Mesa Mayor Scott Smith on Monday pointed to the passage earlier this month of two city bond issues supported by the city's first property tax in decades as evidence that Arizonans will open their wallets for public transportation and other infrastructure projects - if political leaders present a clear vision.
Smith's comments came at a conference entitled Arizona 2030. He was one of several speakers who discussed the state's future needs and how to develop public support for a broad mix of public and private infrastructure for transportation, energy, water, education, public health and telecommunications.
Mesa's projects supported by property taxes are for public safety facilities and street construction. Smith suggested that state leaders could learn from local government with its local values, efficiencies and nonpartisan approach to solving problems.
"A pothole is not Republican; it is not Democrat," he said, emphasizing the importance of nonpartisanship in solving infrastructure issues.
The conference at Arizona State University's Tempe campus was fostered by ASU President Michael Crow, who asked faculty members what it would take for the state to prepare for a population of 10 million people by the year 2030.
The current population is about 6.2 million.
The answer was $288 billion for education, public health, public safety, transportation, water and other public services.
Conference participants did not take a position for or against any specific action. Rather, the conference focused on learning about ASU's assessment of what will be needed to accommodate state growth when it resumes and what it would take to create the political and public climate for spending on infrastructure.
Arizona Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, said conferees should not expect the legislature to focus on the 2030 findings before the state's operating budget is brought into balance against plummeting revenues caused by the current economic struggles.
Tom R. Rex, associate director for ASU's Center for Competitiveness and Prosperity Research, suggested that one way to fight the state's recession would be spending on infrastructure projects to put construction workers back to work.
Transportation development seemed to be the issue most in play, as several speakers talked in favor of public-private partnerships, including toll roads as a way to get around insufficient gas tax revenues.
Some participants cited the bipartisan approach to the Central Arizona Project, the canal system that transports Colorado River water to central Arizona and as far south as Tucson.
Late Washington leaders Rep. John Rhodes, a Mesa Republican, and Sen. Carl Hayden and Rep. Morris Udall, both Democrats, are credited with making the water infrastructure project a reality.
Others referred to the bipartisan coalition that came together to pass Proposition 400 in 2004, a massive roads and light-rail measure underwritten by a half-cent sales tax.
Crow summarized the conference, calling for public understanding that "Grade-A infrastructure is the basis for economic growth" and critical for global competition.