January 25, 2016
Cities should ask voters for bond money on true needs, Arizona Daily Star
By Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Special to the Arizona Daily Star
The failure of the recent county bonds package has caused some rethinking of how we approach investment in our community. Do we look first to the region, or to our own cities and towns?
While City of Tucson voters supported several of the county’s measures, their votes were drowned out by overwhelming opposition in unincorporated areas of the county and surrounding municipalities.
The reasons I heard most often for the bonds’ failure were too many projects (almost 100), too little justification why voters (as opposed to the private sector) should bear the cost for some of them, and too long a time horizon (some projects wouldn’t start for decades).
Also, there seems to be less interest these days in supporting projects unless the benefits can be seen closer to home. The kind of horse-trading elected representatives engage in, supporting projects in each other’s districts, is not usually the kind of thing we ask voters to do.
This may be part of the reason why Phoenix was successful in passing a seven-tenths of a cent sales tax solely for transit—because city residents knew it would benefit them. In fact, in Maricopa County, it’s most often cities, and not the county, that finance public investment.
In Tucson, we’re looking at running our own ballot measures, asking voters to invest in our city. But before we do that, we’re going to ask Tucsonans what functions of city government they’re willing to support.
We’ve had great success with Proposition 409, the city’s 5-year streets bond, which is continuing to come in under budget and ahead of schedule. With Proposition 409, we created a detailed plan that said what streets we were going to fix and when, and so far, we’ve delivered on what we promised—and more. You can check out our progress at https://maps2.tucsonaz.gov/prop409/.
For years, the city has cut staff, consolidated functions, sold excess property, and put in place efficiencies where it could. Today, Tucson city government is a lean operation. Our financial challenges are mainly the result of a state-run public safety pension system which the city does not control. But whatever the cause, these challenges must be met.
I’ve said many times that we have to look to ourselves and each other to make things happen for our community. Results of the county bond election show that Tucson city voters are willing to invest in their community. And results of the city’s streets bond show that Tucson city government can deliver on its promises.
I don’t know at this point exactly what a city proposal to voters would look like, but I do know that whatever it is will be limited and focused on core services and voters will be given specific information on what they’re being asked to support and why.
Regional cooperation is important, whether it takes the form of municipalities working with each other or with the county. But it’s time cities put their own proposals on the ballot—proposals focused on supporting the core functions of government. Tucsonans are ready, willing and able to improve our community, and the key to that is investment.