State senators crafted a deal behind closed doors Thursday that would extend Maricopa County’s transportation half-cent sales tax for another 20 years without a public election, and shelve the hot-button issue of light rail for now.
The plan would sidestep the debate over whether an election for the $15.8 billion plan should be in May or November by having the Legislature continue the tax.
Money would keep flowing for new highways, arterial streets and bus routes. But a decision on whether to build an additional 27 miles of lightrail tracks would be deferred for five years, when county voters would be asked if those projects should be funded.
The new deal would provide the necessary votes for extending the tax when the issue goes before the Senate Fi nance Committee on Monday.
Sen. Dean Martin, RPhoenix, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the original proposal — a May 18 vote on extending the tax — would die in his panel.
The new proposal would eliminate the need to get 20 votes in the 30-member Senate, a requirement for the plan being pushed by the Maricopa Association of Governments and Phoenix. It also is likely to win support from lawmakers who had pushed for separate ballot questions on extending the tax and funding light rail.
Sen. Robert Blendu, RLitchfield Park, one of the original sponsors of the MAGbacked legislation, said Thursday there are enough votes in the House and Senate for the deal to be struck.
But Phoenix lobbyist Norris Norvold said the state’s largest city will oppose the new agreement. Norvold said Phoenix is willing to drop the push for a May election, as long as light rail is part of a single package that goes before county voters in November.
That move also would require only 16 votes in the Senate.
Rep. Gary Pierce, R-Mesa, said legislative action to extend the sales tax would save the county $3 million by not holding the special election this year.
Phoenix intends to use its own tax dollars to build the first 20 miles of light rail from the edge of Mesa through Tempe and Phoenix to Spectrum Mall.