The House Transportation Committee approved SB1356, legislation to give Maricopa County residents a vote for or against a transportation tax and excise tax plan. The committee passed with bipartisan support, with the exception of three: State Representatives Neal Carter (R-Queen Creek), Kevin Payne (R-Peoria), and Leo Biasucci (R-Lake Havasu City).Two didn’t vote either way: State Representatives Brenda Barton (R-Payson) and David Cook (R-Globe).
Arizona Free Enterprise Club Vice President Aimee Yentes expressed opposition to the bill, noting that 40 percent of the money was allocated for public transit. Yentes explained that the 1985 transportation tax plan was successful because it built freeways, but that over the decades the plan shifted from essential infrastructure like roads and freeways to “transit,” despite a steep, increasing decline in its use. That number sits at half a percent currently.
“As we’ve seen post-COVID, that ridership number has fallen off a cliff. There are actually more people who don’t own a vehicle that take a car to work than actually use public transit. That’s kind of astonishing,” said Yentes.
Yentes also noted that the bill sets aside funding for something already covered by statute: “regional programs.” She said the definition of that term was problematic because it doesn’t distinguish street intersection improvements but, rather, “arterial roads and regional programs.”
“It really is a catch-all that can be used to siphon off local city slush funds for whatever: complete streets, air quality,” said Yentes.
The bill sponsor, State Senator Tyler Pace (R-Mesa) said that the bill’s rejection, either by the legislature or by Maricopa County voters, would necessitate the Arizona legislature to find the funds for transportation projects themselves. Pace insisted that the committee members shouldn’t nitpick at the provisions of the bill because the greater good concerned Arizona’s legacy of quiet, fast roads superior to those of other states.
State Representative Richard Andrade (D-Glendale) compared SB1356 to previous efforts to expand and extend the state’s two major highways: Loop 101 and the I-17. Andrade argued that creating more public transit like light rails would increase their use.
Those in opposition explained that they weren’t confident this bill would actually meet transportation needs. Carter said that he supported infrastructure, but said that the legislation had room for improvement. Carter said his reservations included provisions for expenditures related to air quality, and the expansion beyond a 20-year authorization.
Payne expressed displeasure that legislators impacted by the bill weren’t included in stakeholder meetings. He explained that his constituents were requesting another bus route down Bell Road, for example, and that he couldn’t vote for the bill in good conscience because of that.
Echoing Carter and Payne’s statements in his “no” vote was Biasucci. Biasucci argued that the legislature should utilize its $4 billion in surplus instead of passing the costs on to taxpayers.
“I think this is, really, how it needs to be done: the money should come from the general fund to be spent on major projects, I’m talking billions of dollars’ worth, in my opinion. For me, when we’re sitting on this huge surplus, it’s hard for me to say, ‘Yes, I agree with a tax increase or an extension,’” said Biasucci.
On Friday, a group of Arizona legislators reached out to Governor Doug Ducey with an offer to work with him to address the “omnipresent border crisis.” In a letter to the governor, the legislators also inquire as to the level of funding provided to the Border Strike Force.
Led by Rep. Shawnna Bolick, the lawmakers advised the governor that they hope to work with him to “come up with a concrete plan to further allocate resources to complete portions of the Border wall and ensure Border Strike Force is fully funded.”
The lawmakers accuse the Biden Administration of not making “the public safety or health of Arizonans” a top priority, noting that it “took until today for Vice President Kamala Harris to see the invasion for herself in El Paso.”
“We applaud other governors answering your call for assistance to send some of their law enforcement as back up as the ongoing invasion continues along the southern Border,” write the lawmakers. “The problem is real. We wish you didn’t have to rely on other states to bail us out because the federal government has failed us, but illegal immigration affects every state.”
The lawmakers cite as a source of concern an incident that occurred earlier this year which was “highlighted in the local newspaper that the Department of Public Safety release two confessed human smuggler with just a traffic citation after stopping him along a valley freeway in April with a van full of illegal immigrants.”
“It was rather alarming to read that the illegal immigrants in the van were released into the Phoenix area even though it is a direct violation of state law to be in our state unlawfully. It is noted that the federal agents would not pick up this van full of illegal immigrants if they weren’t violent felons. If the Border Strike Force isn’t identifying traffickers along the southern Border and they are making their way into the Valley, is the Border Strike Force understaffed and underfunded?”
The lawmakers expressed a desire to “work together to further investigate why this human trafficker was let go.”
“We support trade relations with Mexico, but we do not want transnational crime rings bringing further ruin into our state. It is past time to plug the gaping holes on state land that buttress Mexico allowing traffickers to invade our state.”
The lawmakers argue that border security is a states’ rights issue.
Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that Texas would build its border wall. Abbotts aid that the state will be soliciting donations from across the country to help fund the wall.
“When I do make the announcement later on this week, I will also be providing a link that you can click on and go to for everybody in the United States — really everybody in the entire world — who wants to help Texas build the border wall, there will be a place on there where they can contribute,” Abbott said on a podcast show called “Ruthless.”
As AZ Free News reported earlier this month, Ducey and Abbott urgently requested all U.S. governors to send available law enforcement resources to their states along the U.S.-Mexico border as illegal border crossings, apprehensions, and unaccompanied migrant children in federal custody increase.
The Customs and Border Protection apprehension numbers for May showed more than 180,000 illegal aliens were apprehended crossing the border over the course of the month, a 674% increase from the 23,237 illegal aliens apprehended at the border in May 2020.
In a joint letter from Ducey and Abbott, fellow governors were told: “In response to the ongoing surge of illegal border crossings, with the accompanying threats to private property and to the safety of our citizens, Governor Abbott has declared a disaster and Governor Ducey has declared an emergency.”
Bolick was joined in the letter by Reps. Becky Nutt, Tim Dunn, Walt Blackman, Brenda Barton, John Kavanaugh, Mark Finchem, Joseph Chaplik, Beverly Pingerelli, Leo Biasiucci, Judy Burgess, Frank Carroll, Quang Nguyen, John Fillmore, Jacqueline Parker, and Steve Kaiser.
Earlier today I wrote a letter to @dougducey addressing the #BorderCrisis & the need to work together to solve it. Many of my fellow legislators co-signed it. If the Fed’s aren’t going to finish building the wall, AZ should. ???? pic.twitter.com/DXbit71KP3