Tucson Council mulls phantom sales tax election that might just be illegal

This is weird.

During their regular meeting Tuesday, the Tucson City Council will vote on holding an August election about a new city sales tax.

I don’t know why. I just know that.

Seriously, the Council doesn’t have any idea how big the sales tax increase should be or what it should pay for but they may just hold the election anyway.

Even though it’s probably illegal for them to do it.

City Manager Mike Ortega typically attaches handy memos that provide background with plenty of relevant information. “Hey, we talked about this on this date and said we wanted to accomplish that thing we discussed.” And then he’ll detail the action to be taken and how it would go down.

For this item on the agenda, under “Background” he just writes that the Council has the power to call an election.  

Under present considerations, Ortega tells us: “The Mayor and Council now wish to call a special election on August 6, 2024, for the purpose of submitting to the City’s qualified electors a proposed ballot measure or measures, to include a proposed charter amendment providing for the establishment of a defined transaction privilege tax and use tax to fund community investments to promote quality of life for our residents and businesses.”

Quality of life could be freaking anything. It could mean more money for parks, sanitation, transportation, affordable housing, police, fire fighters and dramatically increasing the pay and benefits of columnists at online local nonprofit news sites. 

How big of a sales tax increase? They’ll get back to ya. How much might it raise? Shrug.

None of this makes any sense and if they wanted us not to be confused, they would do a better job of explaining what they are doing.

The vagaries of the item seem to be the point. Trying to explain further would confuse the issue. Right now a sales tax election for August seems like a bunch of gamesmanship.

Were this actually a sales tax increase, the Council would work up a whole process with stakeholders, key staffers and a 353-point action plan inside a strategy memo attached to a vision statement. This Council does nothing without community involvement. If nothing else, “blue ribbon commissions” make great cover.

This looks like a placeholder. It’s like an option to hold an election at a later date to do something about something with some money, all to be determined.

Why? The city is in negotiations with the Regional Transportation Authority and its other government members about a possible second round of funding. The Council has been telling the other nine jurisdictions that it may go its own way and run a city ballot proposition for city projects. 

The threat is that if Tucson takes its balls and goes home, it would tank RTA Next. City voters wouldn’t support a transportation package they weren’t part of and no way a new round of sales tax passes if it must count on support from Marana, Oro Valley and unincorporated areas like Vail and the Catalina Foothills, but no city voters.

I’m a 100-percent sure that logic would hold in low-information America, where the operative cultural term in news consumption is “news avoidance.”

In that environment, enough Tucson voters may reason “I thought I voted on this last year? That must have been something else. I like the RTA.” “Yes” gets bubbled in. Meanwhile, more educated “high-information voters” in Oro Valley and Marana could collect a bunch of money from Tucson and not spend a dime in it.

That seems like a pretty good deal for the hinterlands.

Also, Tucson’s negotiations with the RTA board members are going OK right now. Everyone seems to be kind of on the same page, even though they are constantly tangling with the Pima Association of Government’s leadership and PAG is sort of the facilitator of the RTA.

So coming out super-aggressive and announcing a city-only half-cent sales tax election for transportation would be needlessly provocative. They would need another excuse to put the question on the ballot.

Gotcha covered.

The proposed date flies in the face of a state law requiring all elections that raise property or sales taxes to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

So they are going to threaten the other eight RTA jurisdictions with an illegal election. Maybe the plan is to trigger a lawsuit that voids that state law. If the plan is to hold an election just to get sued, it would be smart to try that plan with an utterly frivolous ballot question.

And then if RTA talks don’t work out, they could go ahead with… an illegal election.

Yeah, this is weird.

This agenda item seems like it was snatched from the discarded scripts of “Pinky and the Brain.”

New director, same old pollution

During a study session prior to the meeting, the City Council will receive another briefing about PFAS contamination in Tucson’s water supply.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently preparing a series of limits for different forms of “polyfluoroalkyl substances.” An underground plume exceeding those limits has been detected running north from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base between South Alvernon Way and South Swan Road and veering just to the west of Alvernon at East Broadway.

The city is working with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to remove PFAS from water in that area with a Randolph Park treatment facility and remediate one of the sources at Tucson International Airport. 

PFAS(es) are found in the foams used to extinguish airplane fires. Plenty of them were used for decades, sprayed around during training. Once again, Tucson’s aviation is trying to kill us. Remember TCE? Similar situation. Different compound.

The U.S. Air Force has been disputing the extent of its contribution to the problem. “Planes? What planes? We don’t have any planes. We are a livery stable for winged saddles.”

Tucson International Airport also has a plume extending through the Santa Cruz River basin along Interstate 10 but its not at or above the EPA’s proposed limits.

What’s important to know about the EPA limits on contaminants is that they don’t necessarily represent a level of danger. They represent a level that is feasible to attain. So if it’s a contaminant, the goal is eliminate it entirely. The question is how much will technology remove. That’s the standard.

The Council gets these updates regularly. Nothing urgent or late-breaking has happened.

The city staff will also provide a study session update on plans to retool the urban stress website, which has all sorts of breakdowns of Tucson showing which neighborhoods suffer from the effects of poverty.

The site was last overhauled in 2020 after being launched in 2012. What should be involved? The staff wants to ask the council.

Some of the criteria are sketchy, as I pointed out a couple weeks ago before the item was postponed to this week. For instance, a high proportion of renters and “people of color” indicate urban stress. Therefore, if a neighborhood wants to avoid urban stress, a not-very-smart person might conclude that keeping renters and people of color out is a good way to go.

Why not just say a lot of the people in a neighborhood lack economic opportunity, rather than making a point of their physical characteristics? Poverty is poverty. People with darker pigmentation are quite capable of doing just fine if afforded more opportunity and people with lighter pigmentation would understand that if they could pull their heads out of their you-know-wheres for a moment and a half.

Ancestral genetics acclimated to heavy sunlight produce melanin in the epidermis. That has nothing to do with a person’s ability to learn math, language or reasoning. The problem, I might posit, is the establishment of a ruling class absent melanin aiming to maintain its exclusivity by putting the brakes on the progress of those with melanin. What isn’t said enough (and I won’t go off on some rant) is that protecting the fragility of Trevor and Kylie hurts everybody’s progress (even Trevor’s and Kylie’s).

Good God, people! How long do we have to have this conversation?

Yes, some people are going to make less money. That’s why we have renters. They are people whose meager incomes keep prices down, while needing a place to live. Renting is not contagious. Inflation is. So thank your local renter for doing their part for making America great again.

The Council will also vote on whether to hire Ann Chanecka as the Housing and Community Development Director. She’s been interim director since June.

Chenecka has been with the city since 2008 and has a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Arizona.

She started out after graduating from the University of Maryland in my family’s old stomping grounds of Binghamton, N.Y., and then moved to Tucson to work for the Pima Association of Governments. We’ll see if council members like her, anyway.

Her starting salary would be $185,00 a year.

Now, all she’s gotta do is fix the housing crisis. Seems easy enough.

Poll workers set for raise

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will vote on a plan to pay poll workers an extra $75 for a day’s employment in voting centers. 

It’s part of an overall wage program for election workers, who would make more than $300 for doing their patriotic duty and helping the community run a democracy.

Anyone on the Right complaining might want to talk to their own and tell them to stop harassing or threatening the lives of election workers. It tends to make the job harder to fill, which requires higher pay and that costs the taxpayers’ more money.

Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss can become targets of all sorts of fabricated accusations in Georgia and that can have a ripple effect here. People willing to brave the intimidation because they won’t be intimidated deserve our respect. Throw ’em a couple extra bones.

The county board will also vote to provide the city of Tucson with $2.3 million to be used providing food and temporary shelter for legal, asylum-seeking (repeat: legal, asylum-seeking) refugees for temporary shelter and food. 

On average, 1,282 asylum seekers a day arrive here, and stay for two nights. The grant is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The board will also vote to approve a new lease with Catholic Community Services to run the Casas Alitas Welcome Center at 7511 W. Drexel Rd.

The county bought the former big box store and in so doing, nullified the existing lease Catholic Community Services had and so a new one is required. This property is used to temporarily house migrants as they connect with family or other sponsors for ultimate destinations elsewhere in the U.S.

For historical context, Ellis Island could process 5,000 migrants a day in the days before computers and as many as 11,000 in a single day. Of course the idea then wasn’t to create a crisis for some people to run campaigns against in a given November. 

I know, we needed labor then for this great country to grow.

In virtually every Red State in America there is a labor shortage. In Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina there are two jobs for every unemployed resident. In Arizona, there are .71 unemployed people per job opening. Fill them and the economy grows. There aren’t enough Americans to do it.

The country would just rather be scared than smart right now.

OK, calm down, Blake.


There will be an All Dog Alert on Feb. 29 at the Caterpillar property, 5000 W. Caterpillar Trail (where else?), because a fire works display will begin at 9:30 p.m.

In total, there will be 926 aerial effects.

Of course, this is dependent on the Board of Supervisors approving the permit for the pyrotechnics.

That sinking feeling

Two homes in Oro Valley are in danger of sinking into the sand.

Ah, subsidence. Thou are’t a voracious subterranean glutton.

The Oro Valley Town Council will get a rundown of just what happened. Subsidence around Tucson can strike, sink and crack with little warning.

Basically, water shifts underground and warps the geology damaging property on the surface.

The properties are in the Rancho Vistoso Valley subdivision and were built by Pulte Homes but the culprit seems to be Pima County Wastewater. This is according to a consultant hired by the town of Oro Valley to investigate the trouble.

Apparently a wastewater line broke and flooded the underground rock. When the water finally percolated out, the surface began to sink. The worst of the two structures is currently being propped up with the help of 21 Ram Jack piers. Y’know… home, sweet home.

That’s the good house. The bad one is sinking by about 19 inches and the garage is no longer accessible because the driveway has buckled.

I’m sure the county supervisors will say “Oops, our bad” and rapidly do right by the homeowners. Right? Mwahahahahahh. I kid because I love.

This should be resolved sometime around 2036.

If either of the homeowners want some help sticking a cherry bomb up the county’s elevator shaft, please let me know.

What the levee takes

The Marana Town Council will vote on ending a requirement that property owners in the Lower Santa Cruz River Levee Benefit Area enter into a development agreement before they start grading.

Levees have been built so growth can better coexist with the river basin and the idea was to have property owners pay for part of the construction with a fee established in 2014. The rules also called for property owners striking a development agreement with the town.

Development agreements can be rather involved. 

So the town staff has decided a $500 per acre fee will suffice.

The Nogales City Council will vote to accept a $1 payment from one of its police officers to buy and retire a “narcotics canine.”

Honestly, I don’t know why cops can’t just call them “dogs.”

Dona is an 8-year-old Belgian Malinois who has been rooting out illegal drugs for Nogales police since 2019. Five years of sniffing for drugs along the U.S.-Mexico border would leave the bestest good dog stimulated to the point that they would deserve retirement.

Dona’s handler with the department is going to pay $1 to take custody of the pooch. Can someone give the officer a dollar, please? It seems a bit ridiculous to charge the police officer for his partner in crime fighting.

I get they have to “sell surplus property” but a dog is not a socket wrench.

Otherwise, this is a good story with a happy ending so long as the town attorney forks over a Washington.

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors will be in Washington D.C. this week meeting with the Southern Arizona congressional delegation.

Seriously, the board couldn’t have picked a better week to be there given the border security compromise winding its way through the U.S. Senate. 

Maybe U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema will meet with them. Anything is possible. She was a lead negotiator along with Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and James Lankford, R-Okla. So she might talk to some constituents. Stranger things have happened in D.C.