Your leaders want you to trust them so badly you can almost feel their collective hands reaching out to you in gestures of beckoning. Either that or they're fumbling clumsily in your pocket for your wallet.
That's because they are asking you to go to the polls on September 9 and give them money. Lots of money. In perpetuity.
They're asking you to approve a half-cent sales tax--a potential $4 billion over 20 years--to pay for something which has always proven a tough sell: They're asking you to give them money for mass transit.
Your leaders know you've felt betrayed in the past. They agree that money raised for transportation has had a strange impotency.
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. San Antonio Spurs
TicketsMon., Oct. 3, 7:00pm
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. Utah Jazz
TicketsWed., Oct. 5, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
TicketsFri., Oct. 7, 7:00pm
TicketsSat., Oct. 8, 7:00pm
Take the freeway tax, which many of you voted for back in 1985. It was supposed to build 230 miles of freeways by 2005. To date, only 30 miles of precious pavement have been wrung from that tax.
Still smarting from the freeway debacle, you went to the polls in 1989 and gave a big raspberry to their fanciful $8.5 billion plan to build a monorail-like transit system.
When they asked you for money again in 1994 to finish the freeway work, you said "no way," and they had to go and lick their wounds. (What you might not have realized that time around was that you also said no to such mass-transit features as buses and trains. You'd be forgiven if you didn't know that--they didn't make a big deal out of it.)
Now they're back. Only this time, they're not trying to confuse you by mixing freeways with buses and trains. This time, they'll be content with buses and trains.
Although they don't seem that eager to talk about trains.
They're handling the train issue like a case of sweaty dynamite on a hot afternoon. They know that if they get excited, or nervous, and jiggle it just a little, it could make an awful mess.
And an expensive mess. In 1994, transit backers spent almost $1.5 million trying to convince you to show them the money. And they know that many of you may be a little skeptical about trains.
Actually, "skeptical" is not a strong enough word. They know that some of you double over laughing at the thought of a commuter train or light-rail system in Phoenix, where the car is king. You're more likely to see a schooner than a train.
That's why they'd rather you believed that this tax is not about trains. It's about buses. Four hundred of them, to be exact.
It's all spelled out in the Phoenix Citizens' Transit Plan.
Though it covers just two sides of a single sheet of paper, the city's plan envisions a boggling array of buses performing mind-numbing feats of human conveyance.
There are sleek express buses plowing through the city's congested rush-hour streets while sporty dial-a-ride models swoop up to customers' doors to shuttle them to shopping malls.
In fact, seven of the plan's 10 recommendations deal with new buses--how they would allow the city to double the frequency of runs during peak times, from every half-hour to every 15 minutes; to extend hours of operation until midnight during the week and on Saturdays; to offer service from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays.
That's all very nice, but where are the trains?
There, at the bottom of the sheet--under the header "Other Transportation Systems":
"Begin study and planning for other transportation systems, such as light rail and/or regional commuter rail."
Anticipating your skepticism, the Phoenix City Council voted to add the stipulation that ". . . the construction of any rail would begin only after full citizens' participation and review . . . and a public vote by the City Council."
Never mind that all votes by the council are supposed to occur in public anyway. Or that the sitting council has no power to tell a future council how to spend, which means this council or the next could decide that rail construction should begin almost any time.
"At least with the ballpark tax, you knew you were getting a ballpark, and by when," says John Semmens, chief number cruncher for a group called No New Taxes, one of two Libertarian-led groups opposing the tax. "With this, who knows?"
You could almost hear Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza's heels scuffing as he danced around the issue of trains during a June 12 radio interview.
"The citizens have actually told us they want buses, they want more service on Sundays, they want more left-turn arrows," Rimsza said.
Rimsza, who declined to be interviewed for this story, added that past transit initiatives had failed because people felt they were being rammed down their throats by "a bunch of downtown types and business leaders."
That may be. But there is ample evidence that the most recent initiative is also being pushed by those very people.
Take Jerry Colangelo, who has made no secret of his support for the tax, or for his desire to one day see trains packed with Suns and Diamondbacks fans coasting into downtown Phoenix.
Or take the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and its president, Valerie Manning, who heads pro-tax Keep Phoenix Moving, a powerful coalition of business leaders.
Unlike Rimsza, Manning doesn't try to deny that Colangelo and his pals support the tax. But, she adds, that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad for Phoenix.
"Does the fact that he [Colangelo] is a businessman automatically mean he can't also have some sort of a civic vision?" Manning asks.
The legions of county residents still smarting over the tax to build Bank One Ballpark would undoubtedly cry, "Yes!"
The year is 1945. World War II has just ended, America's love affair with the car is about to begin, and the streets of Phoenix (population: 65,000) course with electric trolleys, descendants of horse-drawn versions that made their debut in the late 1800s.
Phoenix extends no farther than Indian School Road in the north. Beyond lie farms and citrus fields. To the east, Scottsdale is little more than winter pasture for sheep and cattle. And Tempe is a smattering of university buildings and homes.
As air conditioning tames the desert heat, the Valley quickly begins to lose its pastoral feel.
By 1965, downtown Phoenix starts to wane as new commercial centers spring up around the Valley, all made possible by the automobile.
By 1985, air pollution and traffic congestion are serious problems. County voters pass the first freeway tax.
Today, from the top of Squaw Peak, the Valley reveals itself as a loosely woven tapestry of neighborhoods, strip malls and golf courses flung as far and as wide as the eye can see, which, unfortunately, is not very far on some days, thanks to the dense, amber haze encircling the Valley like a ring of soap scum in a bathtub.
Now fast-forward to the year 2025.
Seas of pink-roofed residential developments, strip malls and Circle Ks stretch westward to the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. In the east, Queen Creek High is a 5A school.
Development in north Phoenix, which once stopped in the vicinity of the Central Arizona Project canal, has overtaken Carefree. The once-sleepy burg of New River has mushroomed into a master-planned Del Webb community the size of Flagstaff.
The strip of Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson is now one continuous city--like the corridor connecting Miami to Fort Lauderdale or Philadelphia to New York City.
The population of the entire region has doubled since the turn of the century. So has the number of cars--to four million.
Despite the fevered pace of road construction and the implementation of "clean" fuels, and despite increasingly strident government pleas to car-pool, telecommute, walk or ride a bike, the Valley continues to writhe beneath a cloud of pollution and particulates. Its roads remain choked with cars.
Now, imagine this scene with a few not-so-slight modifications.
The Black Canyon Freeway is still paralyzed, but with one key difference: A train running along tracks installed in what was once a traffic lane whooshes past the gridlock.
Motorists cast envious glances at passengers who read the morning paper or peck away on laptop computers while sipping coffee. Once downtown, express buses speed the unharried commuters off to their jobs. Other passengers transfer to commuter trains that will take them to points west or east.
Imagine this scene repeated on each major traffic corridor in the Valley: along I-10, the Superstition Freeway, the Squaw Peak Parkway, the Red Mountain Freeway, Central Avenue, Grand Avenue. At Sky Harbor Airport, trains glide up to a platform. Instead of renting cars when they arrive in the Valley, visitors now have the choice of hopping a train to downtown Phoenix, Mill Avenue in Tempe, Main Street in Mesa, the Camelback Corridor, Scottsdale Road, Sun City.
And all over the Valley, ubiquitous and clean-burning buses shuttle passengers to and from their neighborhoods to rail stations.
Or, picture this: Instead of trains, there are only more roads. Only those roads aren't "free," like they are today. Instead of paying highway taxes at the gas pump, drivers pay "congestion prices" to private road consortiums--the higher the traffic and the demand, the higher the price--for the privilege of driving. Your bill is calculated by a computer that scans your mileage via a chip in your vehicle. And like the freeways, the few remaining buses are privately owned and operated.
Three different visions of the future--do nothing, do mass transit, do capitalism.
In voting for this tax, Manning and her backers say, Phoenix finally has the chance to open the door to a future in which the automobile isn't the only option.
Opponents like Semmens say the tax's supporters are dreaming. They say the tax would have a negligible impact on both air pollution and traffic congestion; that the only thing it guarantees is massive revenue and further subsidization of what they deem a notorious financial loser: public transit.
One afternoon in June, Valerie Manning surveys the realm from her east-facing window on the 27th floor of downtown Phoenix's towering Bank One Building.
She's a good pick to head the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Manning, a preternaturally charming Phoenix native, likes what she sees these days.
She points out developments in downtown. To the south lies the green steel skeleton of Bank One Ballpark. Even at this height, the scale of the ballpark is boggling.
A block north lies the squat bulk of the new Arizona Science Center. Much farther north is the shimmering profile of the copper-skinned Phoenix Public Library.
Manning points toward a downtown lot where luxury apartments are slated to go up. In a lot beside the Arizona Center, a new 24-screen movie theater is taking shape. When completed, moviegoers will be able to see a flick downtown for the first time since the Seventies.
The only thing marring this view of unchecked progress is that annoying scrim of haze obscuring the line where blue sky and brown horizon meet.
Today isn't even a bad day, in terms of air pollution.
In fact, Phoenix has just emerged from one of the city's best air-quality winters in recent memory, never once violating federal standards for carbon monoxide. That may prove a Pyrrhic victory, though, having as much to do with winter winds that wafted pollution out of the Valley as with anything else.
Manning discusses growth scenarios. She explains that if the Valley continues growing at its current rate, the population will double in 20 years.
"This region will continue to grow," she says with urgency. "Even as we build freeways, congestion and pollution will only worsen.
"Intuitively, people realize something has to be done before someone--the state, the feds--makes us."
Manning and her supporters say that unless the city takes the transit plunge, growth will soon outstrip air-quality improvements achieved through beefed-up vehicle-emissions testing, car-pooling, telecommuting and cleaner fuels.
The "easy stuff" has already been done, Manning says. Now, it's time to make a true commitment--even though that commitment will, backers acknowledge, bring about at most a 3 percent reduction in air pollution.
But environmentalists, who long have advocated for increased transit spending, agree that doing nothing is not an option.
David Baron heads the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. Over the past 10 years, he has filed almost a dozen lawsuits against the state and the Environmental Protection Agency over the Valley's grimy air.
Baron says that as air quality worsens, industry would likely bear the brunt, through significantly tougher emissions standards. Baron points to California, which has adopted some of the toughest industrial-emissions standards in the country.
Such standards, transit backers say, would stunt the Valley's growth.
Baron says the feds could conceivably impose moratoriums on driving--something they have not yet tried anywhere.
Still, Baron says, all the talk of federal saber-rattling and reduced growth and commercial dysfunction misses the point.
"We're talking about a quality-of-life issue here," he says. "You have old people going to the hospital because they can't breathe, you have people being told to stay indoors because of pollution. And all major air pollutants are heavily attributable to cars. With every car you get off the street, you get a benefit."
Baron also points out that Phoenix has one of the worst public transit systems in terms of service of any similarly sized city.
If passed by voters, the transit tax will represent the first time Phoenix has had the benefit of dedicated funding sources for mass transit. A similar tax will go on the September 9 ballot in Scottsdale.
Manning enjoys the strong backing of Phoenix City Hall--the transit plan's detractors would say too strong.
Several weeks ago, David Schwartz, Mayor Rimsza's administrative assistant, took a leave of absence to help run the Keep Phoenix Moving campaign.
And Manning has hired the political consulting firm of Grossfeld/Severns Inc. to manage the campaign. Christa Severns, the firm's executive vice president, is married to Phil Gordon, Rimsza's chief of staff.
Many of those backing the initiative are the same pro-business Republicans who traditionally yelp loudest whenever a new tax looms.
Still, they're dutifully passing the hat to promote this tax hike. If the past two (failed) transit initiatives are any indication, some of the larger corporate donors, like Phoenix Newspapers Inc., publishers of the Arizona Republic, and Arizona Public Service Company, the state's largest utility, will pump in nearly $100,000 each.
One of those urging business leaders to give 'til it hurts is Valley sports mogul Jerry Colangelo. An April 28 letter signed by Colangelo and APS director Bill Post and sent to Valley business leaders reads:
"To communicate the importance of this ballot proposition and to be successful in the election, we will need to have a robust campaign. That is why we, and our community, need your help--now. Business and corporate support and leadership are essential to the success of this campaign."
The only dissenting voice at the chamber belonged to Marv Cronberg, head of the Arizona Automobile Dealers' Association, an industry lobbying group.
In April, Cronberg made headlines by pulling the association out of the chamber in protest of its support for the transit tax, saying it will be unfairly borne by car buyers. Cronberg also said a revamped transit system never would have an appreciable impact on air pollution or traffic congestion.
Cronberg has since resigned as head of the association. He could not be reached for comment.
Mike Denea, the AADA's general counsel, says Cronberg resigned for personal reasons, but observers on both sides of the issue hint that he may have been pressured to go. If that's true, it's an indication of the influence of the people backing the transit initiative.
Maricopa County voters have passed judgment on transit issues twice before.
In 1994, they rejected Proposition 400, a Valleywide initiative calling for a half-cent sales-tax boost to benefit freeway construction and regional public transit projects.
And in 1989, voters overwhelmingly rejected ValTrans, an $8.5 billion proposal to build 130 miles of elevated, monorail-like lines throughout the Valley.
Now, transit backers intend to divide and conquer, taking their case to individual cities. There are indications the strategy may prove infinitely more effective.
Tempe already has embraced the concept of a beefed-up transit system, enacting its own half-cent sales tax. If Phoenix and Scottsdale follow suit, some say it's only a matter of time before other municipalities fall into line--a fact disputed by the antitax forces.
"Effectively, 11 percent of the voters registered in Tempe decided the outcome," notes Semmens. "It's hardly a ringing mandate worthy of inspiring a wave of imitation across the urban region."
If approved by voters, the total sales-tax rate in Phoenix would hit 7.3 percent. In Scottsdale, 7.35 percent. Unlike the quarter-cent tax levied on Maricopa County residents in 1994 to fund construction of Bank One Ballpark, and which is set to expire next spring, the new transit taxes would never go away.
Manning says the Proposition 400 defeat was a learning experience.
The main problem with Proposition 400 was that it tried to piggyback transit onto freeways--a critical mistake given voter angst over the snail's pace of freeway construction.
With Proposition 400, Manning and her backers largely allowed the dialogue about the initiative to be dictated by the opposition, refusing to even meet them for debates.
Still, Proposition 400 was not a vote against transit, but a vote against increased freeway taxes, explains transportation Yberactivist Jane White, who led the battle against the tax.
White became involved in transportation issues during the late 1980s, when the Arizona Department of Transportation announced plans to build a road through her neighborhood. In the time since, she has amassed knowledge of things transport-related that rivals that of any paid consultant.
"Transit wasn't even an issue with Proposition 400," explains White. "In fact, we barely even discussed transit. Instead, it was, 'Reform before taxes--do not give this bunch any additional money because they'll waste it, just like they did with the first freeway tax.'"
Manning is quick to point out that Proposition 400 lost by "only four points" throughout the Valley. In fact, Scottsdale voters narrowly favored it.
Though critical of what she sees as essentially a blank check for the city councils, White can't fault Manning and her backers from a strategic standpoint.
ValTrans was too hot. Proposition 400 was too cold. This time, White says, transit backers seem intent on getting it just right.
If that happens, much of that credit must go to Manning, who helped develop the transit plan by organizing a series of 16 forums throughout the Valley. She dubbed these groups a "Committee of 600," but the term is somewhat misleading. Citizens did not sit around and dissect transit issues; instead, they were questioned by researchers from the Morrison Institute, a policy think tank based at Arizona State University.
According to data provided by the institute, forum attendees felt the Valley needed to move forward on transit to improve air quality, relieve congestion and help those who cannot afford cars get to work.
The institute, according to its report, also found that, in order of preference, people favored light rail, beefed-up bus service and commuter trains as means to achieving those ends. In Phoenix, the survey results were passed to a committee made up of 21 citizens, along with Phoenix councilwoman and transit booster Peggy Bilsten.
That committee was chaired by Manning.
On April 29, Manning presented the committee's recommendations to the Phoenix City Council, which approved them unanimously after including provisions to provide free bus service to seniors, the disabled and the handicapped.
The plan says nothing about where rail, or any other transit assets, for that matter, might go--a big change from the days of ValTrans, when planners spelled out the exact routes for the massive elevated-rail system, which would have slashed through neighborhoods.
Pat Cantelme, a captain in the Phoenix Fire Department and head of the firefighters' union who sat in the steering committee with Manning and Bilsten, says that the closest the committee came to making recommendations about where rail or any other transit assets should go was to suggest "corridors."
"We said, instead of it becoming political either today or down the road, it should follow the heaviest traffic corridors," Cantelme says. "For the most part, that's where the freeways are now."
There is one corridor, however, that wouldn't jump out at anyone, at least not based on traffic counts: downtown Phoenix (where there are big sports venues, big hotels, convention facilities) to downtown Tempe (one of the only areas of the Valley where visitors might go to mill around).
Tourism is a huge industry in Arizona, and that's why this corridor is considered important.
Currently, the two areas are separated by the Salt River, the Tempe Buttes and Sky Harbor International Airport. They are connected by arterial streets, the Red Mountain Freeway, I-10, but perhaps most directly by Union Pacific Railroad tracks. City officials have said they'd be interested in developing the rail link with the aid of federal matching funds.
The cost of installing electrified light-rail lines along this 10-mile corridor has been pegged at $260 million. Installing diesel-powered commuter trains--a less-attractive option because of their limited flexibility--along existing tracks has been estimated to cost $50 million.
"If that money comes in, then that would be the first link," Cantelme says. "If it doesn't, then we would wait, because that's not really a high-traffic corridor."
If that's the case, it could take a while. Ken Driggs, executive director of the Regional Public Transportation Authority, says $130 million in federal matching funds is still well down the road.
"We're something like 80th in line [for the money]," he says.
Twenty-eight floors below Valerie Manning's office, shunted off into a corner of the cavernous concourse level of the Bank One Building, lie the offices of the Goldwater Institute.
It is not easy to find, sandwiched among the gift shops and cafeterias. Yet there it is, clinging like a barnacle to an ocean liner.
This is ground zero against the campaign being orchestrated 27 floors up.
Given the institute's antitax, strongly Libertarian bent, it should come as no surprise that it has come out strongly against the transit initiatives. Fiscally, the institute's policies are very much in line with those of the governor, strongly endorsing charter schools and, in transportation, such pay-as-you-go proposals as toll roads.
John Semmens is the institute's resident transportation expert. Disheveled and bookish, Semmens, a senior planner for ADOT who works as a political consultant on the side, espouses views that sound downright curmudgeonly next to Manning's gleaming vision of a Valley bound together by buses and rail.
Publicly, at least, ADOT tries to distance itself from the outspoken planner.
"It should be clear that Mr. Semmens is exercising his right to speak as an individual--not as a member of ADOT," explains ADOT spokesman Bill Rawson. "Obviously, not everyone's real happy with the situation."
Semmens has penned reams of reports and briefs with titles like Public Transit: A Bad Product at a Bad Price; Public Transit: A Failure Everywhere; and Public Transit: A Financial Disaster.
* completing the freeways.
* more car-pooling.
* opening up public bus stops to allow jitneys--small, privately owned vans or buses that offer "door-to-door"-type service--to compete with public buses.
* putting more "smog dogs" on the roads.
At a luncheon hosted by the Arizona Republican Caucus in April, Semmens and other transit opponents launched a tag-team attack against the upcoming initiative.
Neither Manning nor any other transit supporters attended the meeting, which was held in a private club on the top floor of the Bank One Building. Manning's absence was gleefully noted by Becky Fenger, the large-coifed leader of the caucus.
"Guess who's not going to be here?" quipped invitations Fenger had made up for the occasion.
Using figures from Semmens' reports, Goldwater Institute head Jeffrey Flake led off by pointing out that light rail comes in "dead last" in terms of the cost per tons of pollutants removed from the air, and "dead last" in terms of congestion relief.
"If we doubled buses, added 20 miles of light rail, it still would give us only a 1 percent relief in congestion," Flake told the audience.
Flake cited a Semmens-penned report pointing out that Atlanta, which spent $279 million on its transit system in 1994, captured less than 2 percent of passenger miles traveled in the city. Portland, which many in the West have hailed as a model of urban planning, didn't fare much better, he added.
"While they're sipping cappuccino in their urban villages," Flake quipped of Portlanders, "only 2.6 percent of the miles traveled in their city were handled by transit in 1994."
Semmens' numbers are based on Federal Transit Administration data.
Afterward, Flake attacked the rail link between Phoenix and Tempe as another gift from the people of Maricopa County to Jerry Colangelo.
"First we paid for his ballpark, and now he wants us to pay for the train to take people to his ballpark," he scoffed.
Similar themes were echoed by other speakers, including Fenger, who told the crowd that clean fuels would do more to alleviate pollution than all the light rail and buses ever would.
(Fenger's environmental credentials are far from sterling. She is best known for her strong backing of an infamous legislative measure that would have legalized the manufacture of ozone-depleting Freon in Arizona, contrary to federal law. She drives a canary-colored Cadillac. The license plate: "FREON.")
Marv Cronberg, recently retired head of the Arizona Automobile Dealers' Association, also made an appearance. Cronberg had taken the bus from his office near 24th Street and Camelback to the downtown meeting, he said, to make a point.
"It took me almost 40 minutes to get here," Cronberg said. "By car, it would have taken me just 15. My point: In the cities of today, nothing will ever match the ease and convenience of the car."
Cronberg accused city leaders of succumbing to "me-tooism," or what Flake referred to as the "edifice complex": the desire to have trains--or ballparks, or science museums--simply because other cities of similar size have them.
"This is just transit envy," Cronberg said. "We want what everyone else has, and that is not a valid reason for spending billions of dollars."
Transit backers seem equally mystified by some of the suggestions proffered up by Semmens and his camp.
Ed Fox, former head of the state Department of Environmental Quality and now a vice president at APS, says Semmens' fondness for such pay-as-you-go proposals as congestion pricing would only squeeze out lower-income drivers during peak travel periods.
Other of Semmens' suggestions, like telecommuting and staggered work weeks, have already been tried, with limited success, Fox adds.
As for Semmens' suggestion that more freeways be built, Fox says, the days of inner-city freeway construction are over, as signaled by the plight of the Paradise Parkway, an east-west midtown freeway that was shot down by activists after ADOT had spent more than $50 million to acquire right of way.
"We will not build another inner-city, or cross-town, highway," Fox says. "Which begs the question: If you can't build more cross-town highways, then how will you move more people across town?"
Semmens and the antitaxers have also argued that all mass-transit systems, including buses, are highly subsidized, with riders often paying just a fraction of the true cost of their rides.
It's a fact that Manning concedes. But, she adds: "How profitable do you think the libraries are? How profitable are the freeways, for that matter?"
Even so, with gasoline cheaper than bottled water, with Ford recently announcing plans to unveil a lumbering, three-ton sport-utility vehicle a full foot longer than the vaunted Chevrolet Suburban, how can Manning and the folks behind the initiative ever hope to lure people onto trains and buses?
Manning's own paperwork describes a lengthy, uphill battle when it comes to doing away with our "auto-centric behavior."
". . . creating a transit cure in the Valley is a challenge that will last several generations," reads one Morrison Institute report commissioned by transit backers. "It would be naive to believe that large segments of the population will suddenly begin saying 'enough' to auto travel out of a deep sense of community.
"The reality is that Phoenix residents, like most Americans, are 'consumers' first and foremost, not neighbors or citizens."
Still, how much congestion and pollution can transit alleviate? The numbers, at least for other similarly sized cities spending what Phoenix is contemplating on their transit systems, don't sound encouraging: Portland, which spends around $250 million annually on its system, only captured 2.6 percent of urban travel in 1994; Houston spent $297 million for less than 2 percent; and San Diego spent $181 million for 1.6 percent.
Fox concedes that ridership figures for most of the country's newer transit systems don't sound encouraging. But, he adds, it took 50 years for America's addiction to the automobile to reach current levels.
"To think that you're going to change that culture in a year or two, I think, is flawed," Fox says. "As the cost of driving increases, you're going to see more and more people choosing transit."
While both sides can flash numbers supporting their arguments, it seems clear that only one--Keep Phoenix Moving--likely will have the luxury of packaging and carrying its message to voters.
And the fact that the issue will be decided during a city election--traditionally the lowest of the low, in terms of turnout--should play into the hands of those backing the tax.
Gary Fallon heads No Transit Taxes, the other Libertarian-led group that has organized to oppose the tax hike in Phoenix.
"Generally, when government looks for money, it seeks the low turnout," Fallon says, pointing out that school-bond elections enjoying minuscule 5 percent turnouts generally win by two-to-one margins. At elections with turnouts of 50 percent or higher, Fallon adds, "the swing goes the other way."
Fallon and his allies form a motley contrast to the pro-transit forces arrayed against them. They will fight their campaign without benefit of paid consultants, insider connections or generous corporate support, a fact that the boyishly earnest Fallon readily acknowledges.
So far, according to campaign finance reports filed June 30, Keep Phoenix Moving has raised more than $48,000--an amount that is sure to soar as the election nears.
APS threw in $25,000. Additional $5,000 donations came from the Phoenix Convention and Visitors' Bureau, the firefighters union and downtown real estate mogul Jim Kaufman. And you can bet that most of the big money isn't even on the table yet.
"It is a sort of David-versus-Goliath scenario," concedes Fallon, who opposes further government subsidization of mass transportation.
Already, according to a KAET-TV Channel 8 poll taken last week, 70 percent of Valley voters support the initiative. That figure jibes with a poll taken last month by the Behavior Research Center, which found that 68 percent of voters surveyed would support the tax.
Still, Fallon and friends can take heart from a warning in the survey that "if a lively debate over the measure breaks out, the results this fall could be much closer."
They can also take heart from Jane White, who recalls how she and a small gaggle of activists managed to defeat the Valley's powers that be in the Proposition 400 battle back in 1994.
"They spent more money on their election-night party than we did on our entire campaign," White remembers with a laugh.
White, a Scottsdale resident, has followed the transit initiative closely there, even taking part in meetings to craft the ballot language. She successfully introduced a provision allowing the people--not the council--to decide when to proceed on rail.
If Scottsdale had tried to introduce a caveat similar to Phoenix's, which states that ". . . the construction of any rail would begin only after full citizens' participation and review . . . and a public vote by the City Council," White says, she would have again ridden into battle.
White says Phoenix, with its nine-member council, is "five votes away from having that promise [about rail] broken."
Manning acknowledges that the rail promise essentially is nonbinding, and that there's nothing to prevent the next council from laying track almost immediately if Phoenix voters approve the tax.
That statement draws a laugh from White.
"I've seen this crowd in action before," she says, "and they will say anything to get their hands on this money.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.