What an amazing week for Tucson -- After fourteen years of persistence and hard work on the part of so many dedicated people both outside and inside of government (including many of you!), our Tucson Modern Streetcar begins welcoming riders this Friday morning. I've got plenty of details about that later in this email. But first, a word about the election, and a bit of news from both Capitols -- AZ and DC.
The deadline for late write-in candidates in my State Senate race has passed, so I will be running unopposed to be re-elected as your State Senator this year. Thank you all so much for your support over the years that has allowed me to be in this position, with backers from all parts of the political spectrum who appreciate my common-sense priorities and my dedication to serving ALL my constituents, even those who didn't vote for me. I am truly humbled by the faith you have placed in me.
I will now be focusing my campaign on helping other Senate candidates in every way I can so that we can change the majority in the Senate this year. It's time that we move Arizona forward at last. We owe it to ourselves, our kids, and our grandkids.
On to the latest from our two Capitols:
--> Courts force Legislative majority to restore funding to public schools: Last week the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the legislative majority must fully fund the base level of public education funding, including inflation, as approved by voters in Prop 301. That means that we must pay our schools $300 million more per year from now on, and depending on a future ruling, may have to pay back the $1.3 billion have unlawfully withheld from our schools since 2010.
Sadly, the response from Governor Brewer and the current legislative leaders has been hyperbolic and anti-education. the Governor is appealing the decision, saying that the idea of adequate funding for our kids' education "would be absolutely devastating to the State of Arizona, to public safety, and the rest of our budget."
I don't recall the Governor saying anything similar when she signed into law the majority's $300 million a year corporate tax cuts during the same years that she and the legislative leaders were withholding $300 million in these voter-approved funds from our kids.
The fact is we have enough money to pay for this if we refuse to allow the rest of these phased-in tax giveaways to take place -- and that only requires a simple majority vote. We also could eliminate the voucher system giveaway to private and religious schools, and dump some of the more than $10 billion in corporate loopholes currently in the sales tax code. That way we would have more than enough money to go around without hurting public safety or touching the wallets of average Arizonans.
The majority's responses to this decision underline why it is crucial that we elect a different majority this November. I haven't heard the business community asking for more tax cuts anymore -- they want a better-trained workforce and better schools so they and our kids and economy can thrive. It's time our legislature and Governor got in line.
--> Congress kicks the transportation funding can a little further down the road. Maybe. Farley Report readers know I have been sounding the alarm for years about our national and statewide transportation funding crisis, and have introduced several bills to help fund our system so we can repair our crumbling infrastructure. The Federal Highway Trust Fund is set to go bankrupt in nine days, slowing down and then stopping more than $32 billion a year from DC to the states, and touching off another recession from the colossal job losses that will ensue.
There is an effort afoot this week in Congress to delay that bankruptcy -- only until next May -- by pumping in a few billion in short-term revenues unrelated to transportation that will cost us more later. While a few folks with courage like Oregon's Congressman Earl Blumenauer have proposed an increase in the gas tax (itself not a long-term solution, given our vehicles are moving away from gasoline as a fuel source), that proposal is going nowhere so it looks like our best-case scenario this month is yet another short-term fix and another huge crisis next summer.
Before 2003, and since Eisenhower funded the interstate highway system, we had a series of 6- or 7-year transportation reauthorization bills that enabled planners to rationally build a transportation system that worked based on funds we could count on. Now, with funding extensions as short as two months at a time, there is no certainty that any planned project will move ahead. We need a restoration of courage to the majority of our Congressional leaders, or, given that seems unlikely in the near future, we need to take funding matters into our own hands and hope we can find that courage locally.
I will continue to push for reasonable, long-term sustainable funding solutions for all our transportation projects and the good-paying jobs they create. We can't stand idly by while our system -- once the best in the world -- crumbles because we don't have the guts to talk about revenues.
--> Speaking of big local transportation projects, It's Tucson Streetcar Weekend! A little more than 14 years ago, I and five other citizens created Tucsonans for Sensible Transportation to push for better public transit, including rail transit, in Tucson. This weekend, starting at 5th and Congress (where I will be speaking) at 9am on Friday, July 25, all Tucsonans get to ride rail transit for the first time since 1931. The early reviews are amazing. In addition to the joyful ear-to-ear smiles upon experiencing a preview ride -- even from hard-bitten reporters -- the economic returns are astounding.
Before one paid rider has boarded, our streetcar has produced more than a billion dollars in development within three blocks of a four-mile route. Downtown Tucson is back -- boasting 106 new businesses in the past year, more than 3,000 new jobs, 24/7 activity for people of all different generations and backgrounds, and more than 2,500 new units of housing.
While much of the housing (though not all) is focused on students, there is a new trend happening this year of seniors leasing apartments in student high-rises in order to be able to keep their independence through riding the streetcar, even after they become unable to drive. Animal House meets Elderhostel! This is yet another example of how the streetcar connects people and creates community.
Volunteers have received rides as part of their training -- like these folks in the photo of one of these rides -- and we can all ride for free this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before paid ridership begins on Monday.
All along the route there will be amazing events, entertainment, deals at local stores and restaurants and clubs. Joy and happiness will abound -- we did this together, Tucson!
If you look for the tents sponsored by Southern Arizona Transit Advocates and Friends of the Tucson Streetcar and fill out a map of Tucson with the routes you want to build next, we will give you a FREE SunGo transit card (while supplies last), pre-loaded with a day pass, and enter you into drawing for a SunGo card loaded with a month pass for any bus or streetcar in Tucson! Our tents will be at Main Gate and Downtown on Congress just east of 6th Avenue, or you can get the same deal at the Living Streets Alliance tent at the Mercado stop on the Westside.
Here are a few more links you might find helpful for the weekend:
The history of Tucson's Modern Streetcar in 650 words -- my Op-Ed in the Star telling the story.
A detailed listing of the events of the weekend.
Lots of official information on parking, how to ride the streetcar, and more.
The best way to get to and from the streetcar (besides walking or biking) is riding the bus. Remember, we transit advocates pushed for and received a voter-approved $445 million for bus system improvements at the same time as we got our $87 million in RTA funds for the Streetcar, so the SunTran system is now much better than even ten years ago. I've often called the Streetcar a gateway drug to buses. Give it a try -- you might be hooked, and get to save some money and time while you are at it! Find out how to ride the bus, on the SunTran site.
This is a huge achievement, and we all deserve credit. We as a community came together for the first time in decades to approve the streetcar as part of the RTA plan, and now we reap the benefits. If you want to help us build the next extensions, we can do that together too. Join us at TransitAdvocates.com.
Have fun this weekend celebrating who we are and what we can do, and I hope to see you out there!
--> One last item unrelated to public service. Many of you have asked what I do in real life, outside of my high-paying <sarcasm off> Senator job. Public art is still a big part of my life, but I have also developed a website featuring examples of my original artistic practice -- photography. If you want to see my work from around the world (or even order greeting cards or a smartphone case with artwork printed on it!) click on Gallery Farley. Enjoy the artwork!
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley