Most of you reading this don't vote in the Tucson city elections, but Proposition 200, known as the Public Safety Initiative, is toxic enough that if it passes, its negative effects would spread to all of us living in the area.
Prop 200 would mandate hiring many more police officers and firefighters, and that doesn't come cheap. Estimates are it would cost $150 million in the first five years and $64 million every year after that. And for us in the county, it would add tens of millions in county court and jail costs. But the proposition doesn't say where all that money will come from.
The cynical crowd that's paying to advertise this proposition – their war chest is at $360,000 and counting — hope our desire for more police and fire protection (even though crime has gone down in Tucson over the past 12 years) will distract us from the unaffordable costs. That kind of pitch should sound familiar. It's the same one we've been hearing from the real estate industry, and from unscrupulous car sales people, for years.
Here's the basic pitch: "Wouldn't you like a bunch of brand new police officers and firefighters to make you feel safer? Of course you would. … What's that? You say you don't know if you can afford it? Don't be silly! Why, this will cost you practically nothing for the first few years, and then, well … I'm sure you'll have no trouble taking care of things."
Prop 200 is based on the same sub-prime lending scam that put this country and countless citizens into a financial tailspin. It only costs $2.5 million for the first year, but there's a huge balloon payment a few years down the road as more people need to be hired. Pretty soon, we'll be paying 20, then 25 times the original cost every year. Where will the money come from? About 65 percent of the city budget is already spent on public safety, so without new taxes, other city services will be cut to the bone. The irony is, cutting preventative services and programs for kids would lead to more delinquency and crime, which means we'd need more police just to stay even. Of course, we could keep the programs and pay higher taxes.
Can you say "unfunded mandate," boys and girls?
It should come as no surprise who is behind Prop 200. It's the Tucson Association of Realtors and the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, the same folks who made their money selling houses by pushing sub-prime loans. Add in car dealer Jim Click, who has poured $100,000 into the campaign, and you have the three biggest players.
If Prop 200 were truly a good idea for businesses and the area in general, you would expect the rest of the business community to support the measure. But many of the most influential business people and organizations are speaking out against it.
Here's a list of some of those publicly opposed to Prop 200. Developer Don Diamond. Tucson Electric Power. Cox Communications. The Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. The Metropolitan Pima Alliance, made up of real estate developers as well as contractors and architects. The Arizona Multihousing Association.
Even the conservative Goldwater Institute has joined the opposition, writing, "[Prop 200] won't put public safety first, it will just bloat city government."
If Prop 200 is such a fiscal disaster, why would a group of home builders and Realtors join with Jim Click to push it so hard? The answer is, they're indulging in the most cynical form of political calculation. They think the proposition will help them oust Democrats from the Tucson City Council by getting more Republicans out to the polls.
And if it passes? I'm sure they're hoping they can find a "fix" before it bankrupts local governments.
Let's hope Tucsonans send a clear message and give Prop 200 the resounding defeat it so richly deserves.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.