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County officials will ask voters to approve roads bonds to fix streets

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has one last card to play to fix Pima County's streets: Asking voters to approve $430 million in bonds.

It's hardly the best solution to our road problems, but it's obvious that the federal government isn't going to do anything to address infrastructure needs. (Remember all of the Trump administration's promises of infrastructure investment? Sorry, but there's no money for that since we gave the rich that big ol' tax cut last year.) And the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey continue to dismiss the needs of local governments when it comes to road repair. (Hey, the state has an estimated shortfall of more than $60 billion for the highways alone through 2035, but lawmakers aren't doing anything about that, so they are definitely indifferent to the aging residential streets in Pima County.)

So last week, the Pima County Board of Supervisors followed Huckelberry's suggestion that the county ask voters to approve $430 million in road bonds to fix streets. (The board passed on Huckelberry's other alternative of selling $860 million in bonds.) The plan would provide funds across the all the local jurisdictions, so residents of Tucson, Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita would also see their roads fixed.

Huckelberry says if voters approve the bonds, their property tax rate will not increase because the county is in the process of paying off existing bond debt. Of course, that means that property taxes won't go down as a result of that retired debt, but if voters really believe that the roads need repair, here's the last chance to get it done.

The lone vote against the plan came from—surprise!—Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller. She presented her own alternative budget plan at last week's meeting in the form of a one-page document that she handed out at the Tuesday morning meeting.

Miller's alternative plan is—as you'd expect—a joke. She basically just cut various departments by a few percentage points with the explanation that "[w]hile it may be a difficult transition, we all know change will not happen until we make it happen." Given that Miller frequently touts her own expertise in finance, you'd think she would have cooked up something with some level of sophistication instead of randomly shaving budgets here and there, given that she's been on the Board of Supervisors for six years now.

While Miller was cooking up her fantasy documents, Huckelberry and the Democrats delivered a budget that includes the biggest property tax cut in three decades. Huckelberry estimates that Pima County primary taxes will drop by roughly 8.7 percent, though the impact on individual property owners will largely depend on property values and other factors.

Part of the reason for the decrease was the repeal of this year's new property tax hike for transportation, in the hope that voters approve the bond proposal in November. And part of it, according to Huckelberry, comes from the new or expanded employers who have expanded the tax base: HomeGoods, Comcast, Accelerate Diagnostics, Caterpillar, Raytheon, Amazon, et al.

Whether the tax cuts will help voters decide to support the bonds in November remains to be seen, especially since the city of Tucson is doing its own $225 million bond election to fund park improvements. But Miller's fantasy proposals notwithstanding, it's hard to imagine another route to road repair.


Bloom of Youth

A correction regarding Pima County's youngest candidate for Justice of the Peace

We have a correction regarding our recent coverage of Keith Bee Jr., the young lad who wants to take his dad's place as a judge on the bench of the Pima County Justice Court.

It turns out that Bee is not 21 years old, as we've reported the last two weeks. He's actually 20 years old, although he has a birthday next month, so he will be old enough to drink should he win his race for Justice of the Peace.

Bee is still hiding out from our reporter, Kathleen B. Kunz, who would love to talk to him about how his two decades on the planet have prepared him to run a courtroom. But we're really starting to get the feeling that Bee is hoping voters won't notice that he's not his dad. And sadly, he's probably right.

We're turning to crowd sourcing now. If you happen to know where we can find Keith Bee Jr. (and especially if you see any sign of him campaigning), please let us know at jimn@tucsonlocalmedia.com.

The televised edition of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs 6:30 p.m. Fridays on the Creative Tucson network, Cox Channel 20 and Xfinity Channel 74. The TV show repeats Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. The radio edition of Zona Politics airs at 5 p.m. Sundays on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM.

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