, and in the best interest of the citizens of Phoenix. It would be irresponsible for me to support an immediate repeal that would impact city services and Public Safety."

    Now, Stanton is the one accused of playing politics by Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who on Thursday called Stanton's actions a "bait and switch" on the middle class.

    "Today, just 10 days before his campaign promise to repeal the food tax by April 1st, Mayor Stanton fulfilled his commitment to the union bosses and failed the middle class," he said in a statement. "Promises made must be kept."

    Truth be told, "bait and switch" is a concept with which DiCiccio should be familiar -- after all, who can forget how he was ushered to his seat by the union bosses he now speaks of with such disdain.

    And DiCiccio, who has spent years railing about bloated government, joined his colleagues in voting to approve the massive pay raise for Cavazos.

    Whether the "emergency food tax" stays or goes, Phoenix residents will have ample opportunity to weigh in on the decision, unlike two years ago when the measure was approved with only the legal requisite of 24 hours public notice.

    View the dates, times and locations of the budget hearings.


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