This Election Season, You Make the Call

There's a strange role reversal going on between Democrats and Republicans in Tucson.

This year's Republican candidates are tax-and-spenders. Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar created a $14-a-month trash-collection fee to boost revenues for police officers, firefighters, parks programs and raises for city employees.

Nina Trasoff and Karin Uhlich, the Democrats who hope to unseat them, have adopted the traditional GOP line that such higher taxes hurt the people of Tucson, and that government should be leaner (although, unlike the Arizona Legislature's conservatives, they're reluctant to say exactly what Tucsonans would do without if there were no fee).

The Democrats will tell you that the trash fee is a regressive tax--and to a certain extent, they're right, although the Republican majority did attempt to create a program to help the poor pay the fee.

But it's also a standard way of doing business in almost any Western city--and besides, what kind of progressive tax options do the Democrats propose? A city income tax, perhaps?

Some have wondered why we're so preoccupied with the trash fee. Well, a city budget, as dry and boring as it is, reflects the values of the governing body--and without the $20 million or so that a trash fee brings in every year, the city will have less money for public safety, social programs and streets.

There's no doubt the city can get by without the trash fee. It can continue the same way it has for years--pinching pennies here, putting off maintenance there, not filling this or that position. But that approach leads to a police force that's stretched too thin to respond to calls (contributing a No. 1 crime ranking nationally), streets that are filled with potholes and recreation centers that can't be staffed.

We understand why the Democrats are complaining about the trash fee: You don't win at the ballot box by saying your opponent did the right thing. And Republicans have certainly taught Democrats that exploiting the tax issue is a great way to win elections.

But while that might make for a good political strategy, it's a lousy governing strategy--and, when we consider some of the other statements we've heard from both Trasoff and Uhlich, we're left thinking they have no clue how to square their promises of lower taxes and higher spending.

All of which doesn't mean we're ready to endorse the Republicans, either. Both did the right thing in supporting last year's budget (and Dunbar deserves big props for her work in improving Ward 3, from crosswalks and sidewalks to encouraging new investment in distressed areas).

But we remain concerned about other mistakes the Republicans have made. Both of them wanted to take a dive on the city's effort to enforce its billboard code, voting to halt a crucial appeal the city eventually won at the Arizona Supreme Court.

Dunbar, although she now takes credit for instituting impact fees, long opposed them. Neither she nor Ronstadt are proposing any additional impact fees to pay for fire or police stations, as cities north of the Gila charge.

Ronstadt's effort to knock down last year's county bonds, including funding for the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan and an emergency communication system, was a foolish and shortsighted crusade on his part.

Here's your bottom line: If you think the city is making progress in repairing roads, hiring new cops and firefighters, and investing in neighborhoods, then you should vote for Republicans Kathleen Dunbar and Fred Ronstadt.

If you believe in leaner government that has less money to spend on services but makes life more difficult for the Growth Lobby, the payday-loan sharks and the billboard industry, vote for Nina Trasoff and Karin Uhlich.

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