Legislative breakfast probes concerns, hopes for Tucson

Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll
Tucson City Council member Richard Fimbres

Cooperation was on the agenda at the annual legislative breakfast that took place at the Tucson Jewish Community Center on April 20. Republican and Democratic Pima County supervisors and Tucson City Council members started out by voicing opposition to the proposed Rosemont Mine, drawing repeated applause from the audience of around 60 attendees.

The event was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Coun­cil of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and Hadassah Southern Arizona.

After voicing his opposition to the mine, Supervisor Ray Carroll said, “I’m a Republican who’s not moving to the right. I’ll always be civil.”

“We all ride over the same potholes, the same streets, the same as everybody does,” said Supervisor Richard Elias. Fixing potholes was on everybody’s mind. Council member Paul Cunningham announced that $15 million has been approved for each year during the next three years to address the issue.

The city needs to look at bus rapid transit traveling up and down Broadway, connecting to the airport, Raytheon and other locations, said Cunningham, the only Jewish official on the panel. “We can have a commuter train from Marana to Vail,” he said.

Cunningham, who was on the panel with City Council member Richard Fimbres and supervisors Sharon Bronson, Carroll and Elias, explained some of his other goals. “We give away $20 to $30 million a year. Ninety-six percent of Maricopa County lives in incorporated areas, [compared to] 60 percent in Pima County. We’ve got to get more areas incorporated or annexed to get more funds from the state.”

A successful professional soccer program in Tucson, which would provide a “one-quarter billion dollar influx to the economy,” is another of Cunningham’s goals. “We’ll need to build a new arena downtown,” he said. “My vision is in about eight years for us to host the Pan Am games.” Tucson hosted major league soccer’s 2011 Desert Diamond Cup in February and March.

Panelists also promised to fight for education and to bring good jobs to Southern Arizona.

The new Costco warehouse in South Tucson “brought in 110 jobs to a neighborhood that needed it,” said Fimbres. “Those neighborhoods all wanted the good-paying jobs. Costco pays $14.83 an hour compared to Walmart’s $8.”

In the past, Arizona had the three C’s — cotton, copper and cattle — said Bronson, adding that “we have to be focused on growing jobs. We need sustainable jobs. Those jobs today will be in aerospace and defense, transportation, solar and alternative energy resources and biotechnology.”

Supporting local businesses is always the first priority, said Fimbres. “They’re really the backbone of our economy.” Since taking office in November 2009, “all I’ve known is the downward trend of the economy. We live on sales tax,” he said.

Bronson noted that there’s a petition circulating locally for an initiative to extend the one cent sales tax, which would be used for transportation or education.

The plight of Tucson Unified School District and other local education entities was a hot topic for the panelists, who agreed that reduced funding is only part of the problem. “There have been a series of attacks from state legislators on [TUSD’s] Mexican-American studies” classes, declared Elias, noting that the program has helped many students stay in school.

“Young adults in TUSD have shown leadership in talking about education,” he said.

“And let’s be honest — it’s not good to be 50 out of 50” in per pupil funding, especially when “close to one in four children in Pima County live in poverty.” A few panelists urged the audience “to elect legislators who are behind education and care about it,” acknowledging that good jobs aren’t available to an uneducated population.

Cunningham, who attended Tucson schools and was a Bar Mitzvah at Congregation Anshei Israel, said that 20 years ago, educators came from around the country to see the amalgamated TUSD. These days, he said to the JCC audience, “say we had a school system that was 55 percent Jewish and they voted to eliminate a Jewish studies program. How would you feel about that?”