Wednesday, September 15, 2010

To the Core, Updated

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 4:13 PM

My story this week, "To the Core," focuses on the city's economic troubles and the pitch for a half-cent sales tax.

One of the things that surprised me, as I researched the story: There didn't seem to be a very active campaign in favor of the tax, which voters will decide on Nov. 2.

Today, however, I got an email from Caitlin Jensen, who is managing the Keep Tucson First campaign. It looks like the campaign is getting off the ground, including a new website.

The Tucson police and firefighters unions are getting behind the tax hike, as are groups like the Pima County Interfaith Council.

It's going to leave an interesting choice for persistent council critics, such as Republican Lori Oien, who was very vocal in her support for a proposition last year that would have mandated staffing levels for police and fire. Unless the tax passes, both police and fire will face cuts, which is why both the police and fire unions are behind the effort. So does Oien back the police in this one, or does she stand with anti-tax activists like John Kromko?

Here's the release from Jensen:

Tucson’s economic crisis is real. A diverse coalition of community organizations and citizens want to Keep Tucson First when it comes to safety, quality of life and economic development and has formed to support Proposition 400, a half-cent sales tax increase that will raise $40 million a year for five years. The temporary tax was recommended by an independent committee that spent two months analyzing the budget and previous cuts. The funds will be dedicated to city departments for public safety, parks and recreation and transportation, including street maintenance and graffiti removal. The funds will be audited by an independent citizens commission.

Tucson’s economy has always been fueled by growth. The economic crisis

caused a $70 million reduction in construction sales taxes, sales taxes on goods and services and State-shared revenues. City staffing levels were slashed 20 percent over the past four years with current staffing at 1998 levels. All city employees have taken a 3.5 percent salary cut for the past two years in the form of 9 furlough days and pay more on health and benefits.

Roger Tamietti, a 26-year firefighter, says he’s never seen the City in a worse budget crisis. He warned that deep cuts would have to be made if Prop 400 fails. “Cuts will include 224 commissioned police officers and 150 commissioned firefighters,” he said. “Tucson can’t afford not to pass Prop 400.”

Coalition members said cuts would also affect Parks, Parks and Recreation’s KIDCO after-school program, prosecution for code violations pertaining to weedy lots, junk cars, zoning and neighborhood preservation and even deeper cuts to graffiti abatement. “We’ve cut to the bone,” said Eva Carrillo Dong, a Sunnyside School Board member and Chair of the coalition. “We believe that investing 50 cents for every $100 you spend in Tucson is a fair price to pay to keep Tucson a No. 1 city.” Groceries are exempted from the tax increase.

A partial list of coalition members includes:
Tucson Police Officers Association
Tucson Fire Fighters Local 479
Tucson Police Commanders Association
Pima County Interfaith Council: a coalition of congregations, education organizations and non-profits
AFSCME Local 449
Pima Area Labor Federation
Casa Maria
Pima County Democratic Party
Small Business Advocates
City of Tucson Retirees Association
JL Investments

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