For years advocates for light rail have been trying to convince the legislature to allow Maricopa County to extend the 1/2 cent transportation sales tax (currently set to expire in 2025) to include billions more for light rail. They know that they can’t pass light rail by itself, so they have been looking for ways to sneak it by lawmakers by tying it to other more popular transportation projects.

Their solution is SB 1147, a poorly crafted transportation omnibus bill that would eliminate the statutory spending caps on how much money can go toward light rail and other wasteful transit projects. The bill would also remove the requirements that funding go toward freeways and other regional roads, unnecessarily create duplicative and confusing new statutes for rural counties and allow new tax hikes to be considered on off-cycle election dates that are notorious for low voter turnout.

The evidence that light rail and similar fixed line transit is a bad deal for taxpayers is overwhelming. In 2017, the Free Enterprise Club published a study on the future of transportation policy in Maricopa County and the value of light rail in the Phoenix Metro Area. The conclusion was that light rail is a bad deal for taxpayers, commuters, non-politically connected landowners and anyone else that relies on the current bus transit system. Additionally, a cursory review of the wild-eyed economic development claims being made by proponents of rail are easily disproven as well.

The most critical facts when considering light rail include:

  • Light rail will NOT reduce traffic congestion–it will INCREASE traffic congestion

A common myth pushed by proponents of light rail is that it will help in getting people off the roads and into public transit. The fact is that light rail will increase traffic congestion, and there are a couple of reasons for this. First, the only way to accommodate the new rail line will be to remove street lanes currently used by automobiles. And since street lanes can move more traffic per hour than light rail, congestion will be greater along the line. Secondly, since the rail line is moving at street grade, it will have to receive priority at every traffic light. This will disrupt signal coordination systems, spreading the disruption well beyond the light rail intersections. That is why every independent traffic analysis that has been done concludes that light rail increases traffic congestion.

  • Light rail will NOT increase transit ridership and will HURT bus ridership

Another argument made by the light rail lobby is that building light rail will increase transit ridership. The fact is most light rail passengers are either individuals who already use transit or passengers who were forced onto light rail when existing bus service along the rail line was eliminated. Additionally, since rail costs substantially more to operate than buses, over time light rail will crowd out bus service and will result in a reduction of bus lines in the Phoenix metro area.

This is not speculation—this exact scenario has played out in every city that has built light rail. For proof, here is a chart showing transit ridership in the Phoenix metro area since 2000, courtesy of Valley Metro:

As can be seen by the chart, transit ridership was increasing steadily from 2000 to 2008, prior to light rail opening. After light rail opened, bus ridership began to plummet and is now at levels not seen since 2003. Even more troubling, after a decade of growth annual transit ridership has been in decline.  The 2017 figures were just released and annual transit ridership is now LOWER than when light rail opened in 2009.

  • The Economic Development Claims are False

Knowing that light rail cannot be defended for reducing congestion or increasing transit ridership, advocates usually pivot to the claim that rail should be built since it promotes economic development.  This claim is easily disproven as well. After a careful analysis of the figures provided by Valley Metro, the Club proved that most of the economic development credited to light rail was either “planned or committed” development, projects that had nothing to do with rail (like the Phoenix Convention Center) or were projects that never occurred.

After discrediting their figures in 2015, Valley Metro released a new analysis, now claiming that billions in constructed projects have occurred because of light rail. How did they reach this conclusion? Valley Metro is now assuming that light rail is responsible for ALL economic development that occurs within 1/2 mile of the rail line. Since the rail line is 26 miles long, that means they are including 26 SQUARE MILES within their analysis. The idea that light rail is responsible for all economic development in an area the size of Queen Creek is laughable.

  • SB 1147 Ignores the Blossoming Self-Driving Transportation Revolution in our own Backyard

The final nail in the coffin for light rail is that it is more likely than not that drastic advancements in autonomous vehicles will render the service useless and unused. Thanks to Governor Ducey, Arizona has become a leader in promoting and developing self-driving technology, and it is anticipated that such cars will be available to the public in the next five years. The idea that we are going to commit billions to human-operated, fixed line rail through 2045 when the technology will be beyond obsolete would be a huge mistake.

If lawmakers believe there is a need to update our existing transportation statutes or even consider extending the Maricopa County transportation tax, policy makers should make sure that the money is used on productive transportation projects that include plenty of transparency and oversight. Without drastic changes to SB 1147, the bill will remain a train wreck for taxpayers.

If you enjoy using the internet, prepare to hide your wallet. A coalition of cities throughout Arizona have announced their intention to impose massive new tax increases on a wide array of currently untaxed digital products, targeting popular streaming services and applications such as Apple iCloud, LegalZoom and Pandora.

This outrageous plan to tax everything on the internet manifested itself from good faith legislation introduced at the Capitol earlier this year to clarify what digital products should (and should not) be taxed. Arizona law has been silent on the issue, and the Department of Revenue has struggled to develop rules to differentiate digital goods from digital services, which is an important distinction since Arizona has historically not taxed services.

HB 2479 and SB 1392 were introduced after lengthy bipartisan discussions that included input from the private sector and taxing entities, including the cities. The conclusion from those meetings was that taxing online digital services was a terrible idea that was contrary to legal precedent and would put Arizona at a competitive disadvantage, since most other states do not tax similar internet products.

Yet the allure of new revenue from internet taxation has led the League of Cities and Towns to oppose both bills. They have made it clear that no restrictions should be placed on their internet taxing powers, a radical position that could lead to digital goods and services becoming one of the MOST taxed items in Arizona. Even more stunning is that their plan is likely illegal and would violate federal law.

This is not an issue that lawmakers can remain on the sidelines. If local governments get their way, internet users will be hammered with a slew of new taxes, while digital startups and capital investment will be driven to other states much friendlier to the tech industry.

Action must be taken soon to protect taxpayers and slam the door shut on the digital internet tax. We urge everyone to contact your lawmakers to vote YES on HB 2479 and SB 1392.

Each year there is a constant debate at the Legislature centered around a bevy of bills that preempt the authority of local government.

For the most part, the proponents of “local control” for cities and counties hang their hat on the explanation that the superior government is always the one closer to the people. This argument it is rarely explored, explained, or expounded upon further than a convenient slogan meant to excuse government overreach and conflate the idea of federalism with granting more power to local government.

And that is the crux of the dispute. In virtually every case when state lawmakers have decided to preempt local government, the debate has not been about how much power the state should have, but whether more autonomy and freedom should be granted to individuals, families, and businesses. Indeed, if cities were truly concerned with having the most local entity be in control, they would be fighting for the individual.

Instead, advocates for more local power continue to make the absurd claim that cities deserve the same relationship the States share with the Federal Government. This flawed argument ignores that fact that, unlike the States that created the federal government, cities and counties are political subdivisions of Arizona. Any authority that they do have has either been expressly delegated to them through state law or the constitution. Even the State Supreme Court ruled that (with one very narrow exception) local governments are not sovereign entities and must adhere to Arizona law.

Furthermore, attempting to elevate local governments in Arizona to the same status enjoyed by States in the US Constitution is a poor argument for more local power and demonstrates a philosophical misunderstanding of federalism. As expressed in the bill of rights and Declaration of Independence, America was founded on the idea that rights belong to the people, and that government remains the biggest threat to protecting those rights.  If politicians decide to use their power to infringe on those freedoms, the geographic distance of that government is inconsequential.  After all, is local tyranny better than state or federal tyranny?

It also cannot be ignored that in crafting a constitution of limited enumerated powers, the States granted the Federal Government the authority to regulate interstate commerce. This was a wise inclusion as it was a bulwark against states implementing protectionist laws that would infringe upon the free travel and commerce of citizens throughout the country.

Arizona’s constitutional framework similarly allows state lawmakers to oversee and regulate intrastate commerce in order to protect individuals and businesses operating in different jurisdictions.  It was never the intent to allow cities to create a patchwork of onerous and inconsistent business regulations on issues such as minimum wage, plastic bags or bans on no-impact home-based businesses. When these situations do arise, it is the obligation of our state policymakers to step in and intervene.

It is high time that the local control argument be unpacked and receive the intellectual scrutiny it deserves.  There have been too many instances where the local control defense has been used to justify freedom crushing eminent domain abuse, suppress voter turnout, and to infringe upon our free speech rights.  If we are to argue for local control, let that control be divested to individuals, families, and businesses.  After all, the spirit of America is not city council-determination, but self-determination.

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The Arizona Free Enterprise Club is a free market policy and advocacy group dedicated to promoting a strong and vibrant Arizona economy.