Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs rejects GOP’s Maricopa County infrastructure funding bill.

Democratic Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed Senate Bill 1246 on Tuesday which aimed to extend a transit sales tax of half a cent that has funded transportation projects in the state’s largest county for almost 40 years. While Maricopa residents must vote to again approve the tax, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have failed to reach a consensus on spending the revenue.

The so-called Prop. 400 sales tax was originally approved by Maricopa County voters in 1985. They voted again in 2004 to extend the tax, which is set to expire at the end of 2025. The tax was proposed to help pay for major Phoenix-area infrastructure projects, and has secured freeway projects, bus services, and the light rail system for a burgeoning population.

With their partisan bill to further extend the sales tax, Republican lawmakers aimed to put two questions on the ballot: Voters would be asked whether or not to increase funding for highway projects, and to shift funding from the promotion of such activities as “active transportation” and “air quality” to arterial road construction. If voters approved the second question, the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) would also obtain the funding they demand for light rail projects.

Hobbs had warned in advance that she would veto the bill if it landed on her desk, as she continues to seek a bipartisan solution that would also prioritize light rail projects.

Future of Transportation

The veto is part of a battle over the future of transportation in Maricopa County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States and home to some 4.5 million Arizonans—or two-thirds of the state’s population. The bill proposed by Republican lawmakers, who control both the House and the Senate, would prioritize investment in the freeway system, preempt bans on internal combustion engines, and limit the expansion of light rail projects.

“Our Prop. 400 extension proposal allows voters to fully evaluate the transportation plan on its merits to determine which funding options best fit their preferred commute patterns,” said Senate President Warren Petersen in a statement. Petersen’s Republican colleagues criticized Arizona Democrat’s “fixation” on the county’s light rail system, which they described as a “total failure” that was “inefficient and unpopular.”

The Governor disagreed with their assessment, however. “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 statement. “This partisan bill does none of those things.”

“I encourage legislators to vote on the compromise supported by a bipartisan majority in the House and Senate, community leaders, and cities in Maricopa County. Stop playing partisan politics, stop holding Arizona’s economy hostage, and put the bipartisan compromise up for a vote,” she added.

The mayors of Phoenix, Mesa, and four other communities in Maricopa County voiced their opposition to the Republican proposal, saying the transportation priorities of the bill’s backers don’t mesh with the realities of a fast-growing county.

“Thank you, Governor Hobbs, for your leadership on this issue. We hope the Legislature will reconsider the cities’ Prop 400 compromise bill, which would deliver quality-of-life benefits for all residents and strengthen the economy for our region and state. Cities are committed to getting voters a balanced, multi-modal plan,” Mesa Mayor John Giles, a Republican, posted on Twitter.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and other officials are considering other options, including a ballot initiative that could remove the county’s requirement to go through the Legislature or put the tax directly to voters statewide.

“Mayors, tribal leaders, and county officials worked diligently for years to approve a regional transportation plan for our growing Valley. But the bill that the legislature sent to Governor Hobbs does not honor our commitments to our voters and ultimately does not meet the needs of Maricopa County. I’m grateful to Governor Hobbs for her veto and urge the legislature to send a bill to serve our constituents better,” Gallego said in a statement. 


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