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Varney: What's Plan B after bond defeat?

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Varney: What's Plan B after bond defeat?

The votes have been counted and the November 2015 election is in the books. With a couple of exceptions, it appears that what's ahead for Tucson and Southern Arizona is just plain "more of the same."

Here are the exceptions:

  • Voters said "no" to red light cameras, so they will go away
  • Voters said "yes" to changes in the City Charter giving the mayor voting parity with the City Council and giving the city manager more latitude in hiring and firing matters

The bigger, higher profile races and bond questions tell a different story. In the three races for Tucson City Council, voters continued the current profile of the Council. The three incumbent Democratic members (Romero, Scott and Cunningham) all bested their Republican challengers. But the real story is in the numbers. Thanks to Tucson's one-of-a-kind system of everyone voting for everyone else's Council representative, a city that is heavily Democratic gave each incumbent a 60-40 margin of victory. That ratio closely profiles the edge Democrats have in registered voters. Although the city as a whole is blue, some wards are purple (meaning that the D-to-R ratio is closer to 50/50). Unless there is a change in city election policy and voters are allowed to vote only for their ward's representation and not the representation of all wards across the city, the likelihood of seeing someone without a D behind their name win a City Council election is zero. In her concession speech, Ward 4 challenger Margaret Burkholder summed it up when she said she would love to take another shot at winning a Council seat, but said she would not do so until ward-only elections are in place.

Voters also rejected all seven of the county bond questions. This came as quite a surprise to many, including the vast cross-section of business, social and civic organizations who came out in strong support of the bond questions. I have been asked by reporters and many other people for my opinion about "what happened?" At the risk of oversimplifying the answer, I would simply say three things:

  • Fear sells
  • Misinformation is readily accepted by many
  • Perfect became the enemy of very good

The opponents of the bond package had it easy. All they needed to do was scare voters into thinking their taxes would skyrocket and that Pima County officials would mishandle the funds raised by selling the bonds. Neither is true. Anyone who is sincerely interested in fact would know that Pima County's "total tax burden" is the equivalent of Maricopa County's total tax burden. The difference exploited by bond opponents is the difference in how the two counties classify the components of their tax schedules. Maricopa County, for example, does not operate wastewater treatment facilities. Pima County does. Maricopa County taxpayers pay for their wastewater services through their municipalities. Most Pima County taxpayers do so through the county. And that's just one example.

And let's not forget that a team of state auditors praised Pima County for their "best practices" in handling the people's trust and money raised in previous bond measures. Contrary to the opponents' claims, there is no evidence of mismanagement whatsoever.

It's interesting to note that on the same day Pima County voters were shooting down the bond questions that Maricopa County voters were busy approving their local bond questions. Here's a photo from the Arizona Republic showing support for a local bond question. Note the text of the woman's sign: Attract Jobs, Protect Property Values. Some people get it. Some don't.

So all seven bond questions go down. The voters have spoken. Now it will be interesting to see what happens next. Where will the money come from to fix county roads, a very high priority of county employers? What will be proposed to hasten the development of the buffer zone to protect and promote operations at Raytheon? What will be done to accelerate the development of the defense and aerospace park and the many good jobs likely to go with it?

Perhaps those who took such great pride in defeating a really good bond package will now step up and explain their Plan B — assuming they have one.

Mike Varney is president and CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber.

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