PHOENIX — As expected, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs kicked the Republican version of a metro Phoenix transportation tax plan back to the Legislature on Tuesday.
At issue is the extension of Proposition 400, a half-cent sales tax originally approved by Maricopa County voters in 1985. Voters extended it in 2004, but it is set to expire at the end of 2025.
The tax helps to pay for major Phoenix-area freeway projects, bus service and light rail system.
Maricopa County needs legislative authority to put the issue on the ballot again.
On party-line votes, the Republican-led Legislature last week passed a version of the measure, SB1246.
Hobbs vetoed the bill Tuesday because it didn’t align with a bipartisan plan backed by the Maricopa Associated of Governments (MAG), metro Phoenix’s regional planning agency.
“I’m dedicated to continuing Arizona’s economic growth, building and attracting businesses and creating good-paying jobs for Arizona workers,” Hobbs said in a press release.
“This partisan bill does none of those things. I encourage legislators to vote on the compromise that is supported by a bipartisan majority in the House and Senate, community leaders and cities in Maricopa County.”
The Republican version differed from the MAG plan in a variety of ways. It would have prohibited the sales tax dollars from being used to expand a light-rail line to the state Capitol.
It would have put more money into freeway projects and fewer dollars into public transit than Hobbs had sought and raised the speed limit on the freeway system in Maricopa County to 65 mph.
The proposal also would have split the measure into two ballot questions, one asking if the vast majority of revenues from the tax should be spent on freeways, public transit and arterial streets, and the other asking whether the remaining money should go toward maintaining light rail.
“Rather than mixing vague and controversial projects with real improvements to freeways, major roads and buses, SB1246 moves $1 billion from undefined programs to actual road projects and splits continuation of the half-cent sales tax into two questions that voters can consider separately. We ask the governor to join us in putting voters first and choosing smart and responsible spending,” House Speaker Ben Toma said in a statement Friday.
The mayors of Phoenix, Mesa, Avondale, Chandler, Tempe and Gilbert issued a statement last Tuesday vowing to pursue other ways of getting their preferred plan before voters. That would likely require a ballot initiative that includes voters from across the state, not just Maricopa County.
A small group of state lawmakers is blocking our unanimously approved transportation plan from going to voters. Tonight, I joined fellow mayors to say that if no solution is reached, we will find a way get this to voters in 2024 pic.twitter.com/Shfg5AAlqd
— Mayor Kate Gallego (@MayorGallego) June 14, 2023
“Unfortunately, a very small group of lawmakers, including legislative leaders in the House and Senate, are refusing to let Maricopa County residents vote on this plan at the ballot box — despite years of public planning and the unanimous endorsement of the region’s 32 mayors and tribal leaders,” the statement says.
“Our significant concessions — more than 30 in all — have included more freeways and cuts to public transit, including limiting light-rail expansions. This uncompromising band of lawmakers is blocking a comprehensive transportation plan that benefits all Valley residents and will ensure the region’s transportation infrastructure is built to support rapid future growth.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.