Phoenix voters went to the polls on Tuesday with the chance to permanently freeze the city’s light-rail program and to force elected officials to pay off $4.5 billion in pension debt before creating new city services.
Both ballot measures caused heated debate and saw hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on them, but ultimately, voters overwhelmingly rejected both propositions.
Only 37% of voters supported the measure to halt future light-rail expansion, while only 34% supported the proposition to limit spending and pay off pension debt.
Proposition 105, which was sponsored by light rail opposition group “Building a Better Phoenix,” would have blocked the city from spending money on development, construction, expansion, or improvement of light rail transit, with an exception for PHX Sky Train. It would have re-allocated any revenue from the city’s transportation sales tax from light rail development to other city infrastructure.
Light rail opened in Phoenix a decade ago, and since then, it’s exceeded predicted ridership numbers and brought in roughly $11 billion in private and public investment in the half-mile of the rail, the Arizona Republic reports.
Voters have also approved light rail on three separate instances, but critics remain.
This year, those critics received support from the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a political organization with ties to the Koch network, which is fighting to end public transit projects across the country.
The Arizona Free Enterprise Club tried to paint rail transit as a “liberal policy,” hoping to cater to fiscal conservatives. But, with nearly 63% of voters voting against the proposition, Building a Better Phoenix failed to convince enough Republicans of its stance.
“To win by this margin, you have to win across demographics and party lines,” said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego (D), a light rail supporter.
Gallego, who opposed both propositions, took to Twitter to celebrate the results.
Proposition 106 was less controversial, but similarly aimed to woo fiscal conservatives. The city has $4.5 billion in pension debt – money it owes retirees – and while voters and the City Council have passed measures to reform the pension system and tackle rising costs, that wasn’t enough for those behind Prop 106.
Councilman Sal DiCiccio spearheaded the effort alongside the fiscally conservative group Responsible Budgets, but the effort also received the support of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club.
Had Prop 106 been successful, it would have forced the city to limit its city spending until it paid off 90% of its debt, potentially restricting Phoenix’s ability to provide services like parks and libraries.
DiCiccio said he was disappointed by the results, but respects the will of the voters.
Chuck Warren, treasurer of Responsible Budgets, said his group intends to present voters with another pension reform plan in the near future, unless the city fixes the issue.
While both propositions were handily defeated, voter turnout remained low, with only 24% of registered voters going to the polls.