City of Tucson residents casting their ballots in the Nov. 5 election have two straightforward choices to make on Propositions 401 and 402. Both benefit the city and its residents with no downside to voters. They should be approved without hesitation.
Prop. 401 is listed on the ballot as “Proposing a permanent increase of $50 million in the city of Tucson’s base expenditure limit, pursuant to Article IX, Section 20, Subsection 6 of the Arizona Constitution.”
What does that mean?
All cities in Arizona are restricted by the state on the amount of money they can spend per budget year; this is the base expenditure limit. In 1980 the Legislature instituted the limit as a way to control government spending. Every year since then, the base expenditure limit is calculated by taking the city’s budget for fiscal year 1980 and taking into account previous voter-approved adjustments, population growth and inflation.
Although the city’s current budget is $1.3 billion, this includes money from the Regional Transportation Authority, bonds, and state and federal grants that do not count toward the expenditure limit, which is currently set at $662 million. Prop. 401 would raise that limit by $50 million.
The city’s revenue is expected to reach the current spending limit within the next few years. Due to the current restrictions the city would not be able to spend that additional money on services, programs and infrastructure unless the proposition is approved. Most troubling, as the city’s costs increase it would not be able to pay its bills even if it has the revenue to do so and would instead be forced to cut services it already offers.
Prop. 401 does not allow the city to spend more than it receives in tax revenue and will only raise the cap on the artificial spending limit imposed by the state. The proposition does not mean more taxes — of any kind.
While there are no immediate consequences if the measure fails, the problem is not going away. Projected city revenues will still reach the spending cap as soon as 2015. If Prop. 401 fails this time, it will probably be back on the ballot next election. Whatever time, resources and funds are spent to present it again will just be a waste of taxpayer money.
Vote yes on Prop. 401.
Prop. 402 concerns the ratification of Plan Tucson as the general plan for the city. The plan is a blueprint designed to guide the city’s growth and development over the next decade. State law requires voters to approve a new plan about every 10 years; the previous plan was adopted in 2001.
Plan Tucson is the result of years of hard work by city staff and public input, incorporating 64 public meetings and more than 800 comments from stakeholders. The plan covers many areas including housing, public safety, education, business development, environmental quality and historic preservation, all with a focus on sustainability.
Approval of the plan would not result in new taxes. And while it is nonbinding and the council and mayor are free to disregard its recommendations, it would optimally be used to guide officials in establishing priorities as the city grows. Assistant City Manager Albert Elias also told us city staff would be periodically briefing the council on what progress, if any, is made toward Plan Tucson’s goals as a way to keep the document relevant.
In Plan Tucson city staff has done a good job of balancing competing interests , and the proposal offers a strong framework for decision-making that voters should approve and the council would be wise to consider.
Vote yes on Prop. 402.