The Skinny

Unlikely Ally

Why did Supervisor Miller throw her support behind Huckelberry's legislative agenda?

Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller shocked her colleagues and many county observers a few weeks back when she voted in favor of the Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry's legislative agenda.

Miller's fellow Republican on the board, Supervisor Ray Carroll, expressed surprised with Miller's vote.

"The epiphanies keep coming with Supervisor Miller," Carroll said. "She's really coming around."

It's not as if Miller, who has voted against the legislative agenda in past years, is likely to approve of most of what's in Huckelberry's proposals. He wants lawmakers to take a number of sensible but unlikely steps, such as raising the gas tax for the first time in roughly a quarter century to provide more dollars for street repair across the state. While it's an ideal time to do so—gas remains under $2 a gallon at most of the places The Skinny fills up a gas-hogging SUV and even another dime per gallon would be a bargain compared to the four bucks per gallon we were paying a few years back—we can't see our current crop of GOP lawmakers supporting any tax increase, no matter what the merits. But the viability of the idea at the Legislature aside, Miller has frequently criticized the idea in the past.

Nor is it likely that Miller would support the idea of allowing the Regional Transportation Authority to enact a half-cent sales tax for 10 years to fund road repairs, as she has repeatedly rejected the idea that any tax hike is necessary to come up with the estimated $800 million it would take to bring all of the region's roads back to adequate condition.

Likewise, Miller probably doesn't like the idea of making it easier to allow county supervisors across the state to be able to enact a half-cent sales tax. Huckelberry has proposed legislation that would let the Pima County Board of Supervisors enact a half-cent sales by a simple majority vote if, in the process, all of the proceeds of the tax would go toward reducing property taxes. There's an obvious benefit: Property taxes are paid by Pima County property owners, while at least a portion of sales taxes are paid by visitors as well as county residents, so it would shift at least part of the tax burden away from those of us who live here. (Huckelberry estimates that it would allow supervisors to cut property taxes by nearly 22 percent.)

Right now, however, increasing the sales tax requires a unanimous vote of the county board, which Huckelberry has never been able to persuade supervisors to do. He hasn't even tried since Miller was elected, despite her false claim during her reelection campaign that she had blocked a countywide sales tax.

And Miller surely doesn't like the idea of clarifying state law to make it clear that counties can offer certain economic-development incentives, such as building facilities and leasing them to businesses that will eventually pay off the cost of the construction through rent payments. Pima County officials did just that under a section of law that appears to allow that as part of a deal with high-altitude balloon company World View Enterprises, but the Goldwater Institute has hauled them into court, saying that the county needed to allow open bidding at market rates under a different section of Arizona law. That case is now going to trial, but if lawmakers clarified the law, Goldwater would no longer have much of a case. And since other jurisdictions around the state have used very similar arrangements that could be in legal jeopardy if Goldwater wins in court, Pima County isn't likely to be the only jurisdiction that would want to see the law changed.

Given that Miller told a former staffer that she secretly worked behind the scenes to get Goldwater to sue the county (even though she publicly denied having anything to do with it), it's hard to see how she'd get on board with this.

So why did Miller vote in favor of Huckelberry's legislative agenda last month? Queen Nut did not return The Skinny's phone call asking why she joined the other supervisors in support, but the most likely explanation is that she just didn't know what she was doing. Hey, it's confusing being a supervisor, even after four years of doing the job.

Whatever the reason, Huckelberry told The Skinny he was delighted to have the full support of the Board of Supervisors.

"It's very heartwarming to go forward with a unified vision for the county where all five supervisors have unanimously supported the legislative agenda," Huckelberry said.

Bus Transfer

Should the city create an elected body to take over the transit system?

If there's a third rail in Tucson politics, it has to be the question of raising bus fares. City staff has repeatedly suggested raising the cost of a Sun Tran ride and the Tucson City Council has mostly rejected the idea, although earlier this year, council members finally bit the bullet and nudged fares upward.

At the same time, the cost of running the system has continued to grow, putting more of a strain on the city's general fund, which also pays for police, fire, parks and other services.

The City Council also created a Transit Stakeholders Advisory Group to consider alternatives to the current system, in which the city of Tucson runs the bus system for the region and other jurisdiction contribute a few shekels to help cover the cost of running Sun Tran out to the hinterlands.

The group has come up with a recommendation: Use a provision in state law that dates back decades to create a Metropolitan Public Transit Authority, which would have its own elected board and the power to levy a property tax to pay for the buses. Under the law, the City Council could OK the new elected body and then ask other jurisdictions to come along for the ride.

There are a lot of details to be worked out, but expect a conversation on this front in the year ahead.

Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs at 5 p.m. Sunday on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM. This week's guests are former Republican lawmaker Jonathan Paton and Democratic strategist Rodd McLeod, who will discuss the major political stories of 2016.

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