There are a lot of people lining up to tell you to vote NO on Prop 200. Just about the entire economic and political elite of Pima County have come down against it. Personally, I can’t think of a better reason to vote for it.
I really can’t think of any better reason to vote for it. And that’s just not enough of a reason for me.
Having read the thing carefully, what struck me was not how restrictive it is – which is what most are moaning about – but how full of loopholes it is. Basically, the reason I suggest you vote against it is not that it’s a disaster waiting to happen, but because it won’t accomplish squat… other than unintended consequences that is.
This is something of unique perspective on the initiative, so far as I can tell. And that decided me that I would go ahead and write something about it.
The first hole in the prop, which is big enough to swallow the most important provision whole, is that voters get the option of indefinitely delaying the cut-off of new connections. That’s right. City voters get to kick the day of reckoning down the road by four years every time we get within two years of a the dreaded new connection moratorium.
The thing is drafted so that any first year law student can reasonably argue to construe it to allow not just one such delay, but an unspecified, indeed unlimited, number of delaying elections. Frankly, I’m not really sure that isn’t the actual intent of the drafters.
A lot of junkies will agree to give up the junk when they’ve got a regular supply, but once they start jonesing, well-intentioned resolutions to reform go right out the window. Tucson is a junky for water, when it comes down to brass tacks and we are staring at cut-offs of new connections (even on infill development, I suppose), they can come up with plenty of reasons to delay just a couple more years. My prediction: the cut-off would never arrive.
The next major problem I have with the Prop is one that most won’t admit: I want the city to have the new revenue from the trash tax. I think what Mike Hein and the Council have done to create an investment plan to repair roads and fund city fire and police services is critically important. Cutting the $23 million generated by the trash tax would imperil the continuance of that investment.
Further, there’s just no good goddamn reason to restrict the City from raising revenue for environmental services through taxes. I don’t think fee for service and the sort of enterprise fund revenue silo the framers of this prop apparently desire is necessarily the only or best way to deliver those services. I don’t think it is wise to place such micro-managing restrictions in our Charter.
The restrictions on effluent use are just stupid. It would have been a stronger prop if they had just stopped at "No effluent or reclaimed sewer water shall ever be added to, or blended with, the drinking water supply." Great! I can live with that. But then they gotta get all overbearingly controlling again. The prop mandates only two possible uses for effluent: Santa Cruz release or irrigation. That leaves out dozens of perfectly safe and reasonable uses for that water, including any industrial uses. This over-control of effluent use has no point at all and actually wastes our water.
Finally, the big whammy is that the whole prop has one over-riding and unstated effect: to break the monopoly of Tucson Water. The market incentives created by this prop all lead to one conclusion: when Tucson Water finds itself unable to respond to market demands because of these restrictions on new connections or effluent uses, someone else will respond. That places Tucson’s water future in the hands of a multiplicity of private, solely profit-driven hands. Nothing could be worse for Tucson’s future.
We have a precious asset in the public control we are able to exert over Tucson Water, Prop 200 would inexorably chip away at that public control. New water companies would start trading water, sinking wells, recharging, and delivering where Tucson Water can’t. Water flows toward money, and Prop 200 ensures that there will be plenty of money calling for it outside of the control of Tucson Water.
Prop 200 is well-intentioned. But it suffers from those lacks that so often drag down a citizen initiative: lack of expertise, lack of truly critical input, lack of public scrutiny and participation outside of a small, ideologically inspired core group. The result is largely ineffective, overly specified, ideologically compromised, and short-sighted legislation. I think some of the goals of the prop are admirable, but the issues are really just too complex and nuanced to be addressed with a page or two of changes to the Charter.
I never expect our elected officials to accomplish much on their own, but rather hope that with sufficient public interest and participation that they be forced to adopt wise policy. I have hope that the new City Council will be forced to begin to really address water sustainability when the election results on this prop are tallied. I fully expect it will lose, but I think it may be closer than anyone expects. Prop 200 will get votes not because it is good plan – it’s manifestly not – but because it is the only plan on the table.
People are frustrated, fed up, and deeply concerned, and our City Council has provided little leadership on this issue. This election may demonstrate that this is an issue with legs that people will vote on. This election may make citizens aware that we staring down the barrel of a dry pipeline at a bleak future, and that they have to demand our water future be addressed with wise and far-sighted policies.
No, it is unreasonable to hope that even with a Democratic lock on the Council that they will adopt wise, honest, and sustainable water policy for Tucson; we must force them to do it. And Prop 200, for all it faults, might just be the beginning of better way forward for our no-so-little desert oasis.