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.