The city of Tucson campaign season is entering the final stretch. Next Tuesday, Nov. 3, voters will decide the future of the Tucson City Council and the fate of the Public Safety First Initiative, aka Proposition 200.
Meanwhile, voters in the Tucson Unified School District will have to decide whether to give TUSD more money for aging computers and other educational ventures.
We started out this campaign season back in June by noting that most citizens don't care much about city politics, judging from the generally lousy turnout at the polls. That led to an exploration of "rational ignorance"—a theory that suggests that most people have better things to do than learn the ins and outs of local politics, so they make the rational decision to ignore most of it.
Since then, we've introduced you to the candidates, tried (with varying degrees of success) to find out how they would balance Tucson's budget and explained where they stand on the Public Safety First Initiative. (Democrats are against it; Republicans are for it.) Oh, and we looked into the big scandal of the campaign season: penis artwork that was on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art four years ago, before any of the candidates on the ballot today were even in office. (Yes, that somehow became an issue.)
If you've missed any of it, we've got it all available for review at tucsonweekly.com.
But let's face it: If you haven't read up on that stuff already, you're probably not interested in the details. So for those of you who just want a quick summary of what these races are about, we've got each race and ballot initiative explained here—in 300 words or less.
While we support hiring more cops and firefighters, this is the wrong way to get the job done. Prop 200 would force the city to hire at least 333 police officers and 70 firefighters over the next five years. The price tag for the run-up would be $150 million, with annual recurring costs estimated at more than $63 million a year, according to an estimate by the city's Independent Audit and Performance Commission.
The city right now has a general fund of roughly $420 million—and an expected deficit of $12.6 million or more next year.
You do the math: The city will either have to slash spending on everything besides public safety—which already takes up 64 percent of the general fund—or it's going to have to raise your taxes.
Plenty of liberals—the Pima County Interfaith Council, the Sierra Club, the morning daily's editorial board—oppose the Public Safety First Initiative, but Prop 200 is also running into stiff resistance from the business community. Among the groups urging a "no" vote: The Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the Metropolitan Pima Alliance, the Arizona Multihousing Association, Tucson Electric Power and Cox Cable.
Why are these folks urging you to vote "no" on Prop 200? Because they understand that the cost will be so high that the council will wind up raising taxes to pay for it.
That's not just our conclusion. Nick Dranias of the conservative Goldwater Institute has stated: "Somewhere, somehow, Tucson taxpayers will have to pay the bill, and you can bet that will eventually come in the form of higher taxes."
Police and firefighters are important, but so are our parks and our streets. Vote no on Prop 200.
Democrat incumbent Karin Uhlich is facing Republican Ben Buehler-Garcia and Green Party candidate Mary DeCamp.
Uhlich can accurately boast that in her first four years in office, she supported the hiring of 80 new police officers and 75 new firefighters, and launched a program to repave residential streets (that has been suspended this year thanks to the budget woes).
This year, Uhlich supported budget cuts that included five-day furloughs for city employees and a 15.5 percent cut to outside-agency funding. She also voted to increase taxes on utility and phone bills, as well as tanning salons and gym memberships.
Buehler-Garcia, a consultant who typically helps private-sector clients work with government agencies, says that Uhlich has not been friendly enough to businesses, has failed in efforts to revitalize downtown while wasting too much money on Rio Nuevo, and has allowed Tucson to become an unsafe city (even though crime rates have declined since she took office).
But Buehler-Garcia has been evasive when it comes to the primary job of a council member: explaining how he would spend taxpayer dollars differently.
DeCamp, who launched a late campaign and got on the ballot through a write-in campaign, has not had much of a presence in the race.
The Tucson Weekly is disappointed that Uhlich has a troubling tendency to sidestep tough questions and delay difficult budget decisions. Meanwhile, Buehler-Garcia, while wise in the ways of government, has embraced the Public Safety First Initiative, which demonstrates an appalling lack of sensible political judgment. We instead endorsed the Sonoran hot dog at El Guero Canelo, 2480 N. Oracle Road.
With Democrat Steve Leal stepping down after two decades on the Tucson City Council, the race in Ward 5 pits Democrat Richard Fimbres against Republican Shaun McClusky.
Fimbres, who headed up the Governor's Office of Highway Safety under Democrat Janet Napolitano, has a long record of public service, including a stint in the U.S. Army, a long career with the Pima County Sheriff's Department and more than a decade on the Pima County Community College District governing board. He has a long history of working with Hispanic youth to keep them in school.
McClusky, a real-estate broker and property manager, served four years in the U.S. Air Force, has sold cars for Jim Click and worked at a Florida resort owned by Donald Trump.
The Weekly endorsed Fimbres because he has a long record of civic involvement, while McClusky has a weak grasp of city government.
Democrat Nina Trasoff is wrapping up her first term on the Tucson City Council. Like Uhlich, Trasoff takes credit for the hiring of 80 new police officers and 75 new firefighters and supporting a now-suspended program to repave residential streets. And like Uhlich, she supported budget cuts that included five-day furloughs for city employees and a 15.5 percent cut to outside-agency funding. She also voted to increase taxes on utility and phone bills, as well as tanning salons and gym memberships.
A former television reporter and public-relations maven, Trasoff has also been focused on downtown revitalization. She says that the work on downtown is finally beginning to bear fruit, with the reopening of the Fourth Avenue underpass, the remodeling of the One North Fifth apartment building, the ongoing construction of a new Martin Luther King Jr. housing complex, the leasing of the MacArthur Building by Madden Media, and the recent moves to remodel the Tucson Convention Center as part of a plan to build a Sheraton hotel.
Her opponent, Republican Steve Kozachik, says that the downtown work is too little, too late. He says Trasoff squandered tens of millions in Rio Nuevo dollars on projects that have gone nowhere and is poised to move forward on a downtown hotel that will be a financial disaster.
Kozachik, who works as director of facility management for the UA Athletics Department, says he can use his experience to make downtown projects happen on time and on budget.
The Weekly has been disappointed in many of Trasoff's decisions, but we're equally disappointed by Kozachik's judgment in embracing the Public Safety First Initiative. We endorsed Jasper the marbled polecat at the Reid Park Zoo.
The supporters of the Public Safety First Initiative have raised six times as much money as opponents of Prop 200.
The Public Safety First committee has spent more than $354,000 on the push to persuade voters to force the city to hire more cops and firefighters, according to campaign-finance reports. The campaign had raised more than $360,000 as of Oct. 14.
Auto dealer Jim Click has doubled down on his contribution to the campaign, giving another $50,000 on Oct. 14. Click had already contributed $50,000 earlier this year.
The Tucson Association of Realtors, which has been the driving force behind the initiative, also contributed another $10,487. The International Association of Fire Fighters and the Tucson Police Officers Association each kicked in an additional $10,000.
Don't Handcuff Tucson, the political committee that is urging voters to reject the Public Safety First Initiative, had raised $58,137 as of Oct. 14.
Don't Handcuff Tucson raised most of its funding—$44,842—between Sept. 22 and Oct. 14. The committee had about $20,000 in the bank at the end of the reporting period.
Among the major contributors to Don't Handcuff Tucson: legendary land speculator Don Diamond ($1,000); the Arizona Multihousing Association ($10,000) and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union ($5,000).
There are not a lot of people contributing to the Tucson Vision Committee, an independent political committee that is targeting Democratic candidates in the City Council election.
The committee had raised $39,000 from fewer than 10 contributors as of Oct. 14.
Roughly three-quarters of the money has come from developer Michael Goodman and Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash.
Goodman has given $10,000. He's the mini-dorm developer who has raised the ire of homeowners in neighborhoods north of the university by pushing residential zoning regulations to the limit to build student housing. He has sued the current City Council for passing regs that have slowed down his projects.
Ash has given $5,000 and loaned the committee $15,000.
Most of the committee's money has gone to the advertising firm Moret and Associates. The committee has paid for television ads attacking the incumbents as incompetent and is running radio spots featuring irate citizens who are unhappy with the Democratic City Council.
The Tucson Unified School District is already facing cuts in state dollars because of Arizona's budget crisis—and that situation is only going to get worse next year, when federal stimulus dollars go away, and lawmakers no longer have to commit to funding education in order to get that money from Uncle Sam.
Meanwhile, the computers in TUSD classrooms are woefully outdated—and if there's one thing that our kids are going to need to succeed in the world of tomorrow, it's knowledge about how to work a computer.
There's also money in the package for each school to spend as its own site council sees fit. That's a great way for schools to have some control over their dollars rather than leaving all of the decisions in the hands of the TUSD administration.
The annual cost: About $70 for a home worth $100,000. C'mon, that's about $6 a month. You can afford it. Vote yes.