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What the Devil won't tell you

Election '17: Yes to zoo, no to paying for it (most Tucson thing ever)

Election results show what happens when gig economy turns out and votes

You absolutely have to love Tucson sometimes.

In a column last week, I referred to my father's horse sense about "swinging for doubles" as that applies to economic development. Tonight, props go to my mother.

I told her about Props. 202 and 203, which were both required to expand and improve the Reid Park Zoo habitats. Sorry, lions and tigers. Voters approved your new digs but, as it stands now, rejected the funding mechanism.

"That's the gig economy for you," mom sighed when she heard.

Incumbent City Council members Steve Kozachik and Richard Fimbres won and will be joined by local attorney Paul Durham, setting Tucson's course.

All Democrats, all the time ... whatever. Props. 202 and 203 tell Tucsonans one of the frustrating things about ourselves. With Prop. 202, voters said "yes" to upgrading the zoo, 36,000 to 33,000. With Prop. 203, they narrowly said "no" to paying for those upgrades, with 36,216 voting against and 35,866 casting ballots in favor. Without 203 passing, 202 becomes moot.

Yes, we want the zoo animals to have better digs and we approve of the plan. Go do it!

No, we won't give you a red cent to pay for it.

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That may be the most Tucson thing, ever. It's kind of like New York's pizza rat trying to haul a slice up the steps at the subway stop. Rats, pizza and subways. Welcome to the Big Apple. In Tucson, we all want nicer things. We just think those things rain down from heaven like high-skilled workers from the Rust Belt.

School overrides in Marana and Sunnyside failed. A Tucson Unified School District bond election took a meteor's header into the soil somewhere near Park Avenue and 2nd Street. And the half-cent sales tax for expanded pre-school just burned up in the atmosphere.

I know. I opined against the preschool tax and with good reason. It was ill-conceived and way too vague. Yet the wholesale wreckage of these increased expenditures just proves Tucson doesn't want nice things. We got a good view of the Catalinas. We don't need snow shovels. The sky is blue. The sunsets are oh-my-god gorgeous. That's enough.

Gigified, personified

We want more money to be spent on education so long as that money isn't ours.

Give the otters more room to swim, sure. Just don't ask me to pay for it.

Of course, all those gig-seeking hustlers can tell you how this works: "Yes, your skill would be awesome. You are going to do it for free, right?"

After I got laid off atop the Great Recession, there were no end of people looking for my help but "you know we can't pay you, right," was a typical punctuation to that statement. I have a friend who writes computer code and it seems once a month he's getting someone asking him to do it for free. I won't task you with listening to the rest.

I can't help think the one has something to do with the other.

Living in Tucson, I guess, is "a calling." We we live cheap and figure the rest out later in a never-ending feedback loop.

We're full of businesses boostering Tucson's efforts to improve Tucson's wages by bringing other business here so they can pay good wages. If our own businesses did as much, the need for others to do so would be less acute.

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"Come to Tucson, Amazon, and forego every other major metro area clawing over one another to land the economic development prize in a generation. Here's a housewarming cactus to welcome you."

Did we invest in schools? No.

Did we invest in freeways?

How's our airport? Next question. How's our health care? Don't ask. 

What's that? No? Your lips move, Mr. Bezos, but the words coming out of your mouth make no sense ...

I can't help think the one has something to do with the other. We'll expand the zoo, so long as it doesn't cost us anything.

Maybe explain why you need the money

Messaging in Tucson's "just-say-gratis" economy gets tricky fast. Government didn't help itself.

The zoo is one of those things no one wants to say "no" to because the animals are cool. We get the fact that better accommodations are more humane for a bunch of critters genetically bred to prowl the wilds but who instead now just lounge about for our enjoyment. On the other hand, given the poverty of public sector, is it any wonder voters think maybe we should worry about the anteater after our roads are fixed?

Voters would be left scratching their heads if the did bother to go searching for information out of Sunnyside and Marana school districts regarding the overrides. Marana never bothered explaining why it needed the money. What can't it do now? We'll find out because it still can't do it.

Sunnyside School District's explanation was laughable.

Click on the district's web page explaining why the override is necessary and the first answer to the district's list of FAQ's reads like this:

Q: WHAT IS AN M&O BUDGET OVERRIDE AND WHAT IS IT USED FOR? A: Arizona State Law sets strict statewide limits on the amount which school districts can spend on the education of students. Arizona allows districts to increase their M&O budget up to 15% of the state Revenue Control Limit if approved by the voters of the district.

Well, thanks.

Dudes, I've covered municipalities and local elections for 20 years and I haven't a bloody clue what you mean by "the Revenue Control Limit," let alone what 15 percent of it looks like. What's more, I don't care. Here's what we need. Here's why we need it. State law says you have to say yes to it. This is what it will cost.

Marana explained what the money would be used for. Neither of them bothered to explain why they were asking.

Heaven forbid you should ask a writer how to explain stuff to people. They might charge you money. Can't have that.

The districts seemed to rely on the good will and generosity of voters to say "aye" to their plans. Have they been paying attention? Voters in Arizona treat bonds like Hollywood treats actresses who might want to direct.

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Maybe this is why Flowing Wells had its spending plans approved. What's more, the district performs at or near statewide levels despite being burdened with a poverty rate 50 percent higher than the state average. According to the Auditor General's Office, the district outperforms peers with less money and keeping financially fit.

My daughter was a student at Flowing Wells and that district worked hard on establishing communities focused on their schools.

I can also report as a parent of a Richardson (Elementary School) Roadrunner, the district goes to great pains to connect with the community.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the zoo vote but it's so unsurprising having lived here for 31 years. Hell, it would have made sense if I'd just lived here for 31 weeks.

It's one thing to look for a deal. It's another thing for a whole town or state to wait for someone else to give it nice things.

It would be one thing if we just wanted to go all Greta Garbo and "vant to be left alone." But we're out there asking for other people to make investments in Tucson to improve our lot.

At least the rat got his own pizza.

Blake Morlock is a journalist who has spent 17 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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1 comment on this story

Nov 9, 2017, 11:08 am
-0 +0

The city has a billion-dollar budget, so if improving the zoo with government funds were important, it would have been easy to re-allocate funds for the zoo without raising taxes.  Instead the citizens were asked to pay more.  Hurrah, smart citizens… we said no.

The right way to support zoo improvements has always been to go and buy a ticket, or make a donation.  I’ve done so, and you should too.  Tax money is everyone’s money and should be used for things only government can do, like police and roads.

Yes, I would like to see zoo improvements.  And I do support the zoo with MY money.  But I’ll always vote “no” to spending tax money - OTHER people’s money - on such things.  Usually Tucson voters aren’t so smart about such things, but this time they were.  Hurrah, Tucson!

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Click image to enlarge


One of Reid Park Zoo's giraffes in 2010.