transportation / arizona politics

Maricopa County mayors sound off about governor’s roads-funds veto

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BUCKEYE — Buckeye Mayor Eric Orsborn often uses his comment time at the end of city council meetings for lighthearted or positive comments about recent events.

That didn’t happen this week.

Tuesday, Orsborn took a few minutes to explain some of the work that went into House Bill 2685 — a highway funding bill that would have allowed Maricopa County voters to choose whether to extend a half-cent Proposition 400 tax to help fund several transportation projects in the county.

Early this month, Gov. Doug Ducey chose to veto HB 2685 and two unrelated bills, while signing 47 bills into law. While the other two vetoes matter to some, the transportation veto was on Orsborn’s mind Tuesday.

Orsborn said the veto not only leaves the interchange of Jackrabbit Trail and Interstate 10 and construction of State Route 30 without funding, but also many other projects in Maricopa County.

HB 2685 included funding for about 360 miles of new highway, $750 million for road rehabilitation, about 180 miles of HOV lanes, additional bus passage and almost 12 miles of light rail track.
Under state law, only Maricopa County has to request approval from the state to hold an election to ask voters to approve a transportation tax.

Buckeye desperately needs massive funding for new or improved arterial roads as its population has doubled to more than 100,000 over the past 10 years. The Jackrabbit Trail interchange funding would have helped a great deal.

“That’s just one project in the city of Buckeye, not to mention many others across the county,” Orsborn said. “That was a massive setback for transportation funding in the Valley.”

The Proposition 400 sales tax was approved by Valley voters in 1985 and extended in 2004. Now known as Proposition 400, it will expire in 2025, leaving the future of county transportation in a difficult position over the next 30 months.

“It could have sat on his desk and still gone through by the legislators, if he wanted to not show support for it,” said Orsborn who read the governor’s veto letter. “The letter does not make sense. That is a massive setback. If you know folks at the governor’s office, reach out and tell them what a disappointment that was.”

In his letter, Ducey said, among other reasons, “now, with inflation higher that at any point in 40 years, is not the time to ask Arizonans to tax themselves.”

“The legislature is difficult enough, because Maricopa is the only Arizona county where we have lawmakers from all over the state voting on whether we can poll our own neighbors on whether we can spend money,” Orsborn explained.

Orsborn said getting the plan through the Maricopa Association of Government’s Transportation Committee and the MAG Regional Council was tough enough. The legislative battle to get HB 2685 to the governor’s desk wasn’t resolved until the final days of the 2022 session.

He said MAG will now review its proposal to determine if improvements are needed.

Mesa Mayor John Giles has been one of the most vocal critics of Ducey’s veto. He wrote an entire Twitter thread on the topic, explaining all the work that went into passing the extension.

“One of the biggest drivers of Arizona’s economy is transportation infrastructure in Maricopa County,” Giles wrote. “World-class freeways, transit and streets have attracted companies from across the globe to locate in our region. That’s what makes the governor’s veto of HB 2685 so misguided.”

Avondale Mayor Kenn Weise and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego have also publicly detailed the setback to county transportation needs created by the veto.

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