By MICHELA WILSON
When signs pop up all over town before a local election, many people don’t pay them much attention. After all, Americans statistically have much higher voter turnout during presidential elections. However, this election will affect Tucsonans more directly. For example, we could vote to raise our sales tax from 8.6 to 9.2 percent.
With Nov. 7’s voting day fast approaching, here are the facts to make informed decisions about the four propositions on the ballot. Although the last day to mail in a ballot was Nov. 1, registered voters can find a polling location at tucsonaz.gov/clerks/elections. Locations are open between now and 7 p.m. Nov. 7 to drop off a ballot or fill one out.
PROPOSITIONS 202 & 203
Who? Reid Park Zoo
What? A “yes” vote on both 202 and 203 will approve a sales tax that benefits the Reid Park Zoo. The tax would be 0.1 percent, or 1 cent per $10. Prop 202 approves the tax and 203 modifies the tax code to permit the increase. The money would be put into an improvement fund to be used strictly for “capital improvements, operations and maintenance,” according to the official ballot. The zoo’s master plan includes better habitats and new animals.
When? Starting Jan. 1, 2018, and lasting 10 years.
Why? “No one gets excited about funding the sewer line,” said Nancy Kluge, president of Reid Park Zoological Society. After realizing they probably weren’t going to be able to get the money they needed from the city, fundraising or grants, Kluge turned to the successful examples of zoos in Fresno, California, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the idea of a sales tax. In addition to repairing infrastructure, the money would be used to improve animals’ quality of life, create some cool viewing areas, such as an overhead walkway for the tigers and underwater viewing for hippos, and it would keep the zoo free for educational field trips. What happens if the tax isn’t approved? “Things will have to be addressed to keep accreditation,” Kluge said. “Some exhibits we might not have any more, maybe no tigers, likely increase gate revenue and find some way to pay for the basics.”
Why not? Why not just donate directly to the zoo? That’s what John Dalton, treasurer of the Pima County Republican Party, wrote in the only official argument against Prop 202. He points out a high sales tax is not attractive to residents and would-be residents. (Currently our sales tax in Tucson is at 8.6 percent.) Dalton supports the zoo by being a member. “If our zoo needs help to fund projects and expand, we as a community can rally together to support it, just as many other communities with zoos have done,” he wrote. While there’s not any aggressive local opposition to these ballot measures, there’s always the larger philosophical question of whether or not zoos should be supported at all. Perhaps if the Reid Park Zoo doesn’t have a caged tiger, that’s not the worst thing that could happen.
Who? Strong Start Tucson
What? A 0.5 percent sales tax increase, or 5 cents per $10. The tax would provide financial aid for early childhood education and would be managed by a local nonprofit. The nonprofit would be chosen and overseen by an unpaid seven-person commission, appointed by the mayor and city council.
When? Starting Jan. 1, 2018, with no scheduled end date.
Why? According to Strong Start Tucson’s website, only 16 percent of Tucson’s 3- to 5-year-olds attend high-quality child care. This tax would raise about $50 million a year and provide up to 8,500 kids to have access to early childhood education. Strong Start Tucson claims that “attendance in high-quality early education is a predictor of future academic achievement and lifelong productivity,” backed up by research from the National Institute for Early Education Research. While it’s true there’s no end date, the need for child care isn’t going away. And no more than 8 percent of funds will be used on administrative expenses.
Supporters include: The Early Childhood Development Group; Southern Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children; Karin Uhlich, Tucson City Councilwoman; Casa de los Niños; Make Way for Books; Literacy Connects.
Why not? The Pima County Republican Party and the Tucson Metro Chamber submitted arguments against Prop 204. It’s not the cause they oppose but the method. The Republicans point out school districts and elected school boards already are tasked with allocating funds for education. The chamber wrote to not pass this tax and instead take up the issue of funding with the state legislature that is responsible for early childhood education. “It has not been, nor should it become, the business of the city to decide which preschool or family shall receive funding,” David Eppihimer, party chairman, wrote in the ballot. Both organizations take issue with the lack of a sunset clause, which would give a date for reassessment. Plenty of people don’t want a higher sales tax, but another concern is that sales tax is considered regressive, disproportionately burdening lower-income people. And finally, what about Tucson’s K-12 schools that are in dire need? Fifty million dollars annually could help them out, as well.
Who? Mayor and City Council members
What? A 65 percent increase to salaries, which haven’t changed since 1999. The proposal would change the mayor’s salary from $42,000 to $69,300 and city council members’ from $24,000 to $39,600. This change was recommended by the Citizens’ Commission on Public Service and Compensation, made up of seven volunteers who meet every two years to review the salaries of public officials in Tucson. The commission’s recommendation must be on the ballot. According to the ballot, the commission estimates the cost to Tucsonans would be 4 cents a year for the mayor’s raise and 2 cents for each council member.
Why? It could increase diversity of those seeking the positions. “If you want more people to throw their hat in the ring and run for office, the low pay and long hours are certainly a barrier,” wrote Councilman Paul Cunningham in his newsletter. In recommending the raises, the commission stated that, since 1999, the City of Tucson’s budget, population and inflation have increased. It considers these positions to be full-time jobs. To come to a conclusion, it compared wages of similar-sized cities in Arizona and the Western United States. I’m not sure which cities the commission used, but Phoenix pays their mayor $88,000 and council members $61,600, according to the city’s website. The Tucson Metro Chamber supports the proposition.
Why not? I would guess the voice of dissent sounds something like, “They don’t deserve it and we can’t afford it,” both of which would be a hard argument to prove, one way or the other. There are no official arguments against the proposition, and it’s hard for me to come with any either. There must be a reason Tucsonans haven’t given these positions raises in 18 years, however.
Possible reasons: Council members surely end up devoting a lot of time to their work, but they are technically part-time positions, and members aren’t forbidden to have other jobs. Also, the mayor and council receive other perks such as a benefits package and a city-owned vehicle during their term — although the commission did consider this in its decision. Certainly low pay isn’t going to be attractive to a lot of people, but I’m not entirely sure they’re barriers to diversity. Plus, aren’t these public-service positions? A modest wage could be the best way to attract people with honorable intentions.