Tucson is at a crossroads, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said in his State of the City speech.
The city can choose to languish in the past or it can choose to build on its recent success and transition onto a path to prosperity.
Rothschild touted his vision for Tucson in front of hundreds of community members at the Tucson Convention Center.
Revitalizing downtown, helping house almost 500 homeless veterans and fixing the city’s crumbling streets are evidence that good things can happen when the public and private sectors work together, Rothschild said.
But more needs to be done if Tucson wants to emerge from the economic doldrums, he added.
To get there, Rothschild said, Tucson needs to replace the antiquated Five C’s with a new mantra: Five T’s — technology, trade, tourism, teaching and transportation.
“The Five T’s build on our strengths, who we are and who we can become,” Rothschild said.
So how can the five T’s improve Tucson?
• Technology: Continue investing in entrepreneurs who dabble in technology, which can lead high-paying-job growth. Also, the city must preserve the top jobs already here and support measures to keep Davis-Monthan and the Air National Guard from leaving.
• Trade: Bolster ties Tucson already has with Mexico by opening trade offices in Obregon and Hermosillo, and eventually Mexico City, and expanding direct flights to Mexico. Rothschild pointed to a Mexican sugar company, Zucarmex, signing a lease with the Port of Tucson that will create up to 50 jobs as evidence that building bridges, not tearing them down with bills like SB 1070, can lead to economic gains.
• Transportation: Saying a strong infrastructure begets a strong economy, Rothschild called for building out of Interstate 10, Interstate 19 and Arizona 189. “These are near-term strategic investments that we can accomplish now,” he said.
• Tourism: Work with groups such as Visit Tucson to promote the region.
• Teaching: Businesses won’t relocate if a school system is a shambles. He said the state Legislature has starved schools of funding, and now Arizona ranks last in the nation in education spending. He asked everyone to demand the Legislature open the purse strings and adequately fund education.
To accomplish those goals and expand the economic pie, Tucson needs money. Rothschild said the city doesn’t have a spending problem; it has a revenue problem because anti-government ideologues at both the federal and state level have implemented steep cuts over the years.
“The strategy is obvious. If you don’t believe government can do a good job providing services, stop funding it, thereby proving your point,” he said. “No philosophy could be more destructive.”
Rothschild said that unlike Pima County, the city has little control of its revenues because it doesn’t collect its own property taxes and is constrained by its charter if it wants to create additional revenue.
The city’s best hope to raise revenue is by growing business within the city limits, either by tax inducements or annexation, he said.
County officials who attended the meeting were perplexed by the mayor’s characterization of property taxes and the county’s perceived financial advantage.
Supervisor Sharon Bronson said the mayor was factually correct that the county collects property taxes and then distributes them to each entity, including Tucson, according to state law. But that doesn’t mean the county can keep or redistribute property tax revenue. She said the mayor might have received some bad information if he thinks Pima County has control over who receives what in property taxes.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said that while the city has a charter, the county is constrained by the state’s constitution.
“Everybody has a limit. Because they’re a charter city, the city can have voters lift it,” Huckelberry said. “If we want to make a change, we need the entire state” to vote for it.
Rothschild concluded his speech by praising the efforts of city employees and asking critics to stop attacking the city’s image.
He said whether anyone likes it or not, the success of the region hinges on the success and image of the city.
He said for too long, the focus has been on Tucson’s missteps, not the things it gets right.
“We have no problem finding problems,” he said. “What doesn’t get much attention are Tucson’s strengths.”
Rothschild said everyone needs to stop attacking “your fundamental asset, your city, the city others identify as the region.”