'We the people' means just that

It's a common cry when government suggests raising fees or taxes: Why us? Why does it always have to be the taxpayers?

That sentiment has come through loud and clear in Phoenix all year as city leaders have struggled with how to deal with a financial crisis. It was there again Tuesday, when 80 percent of voters rejected a fee the City Council approved to cover fire and police, among other services.

Fees like this in any city or district come with legitimate concerns about the government's ability to impose them without first getting the thumbs up from taxpayers.

But there's a larger issue in play here and elsewhere, and that's the idea that taxpayers shouldn't shoulder the burden at all when government asks.

That thinking is at odds with the basic way government works. Residents — taxpayers and people who pay fees for services — do fund it. Whether the funds flow in through local, state or federal routes, we are the source of money for any government.

So if there's a question, it really shouldn't be "Why us?" but whether the need is real.

How debatable is that in Phoenix? All year, leaders have very publicly struggled with balancing the budget. The city has gone through several administrative leaders and council members who have hopped aboard to tackle problems and then have given up and left, at times in the face of what can only be called abuse from the people they've attempted to serve.

Would the council have been better off approving a fee with a clear ending date or collecting approval from the community before it was imposed? Yes.

Could it have done a better job handling its resources a couple of years ago, when it sold property to the county and then bought another piece it hasn't yet put to use? Possibly.

But here's what else we've seen: Earnest leaders who have joined the effort since attempting to engage a community increasingly hostile toward any talk whatsoever of a solution involving their money.

City employees have cut budgets and have tried to talk about what surcharge level would fly. They appointed a citizens' committee to explore answers. They tried to explain that the fee would go to basic services.

Still, only 200-some residents were willing to help when it came time to vote.

The opposition may consider its job done now. But unless people opposed to paying are ready to disincorporate Phoenix and give up city living entirely, we'd say it's just beginning.

Phoenix needs to find a way out of its predicament, something it will be hard pressed to do without help from the people who make up — and must pay for — the government.

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