On this week's episode of Zona Politics: Ward 4 Councilwoman Shirley Scott faces GOP challenger and Vail School Board member Margaret Burkholder in a debate over the best way to handle road repair, mass transit and economic development. Watch it online here or tune in at 8 a.m. Sunday morning on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 58 on Dish, DirecTV and broadcast. You can also hear the show at 5 p.m. on KXCI, 91.3 FM.
Here's a transcript of the show:
(Nintzel) Hello everyone, I'm Tucson Weekly's senior writer Jim Nintzel and we're here to talk Zona Politics. We're partnering with the Tucson Weekly, Tucson Local Media and KXCI FM, to bring you a third and final debate with this year's candidates for Tucson City Council. Today we have the candidates for the Ward 4 council seat incumbent Democrat Shirley Scott, who is seeking her sixth term, representing the southeast side ward, and Republican challenger Margaret Burkholder, who teaches math at a local charter school, and serves on the Vail School District. Thanks to both of you for joining us here on Zona Politics.
(Scott) Good to be here.
(Burkholder) Thank you.
(Nintzel) We did a coin flip to decide who would go first with opening statements. Shirley, you won. So why do you want to go back to the council again for four years.
(Scott) Well I have to say that I'm very proud, and I think the citizens of Tucson should be very proud, of the progress that this city council has made over the last few years. You know, we did have a downtown that was pretty sad and not very enticing to people to come and visit. Right now we have a billion dollars’ worth of investment by the private sector. There are new jobs. There are new there's new housing, there's new parking, there is all kinds of excitement downtown, and because of the city council creating an atmosphere that was business-friendly.
That's what's been going on downtown. But in addition to that billion dollars of investment downtown outside of the downtown area, there are three thousand new jobs. These are good-paying jobs, and almost $300 million dollars’ worth of investment with other industries throughout the City of Tucson city limits. So it's not just downtown, it's also everywhere else in the city. Now, in addition, we've been bringing in a new annexation. The thing that's really good about sustainable annexations is, we have brought in over 40 annexations in the last few years, and that will yield $72 million worth of state-shared revenues. These are the kinds of things we needed to do to make the pie grow. There's a certain about of money that's available in the budget, and only so much that can go so far and when you enhance and enrich that pie, then there's more that's available. As you know, we have a billion dollar budget but two-thirds of that budget cannot be touched for legal reasons It's restricted, but one third of it is the General Fund and that's what funds our core services, and it also funds transit. So you have transit, you have parks and rec, police and fire, and they all depend on the health of that general fund.
(Nintzel) Alright. And Margaret, why is it you want to take over here in Tucson, and who are you?
(Burkholder) Yeah! Well my name is Margaret Burkholder. I've been on the Vail School District Governing Board for ten years, now. And when I was first elected to the school board, I ran because I wanted the best school for my students, for my own children and their friends, other students. And when I was first elected, our school district was ranked 50th percentile. We were very average. And we, through hard work and teamwork, between the members of the board and the administration, we became number one in the state, and then we helped others become number one. And I look at what leadership has done in that district, and I look at the City of Tucson and I don't see the growth that I need to because now I have my eldest, who was in preschool at the time is now in high school. What are her career options? First we have a world-class university right here in Tucson at the U of A, and I think our number one export is U of A grads. I look at all of the graduates from the U of A and they have to leave because there aren't jobs here. Just yesterday Wallet-Hub called Tucson the third worst city for business development. If you want to talk about growing the pie, it has to be through jobs. We're going to talk about roads today, we're going to talk about jobs, we're going to talk about crime, all these things they all come back to poverty and the lack of jobs in this city. So I very much want to bring the leadership and what I've learned on the Vail School District to the City of Tucson
and help get it out of the doldrums and into the shining star of the Southwest.
(Nintzel) Let's start with talking about roads, and obviously one of the complaints I hear a lot, potholes, you probably both hear it as well. How can, Margaret, the city best fund road improvements and maintenance over the long term.
(Burkholder) We have to prioritize I know Mrs. Scott will mention that she wants to send it to the RTA and have …
(Scott) I'm not sending roads to RTA.
(Burkholder) … the funding of roads to RTA, and she's, so I think we have a $1.2 billion dollar budget. We have a multi-million dollar budget. They are sending out bonds to pay for regular maintenance. That should be covered in within the city general fund. And they're not prioritizing. They're spending their money inefficiently. And when you have I mean first we have to grow the pie, well, second we have to grow the pie, but first we have to prioritize that pie. And right now, they're not able to do that. We have a hundred million dollars’ worth of city streets construction, but we know it's going to take $800 million to fix our to fix our streets. We have some of the worst streets in Arizona, and the highest bonds, tax burden that our families are asked to pay for. So we have to have maintenance come from the general fund and the roads need to be a priority, and not shipped off to other organizations and other tax-paying groups.
(Nintzel) And Shirley, explain to us a long-term plan in terms of how we keep these roads improved.
(Scott) Well, the fact is incorrectly stated by my colleague. We're not sending the roads over to the Regional Transportation Authority. That's not where it's going. What that is an organization that helps with also fixing roads. The money that comes from the city of Tucson to do road work is coming from HURF money. And HURF money is collected locally, sent to the state, and then the Republican state legislature has cut back on those HURF funds. Now imagine, you've got money that's collected here locally, and we're supposed to get it back based on population and usage, fuel tax, and we're not getting back that kind of money. So we have been put in a bad situation of not having the money that we've been relying on for years to come back fully to help augment the need for repairs of our roads. Now right now the City of Tucson,
which schools also use to extend their limits on their budget crises, that we have actually paved hundreds of miles of roads I think that if were to put it in terms that would be understood by everybody it's like driving on a nice road from Tucson to Prescott and that's what's been going on. Potholes are being filled and there has been a tremendous amount of work done on our arterials, potholes being fixed in the residential areas. We're on time, under budget so we have excess money, now, because of the projects and how much they have not cost, and so as a result, that money is now being diverted, with citizen oversight, to residential at the rate of 15% of that money. But the rest of the money goes back into the kitty to go to arterials.
(Nintzel) And is there a long-term plan or strategy, though, in terms of where you find the funding to maintain roads?
(Scott) Well I think that it continues to be an issue with regard to HURF. We need to keep the money coming, as what the Pima County Transportation Director said recently. Ninety percent of the money that's used for the road repairs and the road maintenance comes from HURF, and from other outside sources, so we rely heavily on that. It's a user tax. If we had the gas tax, for example, increase, which hasn't been increased in 15 years, then the users, of the gas would then be able to pay for an increase in the gas tax. We need those kinds of things to happen, but that is at the state level, and unfortunately the Republican-led state legislature just won't do those kinds of things, so we have to pick up the slack locally, and that puts real pressure on the local economy.
(Nintzel) And would you support an increase in the gas tax?
(Scott) I would like to see the state legislature actually move forward with that. I think that's the next answer.
(Nintzel) Gas tax?
(Burkholder) No, I disagree, I disagree. And you know what? The same legislature that took away HURF funds also controls school budgets. I understand that there are issues going on with our state legislature, and I think Mrs. Scott and I would agree on some of those. However, in the Vail School District, we didn't let that stop us from performing. So we had to say "How do we prioritize the monies we have?" And they haven't at the city. So all I ask is, I mean, look at the roads that you drive on. Today, my gas, my entire gauge came on. I replaced a tire last week. I replaced a tire six months ago. I'm going to replace the other tire on the other car because of roads. We have terrible roads, and you can say, "It's their fault. It's their fault. It's their fault. It's their fault." I don't care whose fault it is. I want to fix the problem.
(Nintzel) With no increase in revenue in terms of a sales tax or gas tax or something like that?
(Bukholder) No. I want to increase jobs, and increase sales tax ,and increase sales tax and increase the general fund.
(Nintzel) Okay. Let's talk about the transit system. We just had a 42-day bus strike wrap up. Councilwoman, the city now provides about $30 to help support the bus system fare increases have been increased I think twice over the last 15 years or so. Is it time to have a fare increase to help support the bus system?
(Scott) Well it's over the last 15 years or so. Is it time to have a fare increase correct when you say $30 million goes to the bus service itself? That's the buses. But the overall transit budget is more like $50 million, and as a result, that is a piece of this general fund, which keeps mushrooming. There seems to be no end to the cost that that actually has in its budget. It keeps going up and up. Fuel charges. As we know, gasoline tax taxes fluctuate. Labor costs keep moving in an upward direction. This is like a Pac Man when it comes to the general budget. So I think it's time for our community to start a good and active discussion, healthy discussion, on creating perhaps a Tucson Transit Authority that would take over the entire burden of the subsidy that is needed for the transit system or asking that the RTA take it under its wing. That's where the buses could go. Now I know that the regional, transportation authority people are ready to talk about that seriously. I know that the Teamsters are for that. The TPOA, Tucson Police Officers Association is for that. And so we already have some people in the casual conversation talking about a change. What we have right now is a private company that we have hired to manage the system. They had every bit of information that they needed to make this work. And they didn't tell the city council that they were looking at a possible strike coming down the pike, and so when it hit it hit everybody by, by a sudden surprise, and as a result, we are very disappointed in the current maintenance of that particular company oversight of the transit. So I think it's time now where we have a very rich and hearty discussion about
having a Tucson Transit Authority possibly moving this bus system off our backs onto someone else's budget, and then that would give us room in our general fund, over which we have exactly only the purview that we have to control that. Then there would be at least $50 million available to add to some of these other core services that we really must pay for.
(Nintzel) How do you fund the bus system when you move it to this new ...
(Scott) Well, as you know, the Regional Transportation Authority is funded currently by a half-cent sales tax. When that is renewed we could talk about whether or not that would continue at that level, and could they absorb the transit system? Or should we ask the community if they'd be willing to add an additional half-cent sales tax to that?
(Nintzel) The sales tax is the most likely way to go?
(Scott) Most likely ...
(Nintzel) Meantime a fare increase while that conversation goes on? Or is that off the table?
(Scott) I think that anything can be on the table as far as I'm concerned. It may be time to look very seriously at that, but let's see what that generates. No public transportation system in the world gets full coverage of their existing expenses. None. If you can get 25% at the fare box, you're doing well. And Tucson is doing well.
(Nintzel) Let me bring it over to Margaret here. Your thoughts: Should we have a dedicated funding source or a sales tax or some such, and is it time to raise fares?
(Burkholder) No. So let me reiterate what Mrs. Scott is saying. She's saying the city can't handle the transportation without raising taxes, and they don't see the political will to do that. So let's shift it to a different organization so they can be the bad guys, and they can raise the taxes county-wide for the city-wide problem that we have with transit. Let me tell you that right now transit is 10% of the general fund, of which only 2 % of Tucsonans take advantage of it. The council recently spent $500,000 on a report that to figure out "How do we fix this growing problem?" Because more money spent on transit means less on roads, less on police, less on fire. So they spent $500 thousand on the outside study. They didn't like the result of that study. They'll ignore it and they'll commission a new one.
(Nintzel) And in terms of fare increases, you think it's time to ….
(Burkholder) We have to do what we can to control costs, because we can't take money away from police to run transit. We can't take money away from roads to run transit. Should we be pulling money from our parks? No. We have to, we have to everything has to be on the table.
(Nintzel) And you wouldn't want to see it moved over to the RTA the management of the system.
(Burkholder) How does that serve the poor?
(Nintzel) Margaret, what are some strategies to help businesses get off the ground and be successful here in Tucson?
(Burkholder) Well I think the first thing the city needs to do is get out of the way. They have a development services office which provides just about everything except services to help businesses develop here in the city. And the nickname by many in our community is “the office where dreams go to die.” And I'm just, really simply, the city should have some a rulebook that they say "If you want to do business here in the city here are the things that we're expecting." And they should be consistent and fairly followed. So if I'm an investor, I can look at those rules and I know if I'm going to invest my money that I know at the end I'm going to have profitable business. Instead they go to development services. Things start moving through with a permit process and the licensing processes, and then there are all these surprises brought along the way, including staff from the city council that goes in and will stop projects if it's not favorable to particular groups or whatever. And you see this time and time again. And so I'm simply saying, the city needs to get out of the way. The city needs to provide services. Right now they have incentives, but they're just such a small .... you have to have this many employees, but not more than this many, because we don't want big, we don't want lots of jobs coming to Tucson, and you're expected to cover 75% of health care costs. Most, I mean, most, businesses aren't able to do that. And so when you start looking at who they're incentivizing, it's not broad-based This should really be about greasing the skids to allow businesses to come here, because businesses are going to provide jobs, and jobs are going to provide income, and income is going to be spent in our community, creating more jobs and creating the sales tax that our city needs.
(Nintzel) Councilwoman, what's your response?
(Scott) I would say that there are some errors in my opponent’s comments, and that is, the City of Tucson has a streamlined process for businesses. How do you think that 3,000 new businesses or expansions of businesses could have occurred without that streamlined process? I know for a fact there's a project manager who is assigned to your project at your business, and will follow you through give you that person's his or her own cell number so that if you need help with your project, you can move it forward. So we already have evidence that what we have in place is working we have the billion dollars’ worth of investment downtown. That wasn't stymied by any kind of interruption. There are 21 incentives for any business to take advantage of, and we are seeing more and more people take advantage of that, including, by the way, some new improvements in medical facilities in Ward 4. TMC is coming in with a 44,000 square foot facility. We're very thrilled that's happening. Northwest Hospital's coming in. They're taking advantage of some of these incentives. The Tucson Tech Corridor is a very big and very, very exciting new place for technical businesses in the aerospace and defense kinds of businesses to go and take advantage of the incentives that are there and it is correct that you can be a big business and you have certain incentives that will apply to you, but there is another place called the Global Economic Development District, which will give smaller and medium-sized businesses a big leap forward in their investments of a million dollars or five million dollars or 25 million dollars. There are avenues available to you, and there's a streamlined process within the department that will help you get through, and I know for a fact that I personally have been helpful in making sure that these things go through, especially in Ward 4 because that's where I have my hands around these things in particular.
(Nintzel) Why has the city had such a reputation for being unfriendly to business?
(Scott) Well, I think in the past, that's an historical statement, and I think people have had some bad experiences in the past. So I was going to say that the people who are currently investing in the City of Tucson and our area, they are very happy and are surprised. Now if you talk with someone who has had bad experiences in the way back past, that's one thing, but today, I can tell you, great strides have been made to make it easier for businesses to move forward and make their investments. And we've seen evidence of that. Millions of dollars are now being spent within the city limits of Tucson and I'm very pleased that we are where we are. The people of this community should be proud.
(Nintzel) And you're still hearing complaints?
(Burkholder) I'm not proud. I know she talks about the tech corridor in Ward 4. Great. There's a billion dollars’ worth of investment in downtown. I'm talking, I'm asked to represent Ward 4. What's in Ward 4? This tech corridor that's been there since I moved to Tucson. I moved to Rita Ranch 20 years ago. All of that was there, what she talks about, all of this progress, there are still empty lots. This is not being … we're seeing all this growth downtown. What's happening on the eastside, where we have lots of room and space to grow? Ward 4 is the largest ward in the city. We have lots of room, lots of opportunity, and Mrs. Scott has been on the council for 20 years, and what does she have to show for it? She talks about "This is a rumor that in the past...." Well, the past has been Mrs. Shirley Scott. She's been on the council for 20 years. But secondly, just yesterday Wallet Hub said Tucson is the third worst city to do development. I have an article in my bag that says people are voting with their feet. They're leaving Tucson, not paying income tax and not paying sales tax, not buying our homes. So if we look at the population of Tucson, is it growing? It's falling, because people are voting with their feet. Business leaders are leaving to go find better places to do business, and Mrs. Scott has to own that reputation. She's been there.
(Scott) I would like to add to that that when I first took office, where my opponent actually lives didn't exist. A lot of the open space that you see in Ward 4 right now is owned by the State of Arizona which is in the hands of the real estate up there, and that of course is the Republican-led state legislature that sits on it. If they would release that property and pay for education, which is where the money should go, then that property is available for commercial and residential development. And I can tell you that I'm very proud of all the buildings that have gone up. The house that she lives in, the shop that she goes into. I brought that to the attention of the business community and said, you need to invest in our area because we are very shy on services. So I'm the one who's been responsible for bringing the pools that she can swim in in her area, the recreation center, the police station the library, the parks that have been improved. There's a dog park down there where people can enjoy that. Purple Heart Park has gotten all kinds of improvements, so I can stand firm and tall and proud that the kinds of things that I've made happen are benefitting my opponent, and she doesn't acknowledge that, she simply talks negatively, rather than positively about what the City of Tucson has done.
(Nintzel) We’ve got about two minutes or four minutes left and I wanted to talk about Davis Monthan. What the city should be doing to help Davis Monthan, Councilwoman Scott?
(Scott) Thank you. Davis Monthan Air Force Base is one of the best employers and one of the best companies, installations that we have in our community. I have been very helpful in trying to make sure that they do stay. I was the one that brought the resolution to the City of Tucson Council to tell the world and especially our congress that we want them to stay and we will accept them and continue to support them. We want them to have missions and we wanted that to be part of our history. So I'm the one who brought that resolution to the table. Then I was honored to be an honorary commander of the 255th Mission Support Group, and I served my term there. I am now serving on the Tucson Valley Council at Davis Monthan AFB to interface with the city and their services to see what we can do to better cooperate. I am very proud, too, that I'm the one that urged the business community, again where I have good relationships, which the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance came up with a report that said what I assumed was correct, that 92% of the people that live in this region support the military in our area, and 8 % are not in support. That is something to stand on. That's something to be proud of and I've been one of the people that helped engineer those kinds of positive statements about what we're doing. I can tell you, I am a positive person about where we're going. We need to keep Tucson moving forward I'm very proud of my efforts so far.
(Nintzel) Let me bring Margaret in here and you're thoughts on what the city needs to be doing to keep Davis Monthan.
(Burkholder) Davis Monthan is a huge economic driver for our community, and I would do everything in my power to support it. But let me share what Mrs. Scott has done in the city council. They spent $120,000 of tax taxpayer money on a study to say how important Davis Monthan is. I could have saved you $120,000 and said "It's really, really important." And then, Mrs. Scott was quoted in the newspaper as not even having read that study that they just spent $120,000 on. And so, I am very frustrated. I read it in the paper that you said "Oh, I haven't read it."
(Scott) That's incorrect.
(Burkholder) That's what was published in the paper. Those are the facts that I have. So if you're talking about someone who sees the potential, I'm a teacher I work so hard to work on the potential in my students every day, and I want a city that'll support these students as they grow up into young people, looking to start families and careers, and that's what I want for this city. We need bold, fresh ideas. We need new leadership, desperately and so I'm asking the people in the City of Tucson to support me for city council.
(Nintzel) Okay, and that brings us to our closing statements. Take about 30 seconds, Councilwoman, and tell people why they should vote for you.
(Scott) I'm very proud of the progress that we've made at the City Council because we have made investments in this community. We've asked the business community to jump in and take advantage of all the kinds of things that we put in place. They've done that. That's where the rubber meets the road if you will, so we have actually allocated the right kinds of money to the right kinds of places. We haven't laid off any police officers or any firefighter. Other cities have done that. We've been very good about making sure they can stay where they are. We love them; we want them to be there. And I want the people of the City of Tucson to be proud of where they are. We're going to move it forward in a positive direction. Vote for Shirley.
(Nintzel) Alright, and Margaret. About 30 seconds.
(Burkholder) Again, they walk with their teeth. They say that they didn't lay off any police officers. That's because they've left. They can't hire enough police officers to fill the positions that they need. We have less police officers today than we did five years ago. And so that's a problem. My husband's a law-enforcement officer I'm a military brat, so to say. Lived all over the country I know what good looks like. I know what hardworking leadership is. And that's what this city needs. Mrs. Scott is a lovely person and I very much thank her for her 20 years of service, but it's time to have something new. And so I'm asking the city for their support.
(Nintzel) All right, we are going to have to leave it there. I'd like to thank both of you for coming down and joining us here on Zona Politics Councilwoman Shirley Scott, Republican challenger Margaret Burkholder Best of luck to both of you. That's our show for today. If you missed any part of today's episode, you can check us out online at zonapolitics.com where you'll also find transcripts of this and our past episodes. Be sure to look us up on Facebook, and next week, we'll be talking about the Rosemont Mine and previewing the Loft Film Fest. Thanks for watching. We'll see you next time.