You may have already received your ballot in the mail for the Nov. 3 election.
As is typical of off-year elections, you don't have too much to decide. Should you keep the incumbents on the Tucson City Council? Should you throw out the bums in Oro Valley? And what about all these propositions?
This year, we're letting you decide on your own which candidates you think are best, but we're weighing in on the various propositions because they're important to the community's future.
The Bond Package: Hell Yes!
Pima County is asking voters to approve an $815 million bond package. While the price tag may be high, so are Pima County's needs. And while we might not like every single project in the package, there are enough worthy projects that we can live with the other stuff.
Here's the bottom line, as calculated by the county: If you live in a house that is at the county's average value of roughly $152,000, your taxes will go up by less than $18 a year. That's like $1.50 a month. In exchange, you'll get better roads, better parks, historic preservation, more libraries, expanded open space, improved flood protection and a whole lot more. This strikes us as a reasonable deal.
Opponents of the bonds complain about the county's high property taxes, but that argument falls apart once you consider that, unlike nearly every county, Pima County doesn't have a general sales tax, so it has to rely on property taxes more than the other counties. On top of that, Maricopa County has created alternative government entities that levy separate property taxes for health care and jails, which makes their property tax look lower on paper.
Critics complain about outrageous debt without acknowledging that said debt is voter approved in most cases and paid off within 15 years of issuing the bonds. (And half of that debt comes from improvements to the county's sewer system; other counties do not manage regional sewer systems.)
They toss all kinds of numbers around to discredit the county and make all manner of allegations about corruption—money gets moved around, elections get rigged, Chuck Huckelberry is the prince of darkness, blah blah blah.
These allegations were widespread enough that the Arizona Legislature made the Arizona Auditor General examine the Pima County's bond program. The end result: In a 2013 report, the Auditor General found no wrongdoing with bond program, noted that the money had been spent appropriately in areas that the county had promised to spend it and determined that "the projects have benefited citizens throughout Pima County."
We could debunk the BS all day long, but here's our bottom line: We believe in making this community a better place and trust that the bonds will do that. We're happy to stand alongside the Tucson Metro Chamber, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, the Tucson Business Alliance, the Tucson Association of Realtors, Visit Tucson, the Sun Corridor Inc., the Pima Area Labor Federation, the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, the Pima Library Foundation and the many other groups that support the bonds.
Here's why we think each of the props is worthy of your vote.
Prop 425 Road and Highway Improvements: Yes
Prop 425 would provide $160 million for road repairs and preservation throughout Pima County, $30 million to begin the "Sonoran Corridor" link between I-19 and I-10 south of Tucson and $10 million for improving Science Park Drive at the UA Tech Park.
If we're going to get better roads in Pima County, we're going to have to pay for them. And this measure is a step toward getting our road problems under control. Oddly, the same people who complain about the condition of our roads are the ones who oppose this bond. And some of they say that because it won't solve all of our problems, it's not worth doing at all, which is such a dumb argument it's not even worth refuting.
We'll admit that bonding is not the ideal way to fix our roads, but as business leaders like Mike Varney of the Chamber of Commerce or Ron Shoopman of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council will tell you, there are no other options. Neither the state nor the federal government are going to step in with more dollars to keep our streets paved. And Pima County has taken steps to ensure that the road bonds will be done in the most responsible way possible, with the aim of getting the bonds paid off more quickly than the rest of the package.
If you want an example of what road bonds can do, just look at what the city of Tucson has accomplished with its roads bonds: Hundreds of lane miles improved ahead of schedule and under budget. This isn't going to solve all our road problems, but it's a start.
Prop 426 Economic development, libraries and workforce training: Yes
Prop 426 would provide roughly $91 million for improvements to various library branches, a new "innovation/technology" building at the UA's tech park at The Bridges project ($21 million, with the UA providing matching funds), an Oro Valley "business accelerator" designed to house lab space for medical start-ups ($15 million), a regional orientation center for tourists ($18 million), the creating of a culinary and cultural corridor along South 12th Avenue ($3 million), a JobPath headquarters ($1 million) and similar projects. We can't say we're crazy about the regional orientation center, but we're not going to let skepticism about one project knock down a plan that is aimed at creating new jobs and training people with the skills to do them.
Prop 427 Tourism Promotion: Yes
Prop 427 would provide nearly $99 million for a variety of worthwhile projects, including improvements at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Canoa Ranch, Colossal Cave Mountain Park, the Old Pima County Courthouse (which will become an annex for the Tucson Museum of Art and be home to the proposed January 8 memorial), Old Tucson, the Pima Air and Space Museum, the Pima County Fairgrounds, Reid Park Zoo, the Temple of Music and Art and the Tucson Children's Museum. In many cases, the facilities have to raise matching funds, which will mean taxpayers get big improvements for half the cost.
Prop 428 Parks and Recreation: Yes
Prop 428 would provide a massive $191 million boost to parks across Pima County. The list of improvements is long and would go a long way toward improving quality of life.
Prop 429 Public health, welfare, safety, neighborhoods and housing: Yes
Prop 429 would provide roughly $105 million to improve Banner University Medical Center South Campus (the former Kino Hospital) and other county medical clinics as well as the juvenile justice system; build a Vail sheriff substation, affordable housing and sidewalks and other walkability elements for pedestrians; and help construct a new branch of the Community Food Bank in Sahaurita. This is a great mix of projects that will keep people healthy, safe and sound.
Prop 430 Natural area conservation and historic preservation: Yes
Prop 430 would provide $112 million $95 million for new open-space purchases as well as smaller amounts for various local projects, including $2.5 million for restoration work at San Xavier Mission (which will be matched by a local nonprofit), $1.5 million for rehabilitation of Dunbar School and $4 million toward major improvements at the north-central Fort Lowell Park. These are solid projects and, again, many will require matching funds, meaning the taxpayers' investment will be doubled.
Prop 431 Flood control and drainage: Yes
Prop 431 would provide just under $7 million for five drainage programs, including work at the confluence of the Santa Cruz, Rillito and Canyon del Oro rivers, the site of a future major park. This is necessary work and the bonds will allow Pima County to get it done sooner.
City of Tucson
Prop 201 Traffic Justice: No
Nobody likes getting a ticket, but the installation of cameras at key intersections in the city has resulted in a dramatic reduction of accidents—and that means people haven't been seriously injured or even killed. Sure, we've heard all the stories about people who have gotten tickets because the cameras malfunctioned or they had some one-of-a-kind incident that required them to somehow be out in the intersection when the light turned red. But those anomalies don't represent the fact that most drivers who are cited got their tickets because they were trying to beat the light. This town is full of people who run red lights, make lunatic lane changes, text while driving and otherwise speed along like oblivious jerks. If the cameras force some people to drive a little more carefully and pop the jerks who put other lives at risk, we're OK with that.
Prop 403 Equal Power for Mayor: Yes
This one is a no-brainer. Under the current structure of city government, the mayor has little power beyond planting trees and reading to schoolchildren (both of which, BTW, our current mayor, Jonathan Rothschild, does very well). This would give the mayor equal power to his fellow council members when it comes to firing high-ranking city officials and some other parliamentary authority. It's well past time we do this.
Prop 404 Removing civil-service protections for department heads: Yes
This is another no-brainer. Under the current rules, department heads at the city of Tucson enjoy too much job protection—and as a result, they know they don't have to follow orders from the city manager because it's almost impossible to get rid of them. While civil service protections are good for the rank-and-file, it's just silly to give them to the people at the top.
Prop 405: Raises for mayor and council: No
No. Prop 405 would boost the City Council's pay from $24,000 a year to $27,456 annually and the mayor's salary from $42,000 to $48,360 annually. While the pay seems low for what is a full-time job, there are a lot of other perks that come with the gig, from a free car to an outstanding pension after you serve just five years. Given how much the city has already cut back in vital services, we think it would send the wrong message to pass along raises.