The Star supports the sale of $100 million in bonds to repair Tucson streets.
We realize that Proposition 409 is a bitter draught for taxpayers, so let us analyze the sour taste straight on.
Taxpayers are right to question how the streets were allowed to fall into such disrepair and why elected officials didn't make better budget choices to fix them. The problem is hardly unique to Tucson. Cities, counties and states across the nation cut back on road spending as tax revenues fell during the recession. In Arizona, state government made matters worse for local government by cutting funding from shared gas-tax collections.
As for budget choices, the city of Tucson has made difficult ones in recent years. Staffing, for example, is down from 6,042 full-time-equivalent employees in 2006 to 4,937 in the current budget. Sixty percent of the city's discretionary spending goes to police, fire and parks - the three things residents have said are core services. There isn't enough that's expendable in the rest of the general fund to fix the streets and still run courts, IT, purchasing and the other basic functions. Some dollars should be diverted to roads, yes, but it won't be enough to stop the deterioration.
Even the $100 million Proposition 409 would spend over five years isn't a total fix. It would repair and resurface 31 percent of the city's major streets and 7 percent of neighborhood streets. All told, about 244 of 2,100 miles would be worked on. The spending is a start, though, at an annual cost to taxpayers of $18 per $100,000 full cash value of their property.
Another question taxpayers are right to ask is whether Tucson city government can be trusted to spend the money wisely. The waste of Rio Nuevo and all variety of scandal (watching porn on the job, using city materials and labor to do private road work, missing parking meter money, etc.) hang over everything the city does. We have two observations about trust.
First, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild has been in office less than a year. He didn't oversee Rio Nuevo. City Manager Richard Miranda is also new to his job. Give him credit as the guy in charge when the city blew the whistle on the alleged cheaters who did private construction with city resources.
The proposed road bonds are 100 percent the responsibility of Rothschild and Miranda. If the projects aren't finished as promised - and on time and on budget - those two should be held accountable.
Second, they and the City Council have written Proposition 409 to enforce accountability. A map shows the major streets to be fixed, and that list cannot change without a public hearing and council vote. Of the $100 million, $99 million would go to private contractors and $1 million would go toward the cost of selling bonds. In other words, the city would keep nothing for administrative expense, nor would city employees fix the roads.
Skepticism is warranted about the ability of Tucson city government to do what it promises. But it's the government we have, led by the people Tucsonans elected. There's no reason to believe that our failing streets will be repaired unless Tucsonans pay the bill.
We encourage you to vote "yes" on Proposition 409.
Arizona Daily Star