by Marion Chubon
On July 27, Arizona Daily Star’s, Danyelle Khmara wrote about the Pima County Assessor race. In her story highlighting the three candidates, Suzanne Droubie, Brian Johnson and Dustin Walters, she wrote about a questionable donation to Suzanne Droubie. Karl Watson of Watson Chevrolet, who is involved in litigation about the valuation of his property with the current assessor, Bill Staples, gave $6,000 to Droubie’s campaign.
“Droubie’s opponent [Brian] Johnson says it’s questionable to take donations from property owners since they can appeal their property value directly to the assessor, and potentially get their property taxes lowered.”
It is important to know who is donating to candidates because these donations can show influence, as we highlighted with our analysis of key votes in the Arizona Legislature.
Droubie was late submitting her two July financial reports, one for the second quarter and the other a pre-primary financial report. Droubie’s second quarter report was two weeks late and the pre-primary was a day late. A pre-primary report covers the first half of the month prior to election. This informative document includes last minute donations for the campaign.
While Droubie’s first quarter report definitely showed a concerning pattern of a particular type of donor, the second quarter report was downright shocking. Of the $11,292 dollars in donations for the second quarter, 80% or $8992.20 came from the real estate industry. More troubling is that 70% or $7,872 of her donations came from one property owner: HSL properties, founded by Humberto Lopez. Lopez is a prolific donor to Republican causes. First quarter filing showed 57% coming from the real estate industry. The pre-primary showed 43% of the $2,160.60 revenue came from real estate. Keep in mind that these numbers are based on self-disclosed employment information given at the time of the donations. The percentages could be higher.
And like the Watson conflict of interest, it turns out that Humberto Lopez is also engaged in a dispute with the current assessor over the value of his properties.
The first quarter report, as mentioned earlier showed a distinct pattern. We had hoped that as Droubie’s campaign picked up speed, and voters were inspired by her message, more individuals donating small amounts would alter the trend away from the majority of Droubie’s money coming from the real estate industry and richer members of the Chamber of Commerce. However, that wasn’t the case.
In addition to the $6,000 donation from Watson in the first quarter and $2,000 from his buddy, Paul Weitman of Royal Automotive dealership, (the two have owned several racehorses together), other Chamber darlings, came in big for Droubie. Well-known Republican high-dollar donor Jim Click donated $2,500. The Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce gave $1,000 and Norbert Lawson of Hook and Crane Service Inc. donated $3,000. Not to be outdone, real estate businessman Gregory Moore chipped in $6,000.
Is She a Democrat, Independent or Worse?
In 2016 Droubie ran for this office as an Independent. In the Arizona Daily Star article she bristled about questions of her commitment to being a Democrat stating, “There was literally a six-month window there where I was registered as an independent, other than that, I’ve been registered as a Democrat my entire life, and a very vocal Democrat.”
Given that the majority of her donations are coming in from well-known Republicans who are used to getting what they pay for, coupled with a documented penchant for agreeing with Republican politicians on social media, her “very vocal” form of being a Democrat comes into question.
Why should the average voter care that a Democrat running to become the authority on the property value of all real estate in Pima County is largely funded by big business and the real estate industry?
- Property taxes account for 60% of the proposed 2020/2021 Pima County general funds.
- Those taxes are used to pay for roads, community health, elections, courts, libraries, parks and more.
Suzanne Droubie worked for the assessor until six years ago when she took a job with a company that helps big businesses get out of paying their fair share of taxes. Paradigm Tax Group, her most recent employer, represents clients in their disputes with the assessor over the assessed value of their properties.
Equity in Assessing Properties Needs Closer Look
As our country reconciles with the inequities of our financial systems and the ways that the already wealthy rig the system, clear patterns of systemic racism are emerging. The property tax assessment systems are no exception.
A recent breakthrough study found that Black and Latino homeowners pay more than their fair share in property taxes. According to the study as reported by the Washington Post:
“The values of black-owned homes tend to grow more slowly than values of white-owned ones. The white people who make up the vast majority of home buyers tend to avoid black neighborhoods, which cuts black sellers off from many potential buyers. That can drive down the sale price of black-owned homes.
Given that difference in price appreciation, if an assessor assumes a black-owned home gains value as quickly as a white-owned home, the assessed value of the black-owned home will quickly outstrip its market value. Every year, the black family pays more in property taxes, even though the sales price of its home is not increasing as quickly. Nearby white families benefit from the opposite trend: Their homes increase in value more rapidly than their assessments, giving them an ever-growing tax break.”
“As part of their study, the economists reviewed 3.4 million property tax appeals from Chicago and surrounding Cook County and found black homeowners were significantly less likely to appeal their property tax assessments. When they did appeal, black homeowners were less likely to win. And when they won, they earned smaller assessment reductions.”
So in other words, poorer Black and Latino homeowners, whose homes don’t appreciate in value at the same rate as white and more affluent counterparts also pay more in property taxes. White, affluent property owners are also more likely to get reductions in assessed value, lowering the tax burden, but increasing value in the home.
The system is rigged against the little guy, and these heavy hitting donors are interested in keeping it that way. These wealthy donors get to keep more of their money than the rest of us. They get to build equity in their property faster than the rest of us, and they get to use the services like libraries and roads while paying less than the rest of us. We can’t guarantee that Suzanne Droubie will work for these privileged few while giving the rest of us the shaft, but local history tells us that these donors want it that way.
Study on inequities in assessing properties.