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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.

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Howard Stansfield