Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy wants a countywide half-cent-sales-tax increase to deal with the county’s dilapidated roads.
Christy’s “Just Fix the Roads Plan” also calls for repealing the property tax increase the county passed in June and send the revenues from his proposed 10-year sales tax to the Regional Transportation Authority so that agency can manage the road repairs.
Christy, who announced his plan last week in Green Valley, said the situation will just get worse “every day that we don’t attend to our road-repair crisis.” The sales tax would bring in roughly $75 million annually, raising $800 million by the 10-year sunset of the tax. The county needs about $900 million for road repair, according to the county transportation department.
The property tax that the Board of Supervisors created earlier this year would only bring in just over $19.5 million annually, according to county documents. Christy and Supervisor Ally Miller opposed the 25-cent property tax when it passed with a 3-2 vote.
The 2017 property tax for road repair has already been levied, and some payments have been collected, according to the County Administrator’s Office. The five-year tax called for annual renewal, so the Board could choose not to renew it next year.
The sales-tax would need unanimous approval to pass. Christy said that with his background as a car salesman, he can hear the other supervisors’ concerns and negotiate an agreement. He hopes to reach a unanimous vote by late November or early December.
Any other possibilities would require either voter approval, which would take time and could get rejected, or action from the state. Chances of help from the Gov. Doug Ducey are next to zero, Christy said.
Some of the county’s road repair is paid for with the highway user revenue fund, or HURF, which is a statewide fund made up of vehicle registration fees, driver’s licenses fees and gas taxes. Arizona’s gas tax has been 18 cents a gallon since 1991, which has meant the funds available have not kept pace with inflation.
“If the gas tax had kept up with inflation or other states, there would have been funding for routine maintenance,” said Department of Transportation Interim Director Ana Olivares.
Christy says his sources have told him that when it comes to raising the gas tax, Ducey’s position is “not only ‘no,’ but ‘hell no.’”
While Christy and Supervisor Ally Miller are often on the same page, she has expressed concerns and objections, Christy said. He’s interested in working with her to find a solution. Miller has long been critical of how the county spends money, so he’s hoping that putting the RTA in charge of spending will help convince her.
“The RTA has the entire confidence of the community,” Christy said. “It was citizen directed at its inception and is highly citizen controlled during the road construction process.”
Over the last 11 years, the RTA has proven the agency can get the job done by completing hundreds of projects on time and under budget, Christy said.
He wants voters to turn down the three initiatives on the November ballot that have to do with a sales-tax increase. He also hopes the Tucson City Council could revisit Prop 101, a voter-approved half-cent sales tax for roads and public safety to see if there’s anyway to “massage” it to provide relief to taxpayers or perhaps move up the sunset on it, so that everyone can get behind a countywide fix.
The city sales tax, approved by voters in May, would bring in $100 million for road repair to
city streets and highways over five years. If Christy’s plan is enacted, it would cover all jurisdictions in the county whether incorporated or unincorporated.
Supervisor Sharon Bronson said she’s not crazy about the idea but is open to discussing it. County infrastructure maintenance, particularly bridges and roads, is one of the most important issues the county is facing, she said, adding that it’s already pulling 60 percent of the county budget.
“If we go with the property tax, it’s going to take us over 20 years to fix the problem,” she said. “The fix we have now is barely a bandaid.”
Bronson wants the problem addressed at the state level. But since that’s unlikely, she doesn’t really see another solution. And one of the good things about a sales-tax increase is that tourists will help pay for fixing the roads as well, she said.
Supervisors Ramón Valadez and Richard Elías couldn’t be reached for comment, but Bronson said Valadez is open to the idea, while Elías has reservations.
“As we try to maintain our roads, we simply have inadequate resources,” Bronson said. “The only tool we have in the county’s tool box is a sales tax.”
The road repair plan is on the agenda for tomorrow’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting.