The Tucson Association of Realtors wants to sell you a real fixer-upper.
From the curb, the Public Safety First Initiative sure looks good. Who can be against hiring more cops and firefighters?
But once you make a closer inspection, you realize the foundation isn't quite as firm as it looks. You might not have to put much money down now, but you won't be able to afford the payments that will come due in a few years.
Here are five reasons to reject Prop 200.
1. Public safety is already first.
The city of Tucson already dedicates nearly two-thirds of its general fund to public safety, if you count the money spent on the fire and police departments, the courts, the jail and the auxiliary support that public safety requires.
The rest of the city's spending—on streets, parks, economic development, arts, you name it—comes out of the remaining 36 percent of the budget.
Police and fire have not been neglected. Over the last decade, the percentage of police officers and firefighters has risen from 31 percent of the city's total workforce to 40 percent. Since 2006, the city has provided enough funding to add 80 new police-officer positions and 75 new firefighters. When a budget crunch hit this year, the cops and firefighters were spared the five-day furloughs that other city employees had to take.
In short: The current council members have demonstrated that they put public safety first. The city can't spend every dime on fighting crime and putting out fires.
2. We can't afford it.
City staff has estimated that Prop 200, once it's fully implemented in five years, will cost anywhere from $51 million to $67 million every year. Even if those numbers are exaggerated, it's obvious that the Public Safety First Initiative will cost something—and that means it will come at the expense of something else, whether that's fixing potholes in the road or replacing broken-down swing sets at parks.
While supporters say that a recovering economy will provide all of the funding the city will need for the initiative, no one in city government believes those rosy projections, especially given that the city is already facing a deficit of at least $46 million next year. Even once the economy recovers, there will be programs that are currently suspended—such as the long-delayed repaving of our neighborhood streets—that will be impossible to fund if Prop 200 passes.
And that's not even getting into the costs that will rise for Pima County, which actually prosecutes most of the crime committed in the city of Tucson. Taxpayers will have to pay for more jail space, more prosecutors, more judges, more public defenders and more court staff. That translates into higher property taxes for all of us.
3. Crime rates are going down.
As we've reported in recent weeks, the rate of Tucson crime in most categories is going down, and has been for some time. Violent crime, burglaries, criminal damage—it's all on the decline already. Preventing crime isn't just about hiring more cops; it's about making sure you have decent prevention programs that keep people on the right side of the law so we don't end up with victims of crime in the first place.
4. Prop 200 subsidizes growth.
Prop 200 also requires that firefighters respond to calls within four minutes. Fire Chief Patrick Kelly tells us the Tucson Fire Department already responds within four minutes to most calls in Tucson. The delays come on the outskirts, on the far southeast side and the northwest side.
To respond to those calls more quickly, the city is going to have to build new fire stations on the perimeter of the city. Sure, those stations will need to get built someday, but it doesn't make much sense to us to build them in sparse areas within the next five years. We're sure it makes sense to the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, however, because they're always happy when they can get the suckers in the central city to subsidize irresponsible development on the fringe of the city. (Now we understand why SAHBA was willing to kick in $30,000 for the campaign.) There are more urgent needs for most city residents than fire stations on the edge of town.
5. Unfunded mandates are a bad idea.
If all of the above is not enough to convince you, keep in mind that unfunded mandates of this nature have helped create a multi-billion-dollar hole in the state budget. Is that really a route we want to go down? We believe it would be better if we learned from mistakes that were made elsewhere instead of repeating them.
The fact that Prop 200 is an unfunded mandate is why business groups ranging from the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce to the Arizona Multihousing Association oppose Prop 200—and that's why you should, too. They understand all too well that when it comes time to pay for this, taxes on businesses and renters will be on the rise.
We don't oppose hiring more cops and firefighters. They work hard and deserve our support. But we do object to enshrining staffing levels in the city charter, killing any hope of funding future street repairs or park improvements, and pushing Tucson a step closer to bankruptcy.
Vote no on Proposition 200.
Ward 3: Sonoran Hot Dog
Voters will choose between Democrat Karin Uhlich, Republican Ben Buehler-Garcia and Green Party candidate Mary DeCamp.
Uhlich, who is completing her first term, is big on transparency and process, but we fear that too often, those terms have been used to cover an unwillingness to make a decision.
While we agree with Uhlich on some issues, her waffling on budget issues has cost the city. She led an effort to delay a 25-cent increase in bus fares last year, only to agree to an increase this year. Over that 12 months, the city lost out on a million dollars.
Uhlich also voted to cut the costs of the Parks and Recreation Department's leisure classes when she was first elected. Now she thinks those fees need to be increased, but won't support doing it until next year. That's the kind of delay the city can scarcely afford.
Uhlich's opponent, Ben Buehler-Garcia, is a decent enough fellow who has been active in economic-development issues. But we can't endorse someone who is supporting something as dreadful as the Public Safety First Initiative, which will screw up the city's budget for years to come.
We feel that Green candidate Mary DeCamp's ideas—such as creating a new currency for Tucson residents—are just too far ahead of their time for her to earn a spot on the City Council. She can do more to push those innovations in the private sector.
And so we endorse the Sonoran hot dog found at El Guero Canelo, 2480 N. Oracle Road. This feast combines the four food groups—vegetables, grains, dairy and bacon—and reflects the melting pot of cultures that is Tucson. This dog never disappoints, even if it's not very good for us.
Ward 5: Democrat Richard Fimbres
Richard Fimbres is new to the world of city politics, but he learned the ropes of managing public budgets while on the Pima Community College governing board. He's got a solid background in law enforcement and budget review that will serve Tucsonans well if he wins his council race. Fimbres, who hopes to replace the retiring Democrat Steve Leal, has spent more than two decades managing programs with the Pima County Jail; he's worked in law enforcement in the military; he's headed up the Governor's Office of Highway Safety; and he's even been the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce's Man of the Year. It's an impressive résumé, and it's enough for us to encourage you to vote for him.
His Republican opponent, Shaun McClusky, is a political rookie who supports the Public Safety First Initiative and shows little grasp of the city budget, which disqualifies him from our endorsement.
Ward 6: Jasper the Marbled Polecat
Councilwoman Nina Trasoff has disappointed us too often for us to support her. Like Uhlich, Trasoff voted to delay an increase in bus fares and supported an irresponsible decrease in park fees that she now regrets, even though she's not doing anything to increase them—thereby solidifying the city's economic base—until next year. And to say that she mishandled the fiasco with the Rialto Theatre over the summer is a considerable understatement.
Republican Steve Kozachik has done admirable work developing new athletic facilities at the University of Arizona, but like Buehler-Garcia and McClusky, he's supporting the Public Safety First Initiative, which makes him far too irresponsible for us to support. Kozachik tells us he can identify all sorts of waste in the city budget, but he doesn't want to share that info with us. Well, we're not buying that he has a secret plan to balance the budget.
Unable to support either candidate, the Weekly instead endorses Jasper the marbled polecat, who arrived this summer at the Reid Park Zoo. Although a new resident of Ward 6, Jasper seems so adorable that we can't believe he'd make a bad decision at City Hall.
This proposition is the result of one of those obscure legal wrinkles: The city of Tucson is required to get voter permission to spend all of the money that it will have available to it. It doesn't mean that the city is raising taxes; it just means that the city's current income stream is high enough to exceed an arbitrary formula determined by the state, so for the city to spend the money it is now collecting, voters have to approve this prop. If they say no, the city would just hang on to the money until it gets a chance to spend it. We might as well spend it now. Vote yes.
These two overrides will give the Tucson Unified School District enough money to replace aging computers, ensure that classrooms have enough bandwidth to use the Internet, and give individual schools extra money to use as the local site councils see fit, whether it goes to smaller classes, librarians or teaching the arts.
Technology is the future for students, and TUSD's equipment and infrastructure is woefully out of date. The cost to the owner of a $100,000 home will be about $70 a year. Considering the state budget cuts that are coming in the near future, this is money that TUSD will desperately need. Vote yes.