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What the Devil won't tell you

Prop. 101 OKed: Council's road to redemption will now be paved

Sales tax success a vote of confidence for Tucson leaders

Look out, world. Tucson city voters appear to have established a consensus around the need for taxes.

The city obviously needed money for new public safety capital and to pave fixes across Tucson's grid of roads. Opposition barely made a peep. And yet … the outcome was far from secure. The same could be said for Pima County's bond proposal 18 months ago and … well … boom.

Life gets dicey when trying to predict Arizona voters appetites for taxes but at the end of Election Day, voters approved Prop 101 with an exclamation point. That's good news for Tucson because it's hard not to interpret it as a vote of confidence in the city's leadership — they got rewarded for being smart.

The ballot measure went soaring over the 50 percent threshold, coasting in even Republican stronghold War 2 with close to 60 percent of the vote and even passing in the itinerant Ward 4 with 54 percent. In Democratic wards, dominated by socialists (of course), Prop 101 was approve by a 2 to 1 margin.

Related: Tucson sales-tax bump passes easily; will fund police, fire & roads

I went deep into the need for Prop 101 last month. I'll just give a quick take on why this is good news for Tucson beyond the obvious win for detective sergeants still using laptops from the Bush era.

Voters rewarded smart, shrewd leadership from the City Council ... yes, the Tucson City Council. (Read that line again if need be. I'll go grab a Coke.)

In the two years since new City Manager Mike Ortega arrived, the city has seemed to have its collective act together.

But for escalating pension costs, the city's finances are finally in order, and outside forces are driving those pension problems. The Council seems to be working better together and there has been a string of happy announcements when it comes to economic development. Those happen don't happen if City Hall roils with dysfunction.

Also, Rio Nuevo's downtown troubles grows smaller in the rear-view mirror with each passing month. That's huge.

The City Council deserves credit for its maturing ranks, as the members coalesce into a governing body that works well together. Their reputation has lagged some but the Council just asked for higher taxes and 60 percent of voters said yes.

The sales tax question itself may be the best proof that the Council has come a long way from the factionalized, can-kicking that caused personal drama and budget trauma during the first decade of the new century.

Ortega, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and the rest of the Council presented a well thought-through ballot question, tightly constructed around the services traditional adversaries would think twice about challenging. It's a model for the future because they limited the issue's scope.

People can disagree about the proper scope of government, but few dispute the need street repair and capital for emergency services. Roads erode and fire trucks break down. That's an easy sell.

A Christmas (notice “Christmas” FOX News viewers) tree of social wants and green needs would have proven a tougher ask for city voters. This is even more true, ironically, after years of slow economic and job growth in the Tucson area. Yeah, the needs are greater but the voters are typically less-willing to pay more out of tight family budgets.

The county gave voters a “something-for-everyone” proposition with their 2015 bond program. Search crews are still looking for debris in that smoldering hole in the ground.

Don't despair, lefties. You won too. The expenses covered by Prop 101 are must-haves. The city was going to have to figure out a way to pay for roads, cops and fire regardless. Securing an additional $250 million funding source for asphalt and badges means those needs won't compete with other city needs not funded by this sales tax.

And limiting the tax to one-time, big-ticket capital needs won't leave the city in the lurch if voters don't extend the tax at the end of its five-year lifespan. Had the tax gone to pay for daily operations, then it would have been a disaster in the making.

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Much of the success was in winning the battle before it started. No organized opposition sprung up – not a single political action committee raised a dime to stop the tax proposal. One would think that asking for a higher tax would at least provoke boilerplate conservative outrage. That never happened.

The Pima County Republicans sent out email blasts trying to beat back Prop 101 but they just didn't have much sub rosa outrage to tap.

The GOP can claim to have been caught off guard by the ballot proposal, as they've said. That just means they weren't paying attention. The city has been discussing a sales tax for transportation and public safety for years. Then again, it's hardly a loss for them if they get the roads and public safety needs they've been fighting for, too.

I think they knew it was coming but they didn't want a war with their buddies in the Tucson Police Officers Association.

The sales tax rate will rise and that will be tough on some. Others will object on principle about higher taxes. That's fine. But overwhelmingly, in mid-May 2017, Tucson appears to be on the same page. That's something that we haven't seen for a while.

Fear not Council critics. There's still the prospect for another bus strike about 10 weeks away,

Blake Morlock is a journalist who has spent 17 years covering government in Arizona and has worked in Democratic political communications


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