Our View: State tax mess, other big items deserve open debate

March 4, 2019

Last year, Arizona lawmakers extended the legal shelf life of eggs, thus allowing egg cartons to now boast “Fresher Longer!”. This year, they’re on the verge of disallowing almond milks and similar products from being labeled milk.

This attention to detail suggest the Arizona Legislature is paying attention to the nooks and crannies of life.

Too bad the same attention isn’t being paid – at least publically – to the big items that really matter, namely the state income tax mess, the onerous additional $32 vehicle registration fee and, oh yeah, an education budget. The latter topic has the potential to bring about teacher demonstrations and walkouts, just as it did last year.

The income tax conformity issue should’ve been dealt with last legislative session, but they kicked the can. This session, Gov. Doug Ducey is demanding conformity with federal tax law, which will have the effect of costing taxpayers some $150 million or more this year. He’s vetoed one bill that would’ve reduced that obligation.

With Democrats taking Ducey’s side, there’s little chance Republicans have votes to overcome the veto. This leaves Arizonans less than 45 days from tax filing deadline without a clear sense that the new tax forms are even legal, much less whether the tax amounts are correct.

Numerous groups, including the Lake Havasu Area Chamber of Commerce, have written Ducey asking for conformity that doesn’t place an extra burden on taxpayers.

Ducey says he wants the Legislature to deal with this as part of the regular process. There’s the problem. The Legislature always waits until the closing days of the session to pull together a budget that largely reflects deals made in small, closed groups and few know the details.

Are there discussions going on about tax conformity and that vehicle fee, the latter another showdown issue with the governor? Of course, though it’s not in public view. Education? Of course, because the state now has to finance new raises it promised teachers.

The most pressing of these topics is tax conformity. If Ducey has his way, there will be a tax increase regardless of what he wants to call it.

One Senate bill would mostly approve conformity but retain most deductions reduced or eliminated in federal tax law. It passed the finance committee and has sat idle since.

Legislative discussions on this topic need to be brought into the public arena and the issues needs to be settled long before the usual last-minute budget cobbling that leaves few understanding what was approved.

Besides, Arizonans need to know it’s legally and financially safe to file their taxes.

— Today’s News-Herald