Pima county roads

Pima County’s supervisors always say they want to fix area roads, but they keep rejecting plans that would pay to do it.

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star 2017

Lost in the din of budgetary wrangling at the state Capitol, a major transportation funding bill made it to the goal line but never crossed.

Among other things, HB 2162 would have allowed the Pima County Board of Supervisors — on a simple majority vote — to refer to the voters a half-cent expansion of the RTA tax for road repair. If a majority of voters gave the OK, it would have meant hundreds of millions of dollars for the region’s crumbling streets.

The bill “became a victim of end-of-session and budget deal-making,” said Michael Racy, the county’s lobbyist, adding later: “We were very, very close, we were standing on the finish line.”

That leaves Pima County with just one option this year for a countywide sales tax for road repair, something many officials say is the only measure up to the task of addressing the estimated $1 billion road problem facing the county’s cities, towns and vast unincorporated areas. Critics — such as Supervisor Ally Miller — argue that any sales tax is unnecessary and that current resources are sufficient if properly prioritized.

She’s an all-but-certain no vote for a county board-approved sales tax, an ordinance which is up for a vote this Tuesday. She didn’t return a call seeking comment.

That ordinance, which sets the ground rules for the sales tax, requires a simple majority vote, but the actual tax requires a seemingly impossible unanimous vote.

Given the tax’s dim prospects, this column won’t bore its readers with all the details. In short, the ordinance would divvy up proceeds between different jurisdictions based on both population and relative assessed value, involve the RTA in the development of a 10-year repair plan and auditing of progress, and dedicate significant general fund dollars to programs that aid low-income county residents, who are disproportionately impacted by sales taxes. The last element was pushed for by Supervisor Richard Elías, who said his support for the tax was contingent on substantial social program support.

But it has also soured Supervisor Steve Christy on the whole thing. He feels it diverts resources from the more important task of addressing the state of county roads, and as a result told the Road Runner on Friday that he would not be voting for the ordinance. Unlike Miller, Christy is a full-throated defender of some form of a countywide sales tax, and even put out his own plan for such a measure last year.

The ordinance may very well pass the board on Tuesday, but with two all-but-certain nos and a third skeptic, a unanimous sales tax vote June 19 — the date of final budget adoption — seems as likely as a blizzard that week.

“It’s dead on arrival,” Christy said of the ordinance and sales tax. “At this point it’s just theater, and I’m throwing in the towel on the whole thing.”

The current 25-cent road property may also face strong headwinds on its way to renewal. It was approved on a 3-2, party-line vote last year, but this year County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is advocating for the board to require a unanimous renewal vote.

The road property tax brings in about $20 million a year for local road repair, which is split between unincorporated areas and cities and towns. Christy was a no vote with Miller last year, and said he would be again this year, which is enough to sink it if three of his colleagues approve the unanimous bar for passage.

Deputy County Administrator Carmine DeBonis said, “I think it is a possibility” that the sales tax won’t be approved and the property tax won’t be renewed. That would mean back to the waiting game for the streets approved for repair in the road property-tax plan.

Given how far the RTA expansion bill made it this year, Racy is hopeful that things will go differently next legislative cycle.

But in the meantime, things don’t look great for local road repair, according to Christy.

“After all these months, there is nothing imminent, nothing in the works in the short-term or long-term to fix the roads in Pima County,” he said.

DOWN THE ROAD
  • Both directions of Interstate 10 between Picacho Peak and Red Rock northwest of Tucson will be reduced to two lanes from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Monday through Saturday for road repairs.
Sun Tran meetings

Sun Tran is looking to make two pilot fares permanent transit-ticketing options, and would like public input on the proposal. The $10 three-day pass was piloted between August and February, and the $25 for $20 program allowed riders to load $25 worth of rides onto their SunGO cards for $20.

There will be several open houses on the proposed changes during the next week:

  • Monday, May 14, noon to 1 p.m., Agave Room, University of Arizona Student Union, 1303 E. University Blvd.
  • Tuesday, May 15, noon to 1 p.m., LL meeting room, Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave.
  • Wednesday, May 16, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., main meeting room, Miller-Golf Links Library, 9640 E. Golf Links Road.
  • Thursday, May 17, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., El Pueblo Recreation Center, 101 W. Irvington Road.
  • Monday, May 21, noon to 1 p.m., El Rio Neighborhood Center, 1390 W. Speedway.
  • Tuesday, May 22, 11 a.m. to noon, Woods Memorial Library, 3455 N. 1st Ave.; and 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Tucson City Council Ward 2 Office, 7575 E. Speedway

Contact: mwoodhouse@tucson.com or 573-4235. On Twitter: @murphywoodhouse

Pima County reporter and Road Runner columnist for the Arizona Daily Star