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State GOP lawmakers pushing $162M tax cut

PHOENIX — Saying the state has more money than it needs, Republicans on a House panel voted Wednesday to cut state taxes to the tune of by nearly $162 million this coming budget year — and an undetermined amount years down the road.

The biggest part of HB 2778 as approved by the Ways and Means Committee on a party-line vote is an across-the-board cut in individual income tax rates. That move alone would reduce state revenues by $100 million a year, though the benefit to individual taxpayers varies.

Another provision would give businesses the ability to write off more rapidly the deprecation of equipment they buy, giving them an additional income tax deduction.

The one that could have the biggest impact over the long term, however, is to increase the amount that individuals who do not file itemized tax returns can still deduct in charitable contributions from the amount of income that is subject to state income taxes.

For the coming fiscal year that loss would be $2.1 million.

But Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said the legislation would increase that allowance annually according to inflation. So the reduction in state revenues would be $4.2 million the year after next, $6.3 million the year after that — and who knows how much beyond that, as the legislative fiscal analysis does not go beyond that.

Epstein worried that this change alone eventually could balloon to $100 million a year, money she argued is needed for Arizona to meet its needs for everything from education to the problems of the homeless.

That argument, however, did not convince Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear.

“There are always needs,’’ she said. “We certainly could spend every dollars that is here.’’

But Osborne said it is the job of lawmakers to achieve “balance.’’

“And that balance also goes towards the taxpayers,’’ she said.

And Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who crafted the legislation, brushed aside concerns that cutting tax rates will eat into needed state revenues.

“Broad-based tax cuts and just cutting red tape in general will lead to more revenue for everyone,’’ he said. “We’ve seen that happen in spite of the fact that some strongly wish that that was not true.’’

The legislative staff analysis of the measure does not spell out how much individuals will actually see in tax relief.

Current law has four income tax brackets, ranging from 2.59 percent for taxable income up to $26,500 a year for individuals — double that for married couples filing jointly — to 4.50 percent on income exceeding $159,000.

The legislation would drop all the rates slightly, with a new minimum of 2.53 percent and a new maximum of 4.45 percent.

Figuring out what that means is a bit more difficult.

A single person with a $25,000 taxable income now owes $648 in state income taxes using the current table. Everything else being equal, the legislation would shrink that to $633.

Someone at the $50,000 level would see the tax bill decline by about $30 to $1,441.

And individuals with $200,000 in taxable income would find they owe $6,710, down from $7,836.

What the committee approved is only part of what some Republicans are proposing to cut taxes.

Gov. Doug Ducey wants to eliminate all state income taxes for retired military. That has a $43 million price tag.

And Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, has a package which also includes reducing business property taxes.

Part of the reason the state has money that some want to translate into tax cuts is a pair of actions last year that effectively raised taxes.

One was “conforming’’ Arizona’s income tax structure to changes in the 2017 federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

It eliminated many available deductions, replacing that with a higher standard deduction. But even with Arizona increasing its own standard deduction at least some people still ended up paying more because of those lost deductions.

The other was the decision by lawmakers to begin taxing online sales following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said states are free to levy their taxes on all sales made into the state, regardless of the source. Prior to that, anything ordered from out-of-state retailers who had no physical presence in Arizona, like a retail store or distribution center, was exempt.

That tax took effect in October on retailers making at least $200,000 in direct sales in Arizona.

Lawmakers built about $85 million into the budget for the current fiscal year that runs through June 30. But legislative staffers say that the actual impact will be $70 million more. And that doesn’t count another $150 million that will go to local governments for their own sales taxes.

Epstein, however, said it’s wrong to see the additional revenues as excess revenues.

“It is not a surplus when we look at the needs of the state,’’ she said. “The needs of the state far outweigh any revenue that we have.’’

At least part of that, Epstein said, is education.

“Our classes are so overcrowded,’’ she said. “And our teachers, we have shortage of them everywhere.’’

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Owning a pet leads to lasting romance for some couples
 mstaude  / 

CASA GRANDE — It was a cat named Coco that sparked a romance between Stephanie Faunce and her significant other, Vanessa Osife. For Brad Phillips and his wife Jen, it was shared love of dogs.

“I believe it was the cat who brought us together,” said Faunce, who was raising a litter of kittens when she first met Osife in 2010. “I was so nervous to talk to her. The first thing I said to her was ‘do you want a kitten?’”

Phillips and his wife are both dog groomers, but he was living in Casa Grande and she was living in Canada when they first met through a chat site for dog groomers.

“It was definitely the dogs who brought us together,” Phillips said.

For countless couples owning a pet, whether it’s dogs, cats, guinea pigs, horses or other animals, has led to romance.

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, Rover.com released the results of its “Anatomy of Dog Love” study that explores the science behind the human-canine bond and the impact it has on romance.

Based on a survey of more than 1,500 dog owners, “Anatomy of Dog Love” revealed that 61 percent of people believe owning a pet can have a direct impact on their romantic life whether they are in a committed relationship or dating.

Among dog owners questioned for the survey, the study found:

  • About half said that co-parenting a pet together results in quality time as a couple.
  • More than 70% said they are more attracted to their partner after seeing how they care for their pet.

Among dating dog owners, the study found that:

  • About half would only be in a relationship with a dog person.
  • One in five have stayed in a relationship longer because of their partner’s dog.
  • 72% are likely to click on someone’s dating profile if there is a dog in the picture.

Cindy Sutton, board secretary for Valley Humane Society, a nonprofit, no-kill shelter in Casa Grande, said that the benefits of owning a pet go far beyond romance.

“There have been so many studies that prove that pets help to lower blood pressure, anxiety levels and much more,” Sutton said. “For seniors, in many cases they are left alone after raising families and they feel they are no longer needed. A pet to take care of gives them that sense of being needed once more as well as fills that loneliness void and gives them purpose again.”

As well as providing a common interest that can spark a romance, owning a pet can also impact health, she said.

“There are so many people out there young and old with diseases that have been proven to be helped by owning a therapy pet to calm them or help them to deal with whatever is going on in their lives,” Sutton said. “The majority of these pets are dogs, but there are plenty of other pets that can provide the same benefits.”

About 86% of pet owners in the Rover.com study said they felt more like a family because of their dog, and two-in-three pet owners reported that raising an animal made them more confident in their parenting skills.

For Osife and Faunce, the two became friends and bonded over Coco the kitten.

“After I asked her if she wanted a kitten, she came over to meet them,” Faunce said. “Shortly after becoming friends, we were dating.”

Ten years later, the couple is still together and Coco is no longer a kitten. The couple raised Coco together along with Faunce’s son from a previous relationship.

“Now here it is in 2020 and we still have one of the kittens and my son, who was 3 when we started dating is now 13,” Faunce said.

Phillips and his wife recently celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary.

“We managed to find a way to meet and fall in love,” Phillips said.

After their love blossomed over their mutual love of dogs, Jen moved to Casa Grande and the two built a life together, raised dogs and ran a dog grooming business.

Although Phillips retired a few years ago, Jen still grooms. The couple now has five dogs.

For the positive impact animals can bring to lives of people, Sutton said dogs and cats ask for very little in return.

“Our pets give us 110% and all they ask for in return is food, water, a home and lots of love,” Sutton said. “After all, their love is unconditional.”

The Rover.com study also found that the vast majority of dog owners — more than 95% — believe their dogs love them back.

About 62% said they plan to purchase a Valentine’s Day gift for their dog and one in three said they’d spend just as much money on their dog as their significant other.

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Southbound promises lots of music to get CG audience dancing
 mstaude  / 

CASA GRANDE — When Southbound performs during a special Valentine’s Day Concert in the Park on Friday, members want to see everyone in the audience dancing and having fun.

And with a musical repertoire ranging from George Strait, Luke Combs, Chris Stapleton and Tom Petty covers to “Fireball” by Pitbull and “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, group spokesman Jeff Leece said there’s no excuse not to have a good time.

“We’re a fun party band and we play diverse songs that keep the show fun,” Leece said. “Audiences always like the way we perform Chris Stapleton’s ‘Tennessee Whiskey — that’s always a favorite.”

While the show promises a diverse selection of classic country and rock hits, they’ll also include some of their original music.

Southbound was formed in 2007 by Justin Hitson, the group’s lead singer and songwriter. The group released its first single, “Pass Me The Bottle,” a few weeks ago. They plan to perform it on Friday for the Casa Grande audience.

“It’s been doing really well on SoundCloud and Google Play,” said Leece, the group spokesman. “We’re excited to see how Casa Grande likes it.”

“Pass Me The Bottle” is described by the group as a song with “strong/soulful vocals, catchy lyrics, funky rhythm section, top-notch guitars and the best fiddle this side of the Mississippi River. With a blend of country, rock, soul, blues and funk, this song will have you stomping your boots.”

Their next two singles, “Crazy Tonight” and “I Pray,” will be released later this month.


Southbound performs with Roger Clyne.

Over the past 12 years, Southbound has performed throughout Arizona and in Mexico. They’ve performed with national acts such as The Lost Trailers, Hal Ketchum, Ned Ledoux, G. Love, Craig Campbell and Tempe-based rockers Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers.

“Southbound has opened for Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers on many occasions,” Leece said. “We’ve also opened for Nashville recording artist Craig Campbell back in November in Scottsdale.”

Hitson wrote “Crazy Tonight” as a tribute to Roger Clyne.

As well as Hitson on lead vocals and rhythm guitar and Leece on bass guitar, Southbound also includes Greg Ahmann on lead guitar and vocals and Tommy Corbin on drums.

The group has a busy performance season planned. On Feb. 29, they’re set to headline the Chili, Bourbon & Beer Festival in Chandler and in April, they’ll head to Country Thunder near Florence for the second consecutive year.

“We play at one of the popular camps on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (of Country Thunder),” Leece said. “Many other Phoenix area musicians come to the site and sit in with us for a big jam.”

The Friday Concert in the Park is from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Community Recreation Center, 1905 N. Peart Road. It’s free to attend. Attendees may bring blankets or chairs for seating. The Secret Ingredient will be onsite selling food.