The mayor and council of the Old Pueblo are very enthusiastic in their support of HB 2702. This is the bill that would extend the Rio Nuevo Tax Increment Financing Plan (TIF) from 10 to 40 years.
The interests of the local politicians are obvious. Imagine the mayor and council as a group of children (not too hard). Downtown Tucson is their sandbox, Rio Nuevo is their shovels and pails, and the TIF is the big load of sand that will make playing in their sandbox so much fun!
They have a great angle with which they hope to win support, and end discussion. They are quick to point out that this is not a tax increase â€“ true. They then explain that this legislation allows some state sales tax revenue generated in Tucson to stay in Tucson â€“ also true. Now, who could argue with that? Thatâ€™s about sums it up, right?
Well, not exactly; they conveniently stop short of telling the whole story. The tax money is earmarked for the Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment boondoggle. Remember the pamphlet with the artistâ€™s conceptions of aquariums, arenas, rebuilt Spanish Missions, museums, and spaceport? Sorry, I got carried away, there were no spaceports in the original plan; but hey, City Manager Mike Hein said we have to think in terms of decades, not years. Another way of saying that is to think in terms of billions, not millions of dollars.
The original idea of the TIF was to provide funds to get Rio Nuevo off the ground so that the private sector would step in and run with it. Why, in just the first six of the ten-year plan it hasâ€¦wellâ€¦uhâ€¦never mind that â€“ the money stays in Tucson, O.K.!
Many, including former state legislator John Kromko, are grumbling about the people being tricked. Terms such as â€œbait-and-switchâ€ have been used. They argue that the people did not vote for a forty-year plan, and if thatâ€™s what the city government folks want, they should run it by the people, instead of the state legislature.
Actually, whether or not Rio Nuevo has already proven itself a disaster, or will in the future, is not the point. Do we really need to genetically engineer the downtown area? Why canâ€™t we let it grow and evolve in a more natural, market oriented way? Should we take a bad corporate welfare scheme and extend it across the generations?
Keeping money in Tucson is pointless if it is spent on a project that lies somewhere between stupid and immoral.
So the people of greater Tucson watch as the aspects of the plan that they found most attractive get dropped, and the funding plan explodes from ten to forty years â€“ or millions to billions, which ever you prefer. Do you suppose that they might be thinking about this when they go to vote on the Regional Transportation Authority Plan and sales tax this spring?