Sales Tax Drive

Strapped for cash for transportation projects, Mayor Bob Walkup and the Tucson City Council are hoping voters will approve a half-cent increase in the city sales tax in a special May election.

Walkup and Co. hope that Tucsonans are frustrated enough by driving conditions that they'll be willing to pay more taxes--the rate within city limits would rise to 8.1 percent with passage of the proposal--for street relief. Voters rejected similar countywide half-cent sales-tax proposals by 57 percent in 1986 and 61 percent in 1991.

The city would split revenue from the tax, which will raise an estimated $40 million a year, into three main categories: 45 percent would go to expanding a few roads (primarily Houghton Road on the city's east side) and building three expensive grade-separated intersections; 37 percent would be spent on repairing residential streets and installing sidewalks, streetlights and other amenities; and 18 percent would be spent on the transit system.

The city will spend a bundle of tax dollars "educating" the public on the importance of the proposal. The development community can also be counted on to run a six-figure campaign in favor of the proposal, especially since so much will be spent on the booming southeast side.

Critics have assailed the plan as a subsidy for the road-loving Growth Lobby. A transit group that supports a light-rail system, Tucsonans for Sensible Transportation, announced last week that it would formally oppose the proposition (see this week's Skinny). But it remains to be seen if a grassroots effort can counter a well-funded campaign.