What is Occupy Wall Street about? Well, it's not about greed, per se. Nor is it about class envy. Dirty hippies who want to be Donald Trump? The slander doesn't even scan.
The movement is about objecting to the fox minding the hencoop. About being tired of watching the public exchequer looted. It's a populist response to endemic corruption.
Or, to put it in local terms, it's about Rio Nuevo.
The way you and I feel about our tax increment district—ripped-off, disgusted, disbelieving and devoutly hoping to see gobs of people indicted—that's how OWS protesters feel about a whole raft of bigger Rio Nuevos.
Actually, the stuff that preoccupies them isn't all that much bigger. $223 million is real money almost anywhere, and that's what Rio Nuevo has had to play with since 60 percent of the Tucson electorate approved a nice-sounding plan to revitalize downtown and preserve an important part of Tucson's past. Knowing this place as I do, I was going to vote no back in 1999, but caved when my son, who saw a presentation at his high school, told us we had to support it. Turns out I was right. Ah, youth. Ah, motherhood.
Shall we review what's happened? Out of the 15 projects that were sold to us, two have been completed. In 12 years, people. While the potholes have been chunking away around the edges, the street signs bleaching and the Tucson Convention Center falling into ruin, more than 200 million of our tax dollars have poured into the pockets of administrators, developers, architects, planners and every conceivable species of consultant, meta-consultant, hanger-on, brother-in-law and new best friend. (We all particularly appreciated the free trips to Italy during the heady UA Science Center phase of the boondoggle.) An aquarium was proposed, and models built. The aforesaid bridge of light over the Santa Cruz—hazy even at the time—was proposed, and models built. That science museum with a rainbow on the roof was proposed, and models built. (The models were very lovely, absolutely top-notch. And there were as many rainbows as in a My Little Pony movie. ) A contract was cut for an $820,000 video. A whole downtown block was sold to a politically connected developer for $100, with the buildings razed at taxpayer expense; $1-a-year leases were bestowed. Just last year, the City Council voted unanimously to let another politically connected developer flip a piece of city-owned downtown land for a more-than-100 percent profit. So, so SoAz.
It got bad enough last year, or the pickings got good enough—who knows?—that the Legislature threw out the old Rio Nuevo board and put in a new one. My friends, it is a very dark day indeed when you're happy to see the Arizona Legislature take over anything, but so it was. Currently, the FBI has the books, and it has promised to go all forensic-accounting on their asses. Go, feds!
For anyone involved to go to prison—even pretty prison—would seriously make me feel better about that 1999 ballot decision. (Now that I think of it, that was about when the Glass-Steagall banking act was repealed, thus letting loose the forces of rapacious, stupid banking upon the world. The planets must have been badly aligned.)
The latest is that the new Rio Nuevo board is suing the city for $47 million and opposing a not-for-profit, privately funded group—led by good old Roger Pfeuffer—that's trying to plant fruit trees in the historic Mission Garden, on county land.
It takes real balls to sue the taxpayers of Tucson right now, and it takes major balls to say no to a free fruit orchard on property you don't even own. We're talking kamikaze cojones, the kind of awesome, cosmic balls required for Congress to want to subsidize tax breaks for high-speed traders and bazillionaires with cuts to Medicare and Social Security. I mean, wow.
But this is the sort of people we're dealing with, and this is what they've been getting away with for more than a decade, here and on Wall Street. It's what they're used to doing—cheerfully raping the body politic in the broad, golden light of day. It's kind of all our fault, granted. But now it needs to end.
Occupy the Santa Cruz.