relief Sen. Martha McSally during the virtual town hall hosted by the city of Surprise.

The Senator suggested smaller cities rely on trickle-down from larger municipalities who qualify for coronavirus relief.

A virtual town hall in Surprise, Arizona, took a turn last week, when special guest Sen. Martha McSally told residents that she opposed federal relief to help the city get through the coronavirus pandemic.

“On any funding, I’m just going to be frank with you guys, OK?,” McSally said. “This is not the time for states and cities – unlike Arizona, unlike Surprise – who have mismanaged their budgets over the course of many decades, for them to use this as an opportunity to see you, as a taxpayer in Arizona, as a cash cow for them.”

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First discovered by Arizona Mirror, McSally’s comments come at a time when cities of all sizes are experiencing economic woes from the current health crisis. The city of Surprise, who McSally said point-blank would not be receiving aid on her watch, went from a $7.5 million budget surplus in February to a $15 million deficit by May.

Even if Surprise had received funding through the federal CARES Act, the budget shortfall resulting from the pandemic would still be a problem. One of the rules municipalities must follow when accepting federal relief is that it cannot be used for budget deficits.

Despite this, McSally touted the funding aid received by three Arizona cities as an avenue for smaller municipalites to find economic reprieve.

“We’ve already given $150 billion in state stabilization money that three cities in Arizona got directly from the federal government – that’s Mesa, Tucson, and Phoenix,” McSally said. “The rest of the money will flow through the state to the cities.”

While the senator has called for revisions in how cities can spend money from the CARES Act, she stopped short of supporting additional funding.

But even if regulations eased to allow cities to pay off deficits, the city of Surprise would still fail to see any relief come its way. That’s because only cities with more than 500,000 residents qualify to receive financial aid. The only Arizona cities to meet this criteria are Phoenix, Tucson, and Mesa.

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When asked about McSally’s harsh comments towards his city’s financial future, Surprise Mayor Skip Hall told Arizona Mirror that he “didn’t want to embarrass her.” Hall was acting as moderator for the discussion, and didn’t want to cause a disruption during the virtual town hall.

Further perplexed by her comments was Executive Director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns Tom Belshe.

Belshe, who works directly with elected officials of cities and towns across the state, said that assistance is crucial for the survival of some municipalities.

“This is not something that we’re crying wolf on. There is real need out there,” Belshe said. “Every city and town is taking a significant loss because of our dependence on sales tax.”


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