Sunday, December 26, 2010

RTA Boondoggle

So now the RTA, Rio Nuevo, TCC, and Tucson are all broke! And the only way RTA can see to get out of the hole is to borrow against the tax money they control. This is not a new story: the taxpayer funded activities around here are all wallowing in debt with little to show for it. Let's cut these bums out of control and force accountability for the use of that money.

If RTA has mismanaged and overspent, then halt the spending and put the projects on hold to join the Rio Nuevo projects in limbo. Borrowing huge sums so the same people can get their hands on the money to spend it capriciously on more inflated projects seems like an exercise in futility. The idea that projects need to be merely begun, and not funded in entirety, is a foolish way to do business. If there is any actual money left, let it be spent on public safety projects for local use. No more cross town freeways for outsiders to use: let's spend what is left on local projects hiring local people.

No more borrowing. The dollar value is cut by 40% usury charges, which creates a huge debt for this community to complete boom inspired projects. Whatever the promises were, what money that can be spent will be received as it comes in. Create an RTA fund and when that fund is large enough to proceed with completion of a project, then begin again.

The money is not there. Accept the fact and scale back operations until times get better. Fund ongoing street repairs and small projects out of the incoming revenue. Debt only delays the realization that the money is not there, it just sets taxpayers up for a deal where the money is blown now but the debt must be paid for years and years, during which time there will be no money for anything else. Now, if we can wait out the recession without debt, then times will be better much faster. It sounds like the RTA is planning on using up Pima County's credit rating to borrow huge sums. Pima County Supervisors might be interested in this angle.

I'm sorry about the jobs we are talking about here. Putting projects on hold deals with fiscal reality but real people work those jobs. The incremental funding jobs in RTA would keep some jobs, retirements could be encouraged, and attrition will account for some. I do believe that the unemployed need retraining programs tied to unemployment benefits and perhaps the unions would be interested in funding some of this.

Dorothy Prater Niemi

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Modern Streetcar Stimulus?

In Tucson, Mayor Walkup is once again in a hurry to get another grant that must be supported by borrowed money. We should all stampede to the fore to protect this 'opportunity' to indebt the taxpayer through encumbering the RTA revenue stream and the Tucson general fund, thereby increasing the debt service and interest charges. If the RTA borrows $88 million, then over $100 million must be paid back, thereby diluting the material buying power of the tax dollar they are spending. No telling what kind of deal the city would make on new 'Certificates of Participation' or 'grant anticipation notes', which would further indebt the general fund.

So the bottom line is that they want to borrow money to build a system that will not be self-sufficient in operating costs. Mr. LaHood has evidently sabotaged the stimulus by paying grant money into projects that will not be self sufficient or profitable when they are completed. In the case of the city of Tucson, which is reportedly $54 million in deficit for 2011 and is paying about 30+% of total income as debt service, more debt cannot be tolerated. SunTran must also be subsidized and this new streetcar project would just add another increase to the deficit. The city of Tucson does not need more revenue streams tied up and diluted nor does the city need more debt service drain on the inadequate general fund. What next? Laying off police and fire to subsidize this streetcar? The city already wants to raid $14.5 million from the street repair fund to build another bridge over the Santa Cruz for the streetcar. Our streets need maintenance. Spending $178 million on a project that is of questionable economic benefit seems out of place in this economic climate. The city cannot afford more debt.

RTA money is obtained county wide, yet this streetcar project will not improve the economy countywide. Economic benefit will be limited to a few landowners and businesspeople along the route, which will cost more than $50 million per mile, with the RTA funding covering half the cost. This is not a judicious use of RTA funds. I remember a long list of funded projects, of which this modern streetcar was not one detailed, but existed only as part of a list of possible projects. $88 million is a bite out of RTA projects elsewhere and even more money would be lost to interest payments on $88 million in debt.

Possibly another grant could fund local projects, rather than using our tax money to fund jobs in Oregon. We need local stimulus money to stay local, not force us into borrowing in order to get the money in order to buy streetcars made elsewhere. We need jobs here and less debt.

I have an alternative proposal. Put buses or vans on this proposed streetcar route. Bulldoze a road through the Santa Cruz to mimic the use of the proposed bridge and send the buses over it. Connect it all up now with increased transit and just see the economic activity along the proposed route. If this deal is truly about moving people along this route, let's do it now and try it out. Revamp the bus pullouts or make new ones and get busy moving those people. We need a bus stop right by that new UA classroom complex! Stop talking about this proposed route and get it on! Modifications to little used routes could pick up the cost. Put those expensive teamsters to work on this people moving project.

Monday, December 06, 2010


Unemployment in perpetuity?

Unemployment at 10% is caused by:

• population increase

• money concentrated in 'financials' instead of production

• dumping of foreign consumer goods on US market

• 2% of population has 25% of the wealth

• borrowing has lessened since subprime boom

• taxes favor financial losses

• foreclosures and devaluation of housing to pre boom levels

• credit card use is down due to increased standards

• cities and states are debt ridden to the maximum

• the federal government is debt ridden and in deficit spending

• insurance costs are out of control

• medical costs are out of control

• local taxes are up

Certain industries related to construction have been hit harder during the recession. Jobs overall are scarce, with work to be found in medical services and internet related businesses, among others.

The long term unemployed need to find new professions. I remember when the mines closed down and left many workers stranded. The government offered job training classes to these displaced workers, giving them a chance to get off the dole and back into the workforce. A friend laid off at the mine south of Tucson took this opportunity to become a skilled diesel mechanic. Why can't workers now be offered an opportunity to change professions?

A long term unemployed person signing up for this program would continue unemployment benefits. Success would continue benefits until the program was complete. Non attendance would cut off benefits.

Enrollment in programs should be limited to certain growing professions. For example, a program in construction management would not be eligible for funding due to a glut of workers in that profession. A program in website construction would be eligible because work in that area is growing.

A further caveat would require that the school providing the training would not be paid unless the student successfully completes the class, with a final payment due upon completion of the program. This would prevent the schools from getting the money upfront, which lessens their responsibility to the student. If the student fails, the school is not paid!

I think that the long term unemployed would leap at the chance at a retrain themselves and give themselves a chance in this new tight job market. The nation cannot afford to have 10% of our workers on the public dole and a simple program to reeducate these workers would give hope to distressed workers.

My program suggestion has several important aspects:

• Workers have a chance to reeducate and get off unemployment

• Schools have an infusion of students and money into their programs

• More money is circulating