Phoenix voters last week rejected two measures that had been the subject of much rhetoric and advertising. Perhaps they made the right choice in deciding against blocking light rail expansion and new limits on spending. However, both propositions point out problems in municipal government and also government by public ballot.
Both measures received about a two-thirds “no” vote in a light turnout. The first would have prevented future expansion of the light rail system, which has been approved by voters three times and had generally good acceptance. The immediate complaint was about plans to extend the system south along Central Avenue to Baseline Road.
The other proposition would have placed strong limits on city spending until the City Council paid off 90% of $4.5 billion in pension debt. The city has recently sought to reform the pension system and deal with repayment, some of that with voter support. But nothing this severe has been done, and the plan seems too severe.
Nevertheless, the city’s problem with pensions is common not only in Arizona but across the nation. To its credit, the Casa Grande City Council this year decided to put some of its tax savings from paid-off bonds toward the public safety pension debt. Of course, Casa Grande’s debt is minuscule compared to what has been rolled up by the state capital to the north.
A major backer of the debt proposal, Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio, certainly has a point and says he found that even his opponents expressed concern about the debt. Ignoring such problems can only end poorly for taxpayers and even pensioners who ultimately might get less than what they were promised.
And public transportation is generally a good thing, but it has been a source of waste and overspending in many U.S. cities.
Meanwhile, as we’ve said before, ballot propositions often are worded in a one-sided fashion and impose problems that are difficult to work around. However, some propositions are legitimate and arise when elected leaders ignore their responsibilities.