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Light rail proponents fail to win over the City Council, vow to deliver petitions.

Wheeling a dolly loaded with three boxes of petitions, attorneys Joy Herr-Cardillo and Clague Van Slyke urged Mayor Bob Walkup and the members of the Tucson City Council to put a light-rail proposal on the November ballot.

"Let's stop with the procedural shenanigans and get to the merits," said Herr-Cardillo as she slapped down thick bundles of signed sheets on the speaker's stand in the council chambers.

A narrowly split council rejected her plea on a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Bob Walkup joining with council members Shirley Scott, Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar to shoot down the proposal.

Scott, who felt compelled to explain her vote as she cast it, called the request a "corruption" of the political process.

"When you have an initiative, you're supposed to follow the rules," said Scott.

Although their referendum gambit failed, representatives of Citizens for a Sensible Transportation Solution vowed they'd have the required 12,777 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the initiative for the November ballot. The group was expected to deliver petitions to City Hall on Thursday, July 3, according to Steve Farley, a graphic artist who has helped spearhead the effort.

As of last week, Farley maintained the group had at least 13,500 signatures and was continuing to collect more. The group has been gathering signatures for more than a year, initially to present an alternative to the road-heavy transportation plan rejected by voters in May 2002.

The plan calls for increasing the city sales tax by three-tenths of a cent and hiking the contracting sales tax--paid on remodeling, plumbing and other work performed by a contractor--from 4.94 percent to 7.54 percent. The money would mix with anticipated federal dollars for several transportation improvements, including a 13-mile light-rail system. One train would run east from downtown's Ronstadt Transit Center, moving along Sixth Street past the University of Arizona before jogging south down Country Club Road over to Broadway Boulevard, where it would continue east past both major malls all the way to Prudence Road. The second route would travel south along South Sixth Avenue to the Laos Transit Center at Irvington Road.

The rail line would be supplemented with an improved bus system that would include shorter waits at stops and longer hours of operation.

The proposal also calls for spending 20 percent of tax revenue repairing Tucson's deteriorating residential streets and another 10 percent on sidewalks and bike paths.

Another million dollars a year would go to the Tucson Police Department to step up traffic enforcement.

Despite the July 3 deadline, the group can continue to collect signatures for the next three weeks. City Clerk Kathy Detrick says her office has 10 business days to examine the petitions. If a check of 5 percent of the petitions suggests there aren't enough valid signatures, every signature must be reviewed.

During that verification period, the prop's proponents can continue their petition drive. If the more-intensive check of the signatures shows they haven't reached the threshold, organizers will be given an additional 10 days to collect enough valid signatures.

More than 10,000 signatures were gathered by volunteers, but over the last two months, the group has also had shelled out roughly $10,000 to paid circulators, according to Farley, who aims to turn in at least 15,000 signatures.

Farley says he lobbied council members to put the proposal on the ballot to save the city the expense of verifying petitions, eliminate potential legal challenges and spare himself some work.

"I just don't want to have to go out and stand in front of Casa Video every night for the next three weeks," he said. "We know we have it; we know we're going to get it on the ballot. Let's just get it over with and save the money and make it happen."

More by Jim Nintzel

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