A Purple Heart for Tim Ahrens!

I do not know what the equivalent of a Purple Heart is for people giving informational presentations, but if one exists, Tim Ahrens earned it last night.

It was at a meeting of the Ward III Neighbors (an independent association of the neighborhood associations of Ward III), at the Woods Memorial Branch Library, that Mr. Ahrens gave a presentation on behalf of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA). He had a fifteen minute Power Point presentation on the draft plan which is being offered for public review and input. He looked around and noticed a couple of people who follow him around from meeting to meeting with the apparent purpose of busting his chops. He proceeded through the presentation like a condemned man before a firing squad smoking that last cigarette – knowing that in a few minutes, it would be forgotten.

Mr. Ahrens explained that he was there to make the presentation, and answer questions on the plan. He said that the plan was an initial draft, subject to change via public input. He referred people to the information packets, that was distributed before the presentation, for a comment form, and the email address of the Public Involvement Manager. He specifically stated that he was not there to defend the plan, and that written comments should be submitted via the supplied form or email address.

Then the question and answer period began. It must have been difficult for almost everyone in the audience to pointedly ignore everything that Mr. Ahrens said regarding his purpose there, and to whom their comments should be sent, but they pulled it off. From beginning to end, the questions consisted of variations of “Why will it be done this way, why won’t it be done that way!?!” Mr. Ahrens encouraged people to submit their ideas in writing, and reiterated that everything was subject to change; of course, this led to complaints that, “All you do is tell us to write it down, you’re not answering questions, we want a discussion!” In fact, he was answering all the questions – and admitting it when he did not know the answer.

Imagine, Mr. Ahrens was offering direct access to the members of the committees, and people in the audience we getting their undies in a knot because he was not acting as their secretary! Frankly, I was somewhat embarrassed.

Ken O’Day, president of the Campbell–Grant Neighborhood Association, authored a number of emails highly critical of the plan, and distributed them to all the other Neighborhood Associations last week. His complaints were those that one would expect from a Leftist Francophile – not that I’m suggesting he’s one of those! Mr. O’Day is deeply troubled by the fact that some of the members of the Citizen’s Committee are local businessmen. He complains that, because of this fact, it is not really a Citizen’s Committee. Hey Ken, if they live here, vote here, pay taxes here, and don’t work for the government, what do you call them? He also objected to any money for the county wide plan being spent outside of Midtown Tucson. In his emails he argues that the Midtown people will generate most of the tax revenue; therefore, they should get most of the improvements. The logical failure here is the assumption that only people who live in midtown spend money in midtown, thereby generating tax revenue, and that it never occurs to people in the unincorporated hinterlands to come to town for a meal, movie, or shopping trip. You’d think that, reading Mr. O’Day, that the unincorporated people are provincial peasants, leaching off the Midtown Lords, to whom the King is paying way to much attention.

Anyway, Mr. O’Day stood in the back of the room and only asked a few questions – for which he already knew the answers…I don’t think he’s a lawyer, but I could be wrong.

Speaking of Midtown Lords, one man sniffed, “I chose to live in midtown, near my job, to reduce pollution, and I don’t see the point of widening Grant Road.” The Getting–Exorcised-Over-Minutia Award goes to the woman who was aghast that children’s clothing was not included with prescription drugs and food in being exempt from the half cent tax. My favorite was the young man with the German (or maybe it was Austrian or Swiss) accent who thought that Tucson should time the traffic lights to improve traffic flow – like they do in Europe! Yuk-yuk!

Gayle Hartmann, who ran against Fred Ronstadt in Ward VI the last time around, wanted to know if land use was taken into consideration when developing the plan. Uh, no, this is a transportation plan, not a land grab. In all fairness to Mrs. Hartmann, she has been leading the fight to seize land for “open space” since she looked out the kitchen window of her home to find a new house spoiling her view so many years ago.

One thing is certain; Mr. Ahrens must have done something very bad in a former life.

By now, some of you may be wondering what all this RTA and half-cent tax stuff is about. Well, my friends, please remember that none of this was my idea – I’m just the messenger.

Transportation funds come primarily from an eighteen-cent per gallon state sales tax on gasoline – these are the HURF funds with which you may be familiar. Combine twenty years of inflation with a Maricopa controlled state legislature, and you have a “shortfall” of funds for Pima County. Increasing the gas tax, or even indexing it to inflation, is not politically feasible.

There was, however, enabling legislation at the state level that passed last year that authorizes the formation of government transportation entities, at the regional level, who have taxing authority – yippee! So the Pima Association of Governments (PAG) put together the RTA that has put together a transportation improvement plan that will be funded by a half-cent sales tax over the next twenty years. This will pay for about two billion of the estimated four billion needed for improvements. Yes, you read correctly, with the plan we will be half as bad off in twenty years as we would be with no plan. The plan, and the tax, will be up for a public vote this coming spring.

The details of the plan can be found at the RTA website. If you go there, be sure to offer suggestions. This is the time for public involvement. Make sure that the plan serves us, because there is a long shot chance that it may actually pass!