Tim Steller

Tim Steller

Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller’s comments took her fellow board members by surprise.

During a discussion at Tuesday’s meeting about how to pay for road repairs, Miller, a Republican, said, “Funding it via property tax in my opinion is not the way to go about this.”

Supervisors Chair Sharon Bronson, a Democrat, cut in: “If you don’t want to go with property tax are you willing to support a sales tax?”

Miller answered, “I’m willing to discuss one.”

Now, it appears, she’s going to have a chance.

The interesting turn of events in which Miller first supported the property-tax plan, then opposed it, is leading to another interesting turn: A new proposal to use sales tax instead of property tax to put more money into repairs of Pima County roads.

All the supervisors did Tuesday is approve a top limit on their spending. They tentatively approved a plan to increase the property tax, probably for a year, to put more money into road repairs, but that plan won’t receive final approval until June 20.

Supervisor Ramón Valadez, also a Democrat, has asked County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry to put on the agenda that day an alternative to the property-tax plan: A new countywide sales tax that would raise about the same amount of money.

“She claims it’s negotiable, but we’re going to see if she puts her money where her mouth is,” Valadez said of Miller.

The turn of events is especially surprising because Miller campaigned on the idea she, as she put on her campaign signs, “stopped a countywide sales tax.” Actually, she hadn’t, at least not alone: None was ever proposed, and it was likely that then-supervisor Ray Carroll would have voted against a sales-tax as well. The board must vote unanimously to impose a sales tax, so either could have killed it.

Miller correctly pointed out during the meeting Tuesday and afterward that she hadn’t been opposed to using sales-tax money to pay for roads. She proposed a plan during the campaign that would have used half of the Regional Transportation Authority’s half-cent sales tax revenue for road repair and maintenance.

But she hasn’t acknowledged that she would consider adding to that tax till recent weeks. (Formally, Pima County itself does not have a sales tax, but the RTA tax is imposed throughout Pima County.)

After the meeting Tuesday, Miller told me and other reporters, “I would be willing to add a half-cent given certain conditions are met.”

What those conditions are is unclear. How she got to this position is pretty interesting, though. Last week, Miller told my colleague Murphy Woodhouse that she would support Huckelberry’s plan to use a dedicated stream of property tax money to pay for road repairs.

That must have been a tough position for her to take, given her consistent opposition to Huckelberry’s initiatives, but she also has been under some pressure to get behind a solution, any solution, to the road problem. Miller defended the idea up through the end of the week but got increasing pushback from supporters.

This week, her tune changed to support of the sales-tax idea — with conditions that she did not get back to me to expand on Thursday. My best guess is that whatever conditions she demands will be unacceptable to the Democratic board members, and we’ll end up in the same place we are now, with Huckelberry’s property-tax plan.

Miller would come out of that looking both pragmatic, for having offered a solution, and principled for opposing the solution that her constituents despised. That’s having it both ways.

If the board ends up unanimously approving a new sales tax, we’ll end up in the surprising position of having the county pile one new sales tax for roads on top of the city of Tucson’s new, voter-approved sales tax for roads.

Smith in for CD1

State Sen. Steve Smith is clearing a path to be the Republican candidate for the U.S. House in Congressional District 1.

Smith announced last week he’ll be running for the GOP nomination, and that will give him a big jump on others who want to take on Democratic Congressman Tom O’Halleran. Smith, of course, has long represented Legislative District 11, which encompasses the northwest side of metro Tucson and much of Pinal County.

That’s far from the outer edges of the vast congressional district, which reaches the Navajo Nation, but it is the center of the district’s population base.

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Smith has been a conservative Republican in the Legislature but told me his own history shows he can win over voters in traditionally Democratic areas. Plus, he pointed out, CD1 voted for Trump in the November election.

“I think the district is showing that it’s open to what I would call commonsensical political ideas,” he said.

Not GOP enough

Gary Watson has been a registered member of the GOP all his adult life, he told me, so when he decided to run for Tucson City Council in Ward 3, it was natural he would run as a Republican.

Then he met with the Pima County Republicans.

As Jim Nintzel reported in the Tucson Weekly, the local party interviewed Watson and found they didn’t really like his positions. Most importantly Watson, a firefighter with Northwest Fire, supported Tucson’s Proposition 101. That initiative, which passed earlier this month, increases the sales tax for five years to pay for road repairs and public-safety vehicles for Tucson firefighters, among other things.

When they finished talking, Pima County GOP Chair David Eppihimer told Watson his positions meant the GOP wouldn’t be able to support him. Watson’s support for Prop. 101 was a deal breaker.

Watson acknowledged he agreed with the party on some issues, and that he agreed with Democrats on others. So now, Watson is collecting signatures to run as an independent in the seat being vacated by Democrat Karin Uhlich.

Romney’s back

Mitt Romney’s run for the presidency seems like it was a lifetime ago, but he apparently remains a draw for some Republicans.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake has been heavily promoting fundraisers he’s having with Romney in Tucson and Phoenix. Flake hasn’t disclosed the details of next Friday’s event but has been putting on a “contest” in which people who donate $5 or more will be given a chance to win seats at the event.

Contact: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789.

Columnist

Tim Steller is the Star’s metro columnist. A 20-plus year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his opinion on it all.