Picking The Pockets Of Local Government

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Let’s say you’ve resolved to be more financially responsible. That’s great. Praiseworthy even.

So to balance your accounts, you resolve to rob the next fellow who passes by.

Well. That’s much less admirable. Blameworthy even.

But it increasingly looks like standard operating procedure for the Legislature — and maybe even Gov. Jan Brewer.

Certainly, Arizona should reform its complex sales tax code. Heck, the state ought to reduce the sales tax and raise the income tax to make up the lost money, if it wants to compete in the recruitment of new businesses. The state’s heavy reliance on the sales tax helps account for the financial disaster inflicted by the last recession — when state revenues dropped by a third due to over-reliance on the sales tax.

So on the one hand, we applaud Gov. Jan Brewer’s effort to overhaul the sales tax, which remains riddled with exemptions.

However, it looks like the overhaul could well come at the expense of already hard-pressed counties and towns. That looks especially true when it comes to the effort to modify the 9 percent construction tax. For 80 years, most of the sales tax from construction materials has gone to the state and to the town where the contractor bought the materials. But some of the money has also gone to the town where the materials get used. That has helped fast-growing areas — which until four years ago included much of Rim Country. The change could inflict real pain here when growth resumes and we finally sign a deal to build a university.

Now, we understand the idea behind the reform — which has already passed a key House committee. Certainly, we’d like to see most of the complexities and loopholes swept away, with the money generated going to both lower the too-high overall rate and bring the state’s student spending back up to at least the national average.

But we’re sick of the Legislature’s habit of balancing the budget by mugging local governments. Gila County, Payson and the Payson Unified School District have all paid dearly so the state Legislature could balance its budget in the past three years, losing millions in funding.

Now, Gov. Brewer and the backers of the latest tax reform plan insist that they’ll put more money in the pot of gold they supposedly share with local governments. They also implausibly insist that the simplification will yield 31 percent more money by reducing fraud and under-reporting. But the state has a poor record of enforcing compliance or ferreting out fraud — and an even worse record of following through on promises to local government.

No doubt about it: We’d have a lot more confidence in the Legislature’s promises to reform if it didn’t have such a long rap sheet for petty theft.

Medical center scores

Payson Regional Medical Center once more earned ranking as one of the 100-best hospitals in the country through a survey done by Truven Health Analytics, a boon not only for patients but for Rim Country’s economy.

The health care consulting group reviewed the record of some 3,000 hospitals all across the country to settle on its annual list of 100 top performers.

The comprehensive survey included a review of patient deaths, complications and readmissions — all critical measures of the quality of care. The survey also considered cost-effectiveness, investment in medical technology and how well the hospitals addressed community needs.

The top ranking for 2012 represents the medical center’s fourth appearance on the top-100 list since 2006. Only one other Arizona hospital earned the rating this year.

The renewed ranking provides reassurance to patients — but also to businesses and residents considering a move to Rim Country. Certainly, the retirees and second-home owners on which the economy has so long depended should feel reassured by the ranking.

The 44-bed acute-care hospital also provides direct economic benefits to the region, with its 351 employees, 11,479 emergency room visits, 2,200 inpatient stays and 31,000 outpatient visits annually.

Of course, the ratings raise larger issues that hit home far beyond the Payson Regional Medical Center’s service area. Truven estimated that if all of the nation’s hospitals performed as well as the top-100, it would prevent 164,000 premature deaths annually just among the nation’s Medicare patients — and save $6 billion in the cost of treating needless complications and readmissions.

The finding demonstrates the need for critical changes in the nation’s medical care system.

But at least it also shows that Rim Country residents can turn to a hospital that’s part of the solution — not part of the problem.

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