The Skinny

CRASH COURSE: That was some pile-up last week! We can't help but slow down to get a good look at the shattered debris of Mayor Bob Walkup's sales tax campaign.

Bob burned through more than a million in taxpayer bucks, squeezed his Growth Lobby pals for close to a half-mil and blew a big wad of his own political capital to promote a plan rejected by nearly seven of every 10 voters. We haven't seen anything so breathtakingly stupid since Bob Beaudry blew six figures reversing his own mandate on direct delivery of CAP water back in 1999.

Facing a turnout nearly as high as last November's 27 percent, Bob got clobbered by three out of every four voters in midtown and couldn't even win on the eastside. That's just plain ugly.

There was something in this plan for just about everyone-- outside of the Star editorial department-- to hate: the tax itself, the grade-separated intersections, too little for transit, not enough for roads, too many roads on the fringe, not enough roads on the fringe fast enough. Throw in the amount of tax dollars spent on propaganda and you can see why voters said no, loud and clear.

The mayor didn't lose every precinct--but he came damn close. He scored a narrow victory out on the southeast side after making a desperate last-minute pledge to Rita Ranch voters to expedite a package of custom roads that he and his pals, fellow Republican tax proponents Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar and Democratic Vice Mayor Carol West, stripped away to punish southeast side Councilwoman Shirley Scott, a Democrat who strayed from the reservation on the transportation plan.

Despite some strong words from some Rita Ranchistas, voters from a combined seven precincts in and around Rita Ranch approved the road plan, albeit by a narrow 50.38 percent of the vote, or 489-472 in raw numbers, according to the election canvass. The same voters were conflicted on the tax. It tied at 476 apiece. Go figure--some voters liked the plan, they just didn't want to pay for it.

Walkup also scored a major victory in precinct 26-5, at Drexel Road and South 12th Avenue. The tax and road schemes passed 3-2. Literally. Five people voted.

Otherwise, it was a big day for Walkup's opponents, ranging from former lawmaker John Kromko to Tucson Weekly "K. Rat" cartoonist Andy Mosier. Many of 'em celebrated the victory in the Suds Your Duds laundromat at Campbell and Grant, where the idiot plan would have laid waste an independent business district with the construction of one of three grade-separated intersections in the plan. The prop was crushed in each neighborhood around those dreaded GSIs.

Even in Walkup's Starr Pass neighborhood, the measures were crushed by at least 68 percent.

But much as we'd like to say it, it's not a new day in Tucson--just a repeat of the same old transportation story. This town has consistently said no to sales tax and ain't likely to pass one for anything anytime soon.

The coalition that came together to defeat the sales tax won't last. It'll splinter soon, perhaps in a matter of months, if Steve Farley succeeds in putting his transit-oriented plan on the ballot. The anti-tax conservatives who said no last week aren't going to buy into that one. And we suspect a lot of the car crazies who said yes will reject a light-rail plan.

Facing the daunting task of gathering somewhere around 13,000 signatures for his ballot prop, Farley is now getting yanked around by city officials. He's been told the deadline for his signatures is being moved up from early July to sometime soon--although the exact date remains fuzzy.

So, voters might not have a chance to vote on that plan in November after all--which might be good for Farley, given that we think the odds of passage are dim. Although we were amused to see legendary land speculator Donald R. Diamond musing about the possibilities of light rail in a Tucson Citizen Q&A.

Diamond and mega-car dealer Jim Click have to be wondering about the lousy ROI. They are too smart to not be questioning why they gave all that money--$25,000 apiece--to fatten the wallet of political hack Pete Zimmerman, whose similar campaign was killed way back in 1986.

Most shameless was developer Stanley P. Abrams, who claims ownership on the mayor's office through Walkup. He was on the committee that designed the plan. He talked non-stop for five months about the virtues of the tax and transportation plan and ridiculed anyone who opposed it. Yet after its spectacular defeat, Abrams told radio wranglers John C. Scott and Emil Franzi he knew at least nine reasons why the measures would fail--from the get-go.

THE MORNING AFTER: Bob Walkup overcame enough of his "shock" over the knockout voters delivered to show up at the Pima Association of Governments last Wednesday. He promptly went into auto-drive, spouting out his cliches about how "we need to roll up our sleeves" and get to work on a regional transportation solution.

The response ranged from stony silence to "What's this we crap?" City Hall dissed the community to go it alone on this transportation plan. His sanctimonious yet error-ridden "we-are-not-the-county" op-ed piece in the Star didn't help.

The city is also full of noncompetitive, rollover, as-needed consulting contracts, some that have fattened to double the original cost.

SPINNING WHEELS: We will give Bob Walkup this: he wrote the funniest post-game analysis in last Sunday's paper.

After spending the last year promising to solve our transportation woes, Walkup told readers it wasn't his plan they had rejected--it was their own! Oh, those ding-a-ling voters!

Walkup said the plan was based on a survey of 16,000 Tucsonans who "told the city what the projects should be and how they should be paid for."

"We honestly thought we were doing what our citizens wanted," Walkup wrote, presumably with a straight face. "But the 16,000 citizens' plan didn't even receive 16,000 votes."

Well, any idiot could have told Bob that his survey was screwed up from the start. It wasn't anything resembling a scientific sampling--which is probably why the results were so different from the scientific polling of voters the city also did.

Only about two-thirds of those 16,000 surveys came from city residents, further skewing the results. And the survey was fundamentally rigged from the start, because many of the responses were filled out after transportation department staffers made gee-whiz pitches for the grade-separated intersections that weighed down the campaign.

But Bullshit Bob promised to continue his work to solve our transportation woes, expressing his concern that congestion would lower property values in the city center.

Uh, pardon our confusion: whenever the radical concept of transportation impact fees comes up, Bob says imposing them would increase the cost of housing, which would ripple across the community and price people out of home ownership.

So wouldn't lower property values be a good thing for that affordable housing problem?

Frankly, if Bob is really all that concerned about our property values--which climbed about 10 percent on average last year, despite all that traffic--you'd think he'd want to do something about the unending construction of cheap crappy stucco subdivisions from here to Benson.

EXPLODING ON IMPACT: Which brings us to another question for City Council members, now that the sales tax is off the table for the next decade or so: How about those transportation impact fees?

The time to move is now. Just a few weeks ago, Vistoso Partners picked up about 1,100 acres of state land at Houghton and Valencia. It's just the start: the State Land Department is ready to unload a whole lot of property in the area--and they're not planning to use it for parkland.

As the state land on the southeast side ripens for plucking, the city isn't just facing big road costs. We'll also be hit up for new fire stations, new parks, new municipal facilities,

Having flirted with analyzing the costs of growth for too long, the city is finally gearing up to crunch some numbers. We just hope it's a more serious study than the half-assed bag o' crap passed around by SAHBA's Alan Lurie last year that showed that growth was a big win-win for everybody.

TWO CENTS WORTH: After a half-year of talking about the half-witted idea to raise sales taxes by a half-cent per dollar, Mr. Smarty-Pants Skinny screwed up the city current sales tax rate while pointing out miniscule savings in property taxes in the proposed budget ("Cutting Edge," May 23). Voters last week ordered City Hall to keep the rate at 2 percent or 2 cents for every dollar.

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