As all of you know by now, my primary focus, even before being elected your supervisor, has been to “Just Fix the Roads.” As you read this, we are closing in on Election Day – Tuesday, November 6th. On the ballot will be a slew of candidates for elected offices, as well as a number of numerically entitled propositions.
Proposition 463 is a voter-authorized, bonding authorization proposal designed to fix our roads. Last July, I voted to submit this proposal to you, the voters, so you would have a say in how we fix our roads; and I believe that is how it should be. All of us have been debating, discussing, and arguing over several different road repair plans and for various reasons, all of those plans failed to materialize. As a result, our roads still are not fixed and are getting worse and more expensive to repair each passing day. On November 6th, you will have your say about fixing our roads.
Let me give you some information on Proposition 463: “Pima County is asking voters to consider authorizing the sale of $430 million in general obligation bonds to fund reconstruction, preservation, and repair of existing public roads across the region. General obligation bonds are repaid with property taxes. Pima County intends to structure repayment of the bond debt so that the current property tax rate will not increase. The bonds would be issued with short repayment periods so that the debt repayment period will not exceed the life of the road repairs. Bond proceeds cannot be used for anything but reconstruction, preservation, and repair of existing public roads, as well as costs incidental to each bond sale.” (Source: Pima County Prop. 463 flyer)
The number one question I am asked time and time again is, “Can bond proceeds be used for items not included in the ballot language?” That’s a nice way of asking, “Can we trust Pima County to actually fix the roads with the bond money?” The way I read the bond implementation requirements is that the bond money can only go to fixing the roads which is more restrictive than our general fund spending.
Is Proposition 463 the best, only, or first choice for fixing our roads? It is not my first choice. I’ve always said, and consistently maintained, that my first choice is to arrange for the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) to manage and administrate a comprehensive, regional road repair plan. However, in order for the RTA to take the lead in such a road plan, the state legislature would have to allow and approve an amended and enhanced RTA. Then, this new iteration of the RTA would have to be placed on the next available ballot and receive voter approval. As evidenced by the failure of Senate Bill 1147 at the end of the last legislative session, the “RTA-In-Charge” approach has no guarantees for success at either the Capitol or the ballot box.
Proposition 463, if approved by you, is a “bridge” plan for immediate road repair. It will allow road repair work to commence right away. Since the funds can only be used to reconstruct, repair or preserve existing roads, no land acquisition, design, or engineering is necessary. Therefore, the work can begin quickly. If another better funding source for the road repair presents itself – like the RTA administrated plan I support – we can terminate any additional bond sales. Just because the county has your authority to issue $430 million in bonds that does not mean that they have to be all be issued. In the meantime, I will continue to pursue and assist in efforts to enact the RTA-administered road repair plan.
We hear from opponents of Proposition 463 that there is, “Enough money in the county budget” and that, “The county receives annually enough money” to fix our roads without bonding. They say, “All we need to do is to re-prioritize our spending” and “Have the will to set priorities” for road repair.
In a perfect world, they might be correct. However, those same folks have been saying that for years and yet we are only getting farther and farther behind on road maintenance. That’s because of the political make-up of the board of supervisors. The majority that has been and is now in control of the budget and its spending priorities will not allow any changes in spending to address our road repair problem from the county budget.
As much as I would love to be a member of the board’s majority and to be able to re-prioritize our budgetary spending, including roads, even if that were to happen, the new board would not take charge until January of 2021 and would confront the same dilemmas we face today – but with conditions even worse.
As a businessman deeply involved in the Tucson business community for decades, if I knew something was wrong with my business’ physical plant that was seriously preventing me from operating and conducting my business, like a broken pipe or leaking roof, I would fix it right away. Business owners have real skin in the game and terrible roads hurt their businesses. Homeowners have skin in the game too, and terrible roads hurt their home’s value and curb appeal.
The choice is yours, it is up to you, the voters of Pima County. As my wife Susie tells me every morning as I leave for the office, “Honey, just fix the roads.”