In the Wake of Voter Rejection of Bond Package, Tucson Mayor Rothschild Says City May Need To Go It Alone

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Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild: "We need more road money. We need money for our downtown facilities. And we need money for our parks. It’s going to require a very focused, narrow strategy so that people will support paying a little extra for what they believe is a lot more.” - SYDNEY RICHARDSON/TUCSON LOCAL MEDIA
  • Sydney Richardson/Tucson Local Media
  • Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild: "We need more road money. We need money for our downtown facilities. And we need money for our parks. It’s going to require a very focused, narrow strategy so that people will support paying a little extra for what they believe is a lot more.”

Yesterday’s election brought expected outcomes (Republicans with few campaign resources were unable to dislodge any of the Democrats on the Tucson City Council) to the unpredictable (the incumbents in Oro Valley appear to be holding off their recall challengers).

But the big stunner of the night had to be the big defeat of the $815 million county bond package.

On paper, the bonds seemed a reasonable gamble. Pima County voters have almost always supported a wide variety of bond packages; just last year, they overwhelmingly agreed to borrow up to $22 million for a new animal-care center. Supporters of this year's seven packages included Democrats and Republicans, business leaders and environmentalists. They had far more money than the ragtag band of opponents.

But voters said no—and in many cases, it wasn’t even close. Two out of three voters rejected the idea of borrowing nearly $99 million for tourism projects like big improvements at places like the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Reid Park Zoo and the Tucson Children’s Museum. The closest proposition, $200 million for road repair, still lost by 8 percentage points.

There are plenty of theories about why the bond went down—and a combination of them probably explains why different people voted against them. Some people thought the price tag was too big. Some people don’t have a good feeling about their job or their retirement package and worry about bigger expenses. Some thought the projects were frivolous. Some hate taxes. Some just don’t trust Pima County to deliver.

Pima County Supervisor Ramon Valadez reminded the Weekly today that he had misgivings about moving forward this year with the bond package because he feared the economy still hadn’t recovered enough for people to feel confident about increasing their taxes.

“It wasn’t really the message of the opponents as much as fear,” Valadez said. “If you talk to business leaders, they’re starting to see the economy pick up, but until our working folks see that benefit, we’re going to be a similar place. If you go into the grocery store and your dollars doesn’t buy as much as it did five years ago and you’re not sure whether or not you’re going to pay your bills at the end of the month, even $20 a month may seem like a lot. I get it.”

Supervisor Ray Carroll, a Republican who supported the bond package, said he thought at least a few of the bond proposals would pass. He was particularly surprised to see the defeat of the road bond, which included $160 million for road repair as well as major funding for the start of the county’s proposed Sonoran Corridor, a new southside highway to link I-10 to I-19 and create a bypass near high-tech hubs like Raytheon and UA Tech Park.

“I don’t know how you’re going to get roads fixed with less revenue each year,” Carroll said. “This isn’t going make it any easier.”

The bond loss dampened the mood at the gathering of Democrats who were celebrating their reelection to the Tucson City Council at the Doubletree Hotel. While the Democrats were happy about their big wins, there was shock and concern about the defeat of the $815 million county bond package.

Rothschild, who faced no opposition, wryly declared victory before the first results were released.

“I’m pleased that I’m going to be able to serve the city for another four years,” Rothschild said. “I know we have great challenges ahead.”

Rothschild told the Weekly that he was surprised and disappointed by the failure of the entire bond package.

“I thought the voters of this community would support roads, would support parks, support economic development,” Rothschild said.

He said that the council now needed to see if there’s a way to persuade voters to support projects in Tucson.

“We need to go back and look at why the bonds failed,” Rothschild said. “We need to take a focused look at what our needs and projects are to improve the city. We need more road money. We need money for our downtown facilities. And we need money for our parks. It’s going to require a very focused, narrow strategy so that people will support paying a little extra for what they believe is a lot more.”

Ward 1 Councilwoman Regina Romero, who captured about 57 percent of the vote in her race against Republican challenger Bill Hunt, said that she was “really happy. I’m glad the voters saw beyond the mudslinging and trying to bring Tucson down. I’m glad they want to return us to the council. We have a really good team. Just like any other family, there are disagreements, there is push and pull, but we are on the same page and we want to move Tucson forward.”

But Romero added she was “feeling sad in my heart” over the voters’ rejection of the bonds.

“All these projects that would have improved quality of life and bring jobs not just to Tucson but the region weren’t supported,” Romero said. “It’s bad news for Tucson and bad news for the community.”

Romero said that funding for those kinds of projects, whether road repairs or park improvements, has to come from local sources.

“The days of federal funding, state funding, are gone,” Romero said.

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