The Prop 400 package put together by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) is in serious trouble at the legislature, and Katie Hobbs and the transit lobby knows it. So, in a desperate attempt to rescue their defective plan, they have phoned a friend to see if a little legacy media pressure will improve their flagging fortunes at the Capitol.
In recent weeks, the AZ Republic has unleashed a torrent of articles and opinion pieces attempting to scare the legislature into sending their transit slush fund package up to Hobbs’ desk. Most of their writings have been nothing more than recycled talking points from MAG and transit industry lobbyists attacking conservative lawmakers and critics (like the Club) for opposing a plan that slashes freeway funding and increases traffic congestion in the region.
A couple weeks ago it was in the form of an editorial that claimed to disprove our Prop 400 criticism by “relitigating” the merits of bus and light rail and proving its value in the region. And now over the weekend, their opinion writers couldn’t race out fast enough to promote the press release issued by Katie Hobbs and the transit lobby that the legislature needs to adopt a fake “compromise” MAG plan.
In short, their efforts to “relitigate” the merits of transit or to declare that there is any type of “compromise” only demonstrate how radical their position really is.
Here are just a few examples of how the Republic has veered from journalism to being nothing more than a lobbying arm of the transit lobby:
There Is a Compromise? With Whom?
Over the weekend a choreographed social media blitz was launched by Katie Hobbs and MAG, with their allies at the Republic eagerly playing along. They claimed that Republicans are refusing to move a “compromise plan” that made over 30 concessions, including reductions in light rail spending.
It sounded great, except for one problem: their compromise plan is no different than the plan vetoed by Governor Ducey last year.
That “big concession” about taking light rail out of the plan? What a farce. Light rail expansion isn’t going away, their plan just shifts bus expenditures from municipalities to the regional tax, which then frees up city money to pay for the rail.
These type of cheap accounting tricks are not surprising to those that have been engaged in the Prop 400 debate at the legislature. MAG and the transit lobby have been adamant for over a year that they won’t negotiate, and that their Momentum Plan cannot be altered. Don’t believe us, just watch one of the MAG transportation meetings from the last couple of months where they have restated this position on several occasions.
And given that intransigent position, it is easy to see why they ran to the Republic to reframe the narrative by peddling their bogus compromise.
Does the Republic Know That Transit Ridership in Metro Phoenix Has Collapsed?
On several occasions the Republic has bragged about transit ridership in the region, even boasting about “32 million annual rides on public transportation.”
One wonders if they even know what that figure represents, because that averages out to only 40,000 people a day using transit in the region, in a metropolitan area of 5 million residents. One 4-lane arterial road will carry more people on a given day than ride a bus or take the light rail.
Also conveniently missing from the Republic editorial is that transit ridership has been in decline for over a decade and fell off a cliff during the pandemic (ridership is still half of what it was pre-pandemic). There are now fewer people riding transit today than were riding in 2005, before 33% of the Prop 400 tax was diverted to transit. Voters were promised twenty years ago that spending billions on light and bus would increase transit use, yet the opposite has occurred, all while the region grew in population by over 1.5 million residents.
Other Cities Waste Billions on Transit Too!
The Republic has also taken the time to point out that “other top 10 metropolitan areas in the country all support buses and rail…in equal or greater magnitude.”
This analysis of course leaves out two important details:
- Virtually every metropolitan area with a large transit system is on the verge of bankruptcy and is seeking massive taxpayer bailouts. Valley Metro is facing a similar fiscal cliff, which is why a large portion of the MAG plan is dedicated to making their bankrupt system solvent.
- The only transit systems not going bankrupt have either imposed performance metrics or are using private operators that are interested in making a profit. Right now fares being collected by Valley Metro are covering only 7% of the cost to operate our buses and light rail. In 2005, they promised voters that fare recovery would be at least 30%. Promises made, promises NOT kept.
Prop 400 Funds Roadway Repairs and Maintenance? Spoiler Alert: It Doesn’t
Another argument promoted by the Republic editorial board is that “a big chunk of Prop 400 proceeds—42% of the projected $14.9 Billion—are to repair and maintain our freeways and roads.” They proceed to state that the entire debate over 400 is “an indictment not of local or regional planning but of the legislature…if the obstructionists at the Capitol truly want to fix potholes and service freeways and streets, then they put their own house in order and raise the gas tax.”
This criticism would be scathing if any of it were true. All of the funding for maintaining and repairing our freeways comes from the state HURF monies and federal dollars. Every dime of that funding is legally required to occur irrespective of Prop 400 moving forward or not.
It’s understandable for someone that is unfamiliar with Prop 400 to make this mistake. But the Republic should know how 400 works, specifically that the proposed tax is slated to only be used toward new freeway and roadway projects.
Clearly they don’t, especially since they proceed to argue that major freeway projects like expanding the I-17 and I-10 should be paid for by the state through a gas tax increase. Really? The only reason the tax exists is to build freeways! MAG’s proposed 400 plan slashes freeway funding by 30%, and the Republic thinks that is a big win for motorists.
MAG Will Only Have Themselves to Blame if 400 Is Not Extended.
Republicans at the legislature aren’t interested in the funding gimmicks or fake concessions promoted by MAG, which is why no agreement has been reached. And now we are nearing the end of the legislative session, which means MAG is running out of time if they want a Prop 400 plan passed at the Capitol.
If they are really interested in seeing something get done, the transit lobby needs to accept that significant changes need to be made to their plan, and no amount of editorials from the Republic is going to change that reality.
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