Backers think diversity will help bond vote pass
Monica Alonzo-Dunsmoor The Arizona Republic Feb. 21, 2006 12:00 AM
Phoenix's nearly $1 billion bond program isn't all about Arizona State University.
The proposed downtown campus may be getting a lot of the attention and a good chunk of the money, but about $650 million is earmarked for hundreds of projects that reach far beyond the city's borders.
"It's not just about downtown, not just about ASU," Councilman Claude Mattox said. "There is something in it for everyone."
The grab bag of proposals contains projects that would create regional parks, renovate the Phoenix Zoo, offer money to dozens of other non-profit groups, repair aging storm sewers and build police and fire stations.
More than 700 volunteers crafted the initial package, but elected officials also made some last-minute money moves to appease disgruntled organizations that felt shortchanged and toss more cash at special projects, such as buying a historical museum and fixing up a state-owned shooting range.
During the last rounds of money allocations, Valle del Sol, a behavioral health and social service organization, picked up an extra $4 million because some in the Hispanic community believe they weren't getting their fair share compared with other groups.
Some oppose the city selling bonds to investors and using some of the money for a state university or to bolster non-profit organizations. But such a diverse blend of projects in the $878.5 million bond program almost guarantees that even the staunchest naysayer will find something favorable in the package.
The bond also expands its base of support by setting aside money for projects important to the African-American, disabled, Hispanic, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender and Native-American communities.
"This bond really reflects the balance," Councilman Greg Stanton said.
The strategic division of bond money no doubt improves the chances for the more controversial pieces to make it past voters on March 14.
Voters will be able to decide individually on seven bond propositions, each grouped by topics such as public safety, education, technology and parks.
City officials believe the ASU campus is essential to transform sleepy downtown Phoenix into a bustling hot spot, and that every single pitch in the $878.5 million bond program is vital for a well-rounded city.
"It's about the future of the city," said Gordon, who has played a key role in stumping for the bond and done much of the heavy lifting on fund-raising. "March 14 will be our defining moment."
With less than a month before Election Day, the goal for bond proponents is to get voters to buy into the bond program, and they have raised more than $1 million in campaign contributions from corporate and political heavyweights to make it happen.
Bonds supported in past
Voters have been supportive of the 11 Phoenix bond elections since 1957, approving $3.7 billion out of $4 billion worth of projects. Of the 133 bond measures presented to voters during that time, only 16 have failed. Another 16 propositions passed with 55 percent or less votes.
"The overriding philosophy is 'Don't take anything for granted,' " said Jay Thorne, a spokesman for Building Our Future, a political committee formed to back the bond.
In those bond elections, which usually take place every five years, park-related initiatives consistently top the list of failed projects or close-call wins.
Recent polling by the political committee reveals the same trend in this bond cycle. While parks are getting fairly good marks, they are lagging other areas such as public safety funding.
Like most political campaigns, Building Our Future isn't sharing specific polling numbers, but they had this to say:
"The reason the parks proposition is less strong than others is that some of the women who support the other proposals don't use parks, or they view them as dangerous places were crimes occur," Thorne said. "So we're talking about those issues."
Most of the pro-bond push is happening east of 16th Street, north of Northern Avenue and in communities such as Ahwatukee because that's where the strongest base of the support lies for the 2006 Bond Program.
Pollsters also found that the most likely supporter is a 50-plus-year-old woman from either political party. The least likely supporter is a Republican male, Thorne said.
Foe questions honesty
A Republican is leading the only organized opposition to the bond program.
Jeff Greenspan, 34, is chairman of Stop Taxing Our Property, or STOP, a committee formed to defeat the bond. He and other members of STOP don't believe bond proponents are being completely honest with voters when they say the bond program means "no new taxes."
"I believe that is deliberate misrepresentation because at the end of the day the check you write to pay your property taxes will be on average 23 percent higher," he said.
The city property tax rate is not increasing because of the bond, but the boom in the housing market drove up property values used by the Maricopa County Assessor's Office to determine property taxes.
While selling bonds is how many cities across the country borrow money for capital improvements, opponents said they would rather see the Phoenix put off the current bond projects until they could be paid for up front. By having all the money in hand before embarking on a project, taxpayers could save hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and interest charges, Greenspan said.
Donna Neill, a longtime neighborhood activist, led a brief anti-bond campaign because she didn't believe enough money was devoted to public safety.
But after months of meetings and cajoling, Gordon and other bond supporters won her over.
Bond proponents also urge residents to lend their support because the money will expand and improve city infrastructure. While "infrastructure" isn't a riveting word, it means new fire stations on the outer edges of the city, where response times have crept as high as eight minutes; it means storm sewers that will prevent flooding in homes and streets, and police stations to put officers closer to the communities they patrol.
"There is a need to expand infrastructure into growing areas," City Manager Frank Fairbanks said. "After working for 50, 60, 70 or 80 years, some of the infrastructure, like storm drains, needs to be repaired or replaced."
Julian Claudio Nabozny, who owns a south Phoenix business and helped shape the bond program, agrees that more needs to be done.
"It's a major problem to keep up with those growing areas," he said. "We need more (police) precincts. To get an officer to respond to certain areas of the city takes at least half an hour. We need more police stations so response times are shorter."
Fairbanks said that unlike past bond programs, this one also does more for the established neighborhoods and aging infrastructure.
With voter approval, bond money will be used to rebuild the Squaw Peak Precinct, the oldest police station in the city; rebuild the 38-year-old Fire Training Academy to improve and expand firefighters' training; replace Harmon Library, one of the city's oldest; and repair rooftops, worn out doors and remodel public housing units that were built during World War II.
$90 mil for non-profits
While few opponents argue about the value of police and fire stations, many do question the $90 million that non-profit groups and others expect to pocket.
City officials say that giving money to such groups makes sense because it creates more public services, whether it's community center amenities or a shooting range, without taxpayers bearing the ongoing maintenance and operation costs.
About $5 million would be used to buy the Arizona Pioneer Living History Museum, a 90-acre historical park in northwest Phoenix with a working blacksmith, Victorian-styles houses and other authentic 1800s buildings.
Another $3 million would pay for a long-term lease to operate part of the Ben Avery Shooting Facility, which is owned by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
"This is our golden opportunity to not only do what's good for historic preservation, but its good for the public," said Councilman Dave Seibert, who is an advocate of both projects.
"This is the first time that I've know of that the shooting community has had a shot at bond money, and they pay taxes just like everyone else."
Whether the projects in the seven bond propositions are varied enough to win over Phoenix voters and carry the entire package to victory, especially the downtown campus, remains to be seen.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 444-2478