Border Wars: Tax Revenues, Annexation, and Urban Growth in Phoenix


Phoenix and neighboring municipalities, like many in the South and West, pursued a growth strategy based on annexation in the decades after the second world war. This article explores the link between annexation and competition for tax revenues. After discussing arguments for annexation, it traces the history of annexation in the Phoenix metropolitan area. A long‐running series of ‘border wars’ entailed litigation, pre‐emptive annexations and considerable intergovernmental conflict. The article argues that tax revenues have been a key motivation for municipalities to seek annexation, particularly since the 1970s. The timing of annexation was an important component of the strategies of municipal officials. Developers sought urban economic growth, but did not always favor political expansion of municipal boundaries through annexation. The article then considers several related policy issues and argues that while opportunities for annexation are becoming more limited, competition for tax revenues (particularly sales‐tax revenues) continues to be fierce, creating dilemmas for municipalities in the region.