Voters said yes to Proposition 400 Tuesday despite a fierce campaign to derail the regional transportation plan over its light rail component.
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"This shows you people support light rail in Maricopa County," said David Martin, the treasurer of the Yes on 400 campaign.
Supporters of Proposition 400 erupted in cheers early Tuesday evening as they watched returns at a downtown Phoenix hotel. Martin and political consultant Chuck Coughlin hooted, high-fived and hugged each other like teenagers celebrating their school football team's victory.
Both sides poured money into advertising in the final weeks, spending more than $4 million on one of the most high-profile Arizona election issues this year.
Chief opponent Dave Thompson said a flurry of spending by supporters — and what he called misleading messages — turned the tide against his cause.
"They bombarded us with a negative campaign," said Thompson, a Gilbert businessman.
A party for the No on 400 campaign turned glum early on as opponents looked at results. Rail opponent Becky Fenger said the outcome was a result of supporters having extensive financial backing from business interests. "The Yes on 400 backers had over twice the money to lie to the voters as we had to tell them the truth," Fenger said.
Thompson was the primary source of funding for the $1 million his No on 400 committee spent. He attacked light rail as too slow and too expensive to have a meaningful impact on congestion. Thompson had also formed committees in four Valley communities to stop already approved segments of light rail — but he said he'll reconsider that given the election.
"If that's what the voters want, I'll ride the thing," Thompson said. By approving Proposition 400, voters extended a half-cent sales tax in Maricopa County that finances regional transportation projects. The $15.8 billion package will:
• build 78 miles of new freeways and widen most existing freeways.
• expand bus service across the Valley.
• expand light rail by 27 miles, adding to an already-approved 20-mile segment.
Widen arterial roads, mostly in the East Valley. Rail's relatively small share generated nearly all the controversy. It was the lightning rod of the debate, attacked for being a redevelopment program that will benefit downtown Phoenix property owners at the expense of freeways.
Thompson's group spent heavily in recent weeks buying television and radio time, airing ads that called Proposition 400 "highway robbery." He argued that if voters would defeat the measure, lawmakers would come up with a new plan that would devote 90 percent of funds to freeways.
But supporters argued rail is the only way to boost capacity in central Phoenix, where expanding roads and freeways is impractical or extremely expensive.
The tax will last 20 years and will extend a tax voters created the tax by a 2-to-1 margin in 1985, when the Valley ranked dead last in freeway miles for a community of its size. The plan built 149 miles of freeway — far short of the 233 miles that voters were promised.
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