City of Tucson threatens to leave Regional Transportation Authority

Tucson will decide at the end of the month to either stay with the Regional Transportation Authority or leave the group.
Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 11:55 AM MST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2022 at 12:17 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Whether the city of Tucson will remain part of the Regional Transportation Authority will be decided at the end the month.

The RTA was approved by county voters in 2006 as a 20-year half-cent sales tax to pay for transportation needs. When it expires in 2026, voters will once again decide whether to extend it or not.

The tax was estimated to raise $2 billion for projects in all Pima County communities, including the Tohono O’Odham and Pasqua Yaqui tribes.

Everyone, the reservations, six communities and unincorporated Pima County would have an equal seat on the RTA board.

The money has been used to build roadways, bridges, bike paths, pedestrian paths, overpasses along I-10 and a myriad of other projects in each community.

However, Tucson city leaders feel they have been ignored or at least not taken seriously.

“Our projects got pushed to the back of the bus,” said councilman Steve Kozachik. “And projects in Sahuarita, Oro Valley, Marana, unincorporated Pima County, they got front-loaded.”

This means projects in the smaller jurisdictions were done early in the process before the recession hit and the pandemic slowed business.

Sales tax revenues lagged and never lived up to expectations.

“We have nearly $200 million in city of Tucson projects that are unfunded or underfunded,” Kozachik said. “The RTA has changed the rules.”

The city is asking for proportional representation on the board since it has half the county population and its residents pay half the sales tax revenues.

The city feels it should have a louder voice on which projects get approved and when they get built.

That’s especially important since voters will be asked to approve what’s being called RTA Next.

The city is not so sure it wants to be part of it anymore.

That’s why the city council held a one-hour session to determine where it could get the money to fund its own projects without funding or participation from the RTA.

While there is general agreement that things run more smoothly with valley-wide participation, the city appears ready to pull the plug.

“Look, we’ll go this alone if we have to,” said councilman Paul Cunningham. “We have to make it clear to the RTA, if we have to go alone, we will.”

Voters in Tucson passed a half-cent sales tax for road maintenance and construction which expires in June 2022. In order to get it on the May ballot, the city must make a decision by February 1. The city must also decide whether to extend the half-cent or increase it to a full penny.

Federal infrastructure money and bonding would also help pay for city projects.

Tucson is letting the other communities know it’s the only one that can do it on its own.

“If we don’t get some of the things we need, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, they need us more than we need them,” Cunningham said.

The RTA holds its next meeting on Jan. 27 and the city will be watching closely.

If Tucson is not granted proportional voting rights, it will hold a special meeting before Feb. 1 to decide whether to leave.

It appears the votes are there to make the exit.

“There’s no winning when we have been talking with this body for a year and a half,” Mayor Regina Romero said. “There’s no winning for the Tucson taxpayer and the mayor and council when we are sitting at the table and we are refused the opportunity to be listened to.”

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