Updated RTA map

FLORENCE — The Pinal County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Wednesday approving a Regional Transportation Plan and Transportation Excise Tax and calling for a Nov. 7 election date.

The plan and half-cent transportation excise tax are intended to allocate about $640 million in transportation funding over the next two decades to establish better transportation within the county.

A resolution adopted by the Pinal RTA Board of Directors states that this is a two-decade multimodal plan, outlining construction dates for projects included in the proposal.

Pinal RTA membership will include Apache Junction, Casa Grande, Coolidge, Eloy, Florence, Kearny, Mammoth, Maricopa, Superior and Queen Creek, as well as the Ak-Chin and Gila River Indian Communities, according to the resolution.

The transportation excise tax would be set at a rate equal to half a percent of the gross income “from the business activity upon every person engaging or continuing in the business of selling tangible personal property at retail,” the resolution states.

Though the plan itself didn’t raise any red flags at Wednesday’s supervisors meeting, Spencer Kamps, vice president of legislative affairs for the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, spoke up about concerns he had about a tax exemption.

“Pinal County has clearly demonstrated the need for regional transportation improvements, and we support that,” he said. “What we’re talking about here is the exemption (that’s) going to be provided for retail personal property transactions under the retail classification over $10,000. … Everybody should pay.”

He suggested further legal research and opinions to the board before moving forward.

The plan would primarily be funded by the transportation excise tax going to the voters for approval, and some in individual municipalities have already raised questions as to what that means for Pinal residents.

“We have the ability to get all these places without spending any money,” Casa Grande City Councilman Dick Powell, for example, said at a meeting this week, referring to the projects that will be constructed with funds from the tax if approved by voters.

Similar skepticism arose among Maricopa residents last month.

There, the public was doubtful that additional lanes to State Route 347 — which would be widened under the plan, among other projects — would be enough to alleviate any concerns they have with the road.

Supervisor Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, though, said the need for better roads in the county should be prioritized for current and future residents, and he thinks the RTA plan is the way to go.

“If we’re to prepare ourselves for the next wave to account for the people that arrive in Pinal County ... this board does need to be visionary and be able to provide a vehicle of funding to account for the expanding of roads and making them safer for our residents,” he said. “It is definitely, I think, the right vehicle for expanding our roads and they’re well past due.”

Projects in the pipeline include State Route 24 Parkway, the Interstate 10 Traffic Interchange, the widening of State Route 347 north of Maricopa, and others.

According to the presentation by Dibble Engineering’s Tim Wolfe at the Pinal County Town Hall in October, the half-cent sales tax would cost the average household about $88 annually. That boils down to about $7.33 per month, which is, “equivalent to the price of a single fast food meal.”

There, Pinal mayors — including Maricopa Mayor Christian Price and Florence Mayor Tom Rankin — said that they predict people won’t mind paying the tax as long as they trust they’ll benefit from it, citing an approval rating.

Jordan Rose of Rose Law Group testified at the supervisors meeting Wednesday that polling showed upwards of 72 percent favorability among Pinal residents, and spoke positively of the plan herself.

Although the board acknowledged that they weren’t always in favor of tax increases, they still spoke in favor of the plan. Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, said as a “conservative republican” he doesn’t like to up taxes, but considers this one “as fair a tax as (it) can be,” especially considering an otherwise lack of funding.

“This has been something a lot of people were working on for a long time,” House said. “The board that’s up here (is a) progressive board. … We’ve been looking in the future. We know what we want to get accomplished. Right now, the state doesn’t have any money to hand out. I think (an) official at ADOT said if they were going to pay for the improvements (outlined in the plan), it would take 800 years. I don’t think we have that much time.”

Crediting the county’s economic development, he said he wants to see the county channel that same effort put into developments and apply it to transportation projects.

The Board of Supervisors voted to establish the Pinal RTA in August 2015. A long time coming, the Pinal RTA has worked to pinpoint regional transportation corridors, problems and goals.

Should the voters pass the plan and tax in November, the Pinal RTA will appoint an advisory committee and a citizens’ oversight committee to provide input and assistance in the plan’s further development.

“Everybody’s going to pay into it,” House said. “It goes for roads … everybody uses the roads one way or another. … I think it’s a great thing for Pinal County.”