The Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) is referring to a transportation bill that is sailing through the Arizona Legislature as a “Maricopa County Transit Slush Fund Tax.” HB 2598, with its corresponding Senate version, SB 1356, would send to the ballot a question to voters of whether to extend the Prop. 400 tax increase for transportation for another 25 years. It would increase taxes by $33 billion, allowing localities to direct the money with very few strings attached.
AFEC said the extension “creates a big slush fund for liberal city mayors to spend on light rail, street trollies, bike paths, trails, complete streets and other undefined ‘regional programs’ and NO REQUIREMENTS that the money be spent on actual freeways or roads to relieve congestion.”
AFEC compared the bill to President Joe Biden’s federal Build Back Better bill, which has come under intense criticism for massive waste and spending unrelated to infrastructure.
The initial Prop. 400, which passed in 2004, extended for 20 years a half-cent tax started in 1985 for transportation, including light rail. It has been used to expand Valley Metro light rail. The previous extension doesn’t expire until 2025, but legislators seem eager to nail in the extension now.
The bills cap the amount allotted to light rail at 14%, and 32.5% for public transportation. There has been significant opposition to building more light rail in the Valley, which is currently under expansion in South Phoenix. Light rail hasn’t been much of a success here; since it began in 2005 it has only reached 28 miles in an L-shape that is not much use to people, especially with the new popularity of Lyft and Uber. It doesn’t pay for itself; in fiscal year 2018, light rail cost $37 million throughout the Valley, but fares only brought in $12 million.
Part of the push for the Prop. 400 extension is in order to get matching funds from the federal government for light rail. Valley Metro admitted that most of the projects it is seeking funding for are light rail extensions. Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith told ABC 15 that “the local funds are critical in securing the grants as it allows them to match federal project funds with local dollars.”
But there is less of a need to get people out of their cars and into public transportation like light rail since fewer people are commuting to work due to the pandemic changing the nature of many jobs. A significant portion of the workforce now telecommutes — one quarter of Valley workers at large companies, according to the Maricopa Association of Governments. Freeway speeds on average have increased 7% during weekdays due to reduced congestion.
The bills also provide a “multimillion-dollar Get Out the Vote operation” that incentives people on the left to go to the polls, according to AFEC.
“The bill rigs the 2022 election by providing unlimited funding to political consultants, lawyers, canvassers, and Maricopa County election officials to provide ‘information’ to voters about the tax and help conduct the election,” AFEC said.
According to a state Capitol insider, “taxpayers won’t be able to stop this thing in the Legislature, so they better organize to kill it at the ballot box,” the Arizona Daily Independent reported.
SB 1356, sponsored by State Sen. Tyler Pace (R-Mesa) has already passed the State Senate Transportation Committee unanimously, 9-0. State Rep. Frank Carroll (R-Sun City) is sponsoring HB 2598 in the state House. AFEC is urging people to contact their legislators and tell them to vote no.
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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Phoenix Light Rail” by Nick Bastian. CC BY-ND 2.0.