C'mon, Tucson: It's time to fix the roads, replace our firetrucks and police cars and otherwise upgrade our public safety.
While the city has made headway in repairing our damaged streets, it's obvious the job isn't done. Our aging fleet of fire trucks and police cars are in desperate need of replacement. And our cops and firefighters need new equipment in order to keep you safe when you need them.
Here's what the city is asking: Your approval of a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax for five years, after which the tax goes away. While your cost will vary depending on how much you shop, it's estimated that will cost Tucsonans at extra $3 a month.
That will raise an estimated $50 million a year, or $250 million over five years, with 40 percent going to the roads, 30 percent to the Fire Department and 30 percent to the Police Department.
Here's what you'll get:
• Streets across the city would be repaved and rebuilt at a cost of $100 million. That includes major corridors, collector streets and even neighborhood roads. The city has already demonstrated that when it comes to road repair, it does what it says it is going to do. In 2012, voters narrowly approved $100 million in bonds to be paid back via property taxes. The gamble has paid off. The city has now repaved 183 miles of streets. Big stretches of our city's arterials—Kolb Road, Speedway, 22nd Street, Valencia Road, Fort Lowell and many others—are now smooth rides. The work came in under budget and ahead of schedule, meaning you're getting more than promised. How often do you get to say that about a government project?
• The Police Department and Fire Department would get new cars and the modern equipment that goes along it—new laptops, new cameras in the cars, new lifesaving equipment for ambulances. For police officer safety, there's money for new bulletproof vests. For police officer accountability, there are new body cameras. To ensure that cops and firefighters have the resources to do their jobs, there are upgrades to aging police and fire stations.
The business community, which has never been shy about criticizing the city, is all in on Prop 101, with enthusiastic support coming from the Tucson Metro Chamber and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council. The cops and firefighters are supporting it. The Pima County Democratic Party has voted to support it.
You'll hear various arguments against the sales tax.
Critics will say that the city just needs to cut the budget elsewhere to pay for streets and cops cars and fire trucks. Well, the city has been cutting. The number of employees has dropped from more than 6,000 in 2008 to about 4,500 this year.
Critics will say that the tax is regressive and hurts people at the bottom more than those at the top. That's true, to some extent. But there aren't really a lot of other options. It's not as if the city could enact a progressive income tax. And higher property taxes are also regressive—and those are all paid by Tucson property owners, while at least some of the sales taxes are paid by tourists, county residents and those who live in the suburbs. No tax is ideal, but this one at least spreads the cost so that Tucsonans aren't the only ones footing the bill, which wouldn't be possible with a property tax. On top of that, groceries, medicine and rents remain untaxed in Tucson, so that's a break on necessities for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Critics will say that the city always tries to balance the budget on the backs of the poorest in Tucson. That's not true, either. The city has passed on the opportunity to tax housing rental payments several times in the past. It has not turned to creating a sales tax on groceries, as other jurisdictions have.
This tax would bring Tucson up to the level of other jurisdictions in the area, such as Oro Valley and Marana, as well as most other Arizona cities.
Whether you're rich or poor, it's vital to have an ambulance when you need one. It's vital that cops can do their job. It's vital that we have decent streets. These things are good for residents and they're good for persuading new companies to move here, improving our ability to create jobs and have a decent standard of living.
Through the recent tough economic times, the current City Council has demonstrated that it can wisely manage its finances, despite losing a lot of state and federal funding. It has made tough spending cuts. It has turned around downtown redevelopment and improved the business climate. It has shown that when given money to fix roads, it handles the job competently.
In short, the city has earned our trust.
Let's invest in ourselves and quit trying to do everything on the cheap. That's how we ended up with lousy roads in the first place.
Vote Yes on Prop 101.