I’ll be voting NO on Prop 412, and I hope to persuade you to do the same. I don’t oppose it because it tries to bolster Tucson’s sustainability – I support that goal. I don’t oppose it because I have an unrealistic view of what we can accomplish policy-wise in a franchise agreement – I know we can’t do rate setting or impose renewable targets. I oppose 412 wholly on the grounds of progressive democratic values.
I don’t deceive myself that this screed will turn the tide – it probably won’t. I won’t win any friends by opposing 412 – the political establishment has almost completely closed ranks to endorse the passage of 412. I won’t feel myself in good company – most who have made a public case are people I despise politically. Luckily, I do have some good company in questioning the wisdom of Prop 412 in fellow Tucsonan Nick Arnold in his recent Tweetstorm on the subject, and Tucson City Council Member Steve Kozachik also thinks voters should reject 412. Notable local activist Sami Hamed also wrote against 412. So my own reasons? Read on.
I will be voting NO on Prop 412 for two separate reasons, both of which are, in my opinion, sufficient reasons in themselves to vote NO: democracy and equity.
Let me tell you a tale. There once was a for-profit company that needed the voters of the city they did business in to pass a law that kept them in business. The law was rather tedious – not very controversial – kind of boring, really. The company didn’t want to spend a long time, or a lot of money, explaining to the city dwellers why they should vote for it, so they instead sensibly sought to limit the number of voters who would be paying attention when the election happened. They figured it would be cheaper to pay a million dollars to have a vote right now than to spend even more trying to hold together the coalition they created to support the law, and to explain it to everyone and convince them that it benefitted them as well as the company. So they held the election in April, well before the city-wide elections in August and November, to ensure very few people would bother to vote and the new law did not get caught up or become an issue in the candidate elections to come.
So, you might have guessed that the heart of this fable is simply fact. TEP is paying a million dollars to hold the election now. You might believe the technocratic excuses as to why this has to be done – but I don’t. The brute and obvious political calculation is that TEP is paying a million dollars for a distracted and reduced electorate. If the Republicans had come up with such a scheme, we would rightly condemn it for what it is – voter suppression.
This cynical ploy alone is sufficient reason to vote NO. Why would we citizens acquiesce to disenfranchising our fellow Tucsonans just because they are not yet ready to seriously engage with municipal matters with city elections still 100 days away? We should not.
We have seen the evils of anti-democratic practices and ploys to suppress turnout, inconvenience voters, and turn away legitimate electors for any number of reasons: “because we need to start work before summer” is a new one for me, but it is no less pernicious. This is voter disenfranchisement on a massive scale, and I will not vote in favor of it.
I don’t have any control over the timing of this election, so the best I can do is vote NO. The result of that NO vote? Will TEP abandon Tucson, leaving us a powerless ghost town? No. TEP’s franchise agreement expires in April of 2026. The result is the vote must be held again when there has been ample time for citizen input on the franchise agreement (the week or so of notice of the public input process was truly insulting), there has been sufficient time for the public to study the issue and absorb the impacts (even I, and those in the rabidly political set in which I circulate, are still scrambling to read and absorb the agreement), and the city electorate is focused on the issues (like when we are voting in November after both supporters and detractors have been able to present their best case on the matter).
I actually respect and support the democratic process. Many are those who blow off the fact that voter participation will be lower saying that voters wouldn’t understand or care regardless of when the election is held. There may be a grain of cynical truth there, but I believe the margins matter. More time and more minds focused on an issue makes a real difference to the quality of social intelligence brought to bear on democratic decision-making. If I didn’t believe that, I would have no real reason to oppose the nonsense of the fascist bigots making the case that we aren’t really a democracy, but a constitutional republic, and what good is democracy anyhow?
You could stop reading here and decide that democracy really does matter, that voter suppression – no matter who does it – is unacceptable, and that lacking a good understanding of franchise agreement yourself, voting NO is the safest and most reasonable reaction.
The heart of the change to the franchise agreement is the addition of an additional increment of 0.75% to the franchise fee to utility users. This additional fee is almost entirely devoted to the cost of burying load-balancing transmission lines in a four-mile stretch at the heart of Tucson in the Campbell corridor. The contributions to Tucson’s sustainability plan are financially fairly minor and uncertain, and, really, rather beside the point.
Let’s analyze the new franchise fee on its main point: an infrastructural investment that TEP wants to make for engineering and business reasons, and that some politically powerful constituents in a certain fairly wealthy area of the city support on both practical and aesthetic grounds.
How equitable is that? Consider that EVERY part of the TEP service area will pay the new franchise fee, but the beneficiaries will primarily be a small minority in heart of one of the wealthiest areas of the city. That doesn’t seem terribly equitable to me, and some crumbs off the table for sustainability projects elsewhere doesn’t even begin to offset that inequity.
Now, my own ox won’t be gored – I live in the area and travel through that corridor nearly daily. But what kind of progressive only acts according to self-interest? This new franchise increment is simply not fair to most of Tucson. There are good reasons to make the investments TEP wants, no doubt, but then why can’t they just get them covered by the rate-setting process before the Arizona Corporation Commission, like any other utility? Why are they making this end-run around the AZCC (which is currently controlled by the Republicans – and firmly in the “give utilities everything they want” camp)? Why spend the additional revenue through a five-member board that anyone with even a whiff of political savvy knows that TEP will control through the joint appointment of the fifth member?
I don’t have all the answers, and when someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to, I say “I don’t know,” not YES. I say, NO. This looks like a raw deal for most of Tucson. It looks like an end-run around the rate-setting process. Why would any of us say YES to that?
Finally, why 25 years? The new franchise fee increment is authorized for the ENTIRE 25 years, but really only accounted for or justified for the first 10. The final 15 years there is no promise as to what the additional funds will be spent on other than vague hand waiving about sustainability based on decisions the five-person board that TEP will surely control. Why not a 10-year franchise agreement? Some say that a 25-year agreement gives TEP the assurance and stability they need. I don’t really care about TEP interests, that’s their Board’s concern, not Tucsonans. We are living in a fast-changing climate emergency – how does it make sense to lock ourselves into long-term decisions about something as important to our civic life as our power supply for 25 more years after so little reflection and negotiation?
Given that I see at least two very good and self-sufficient reasons to say NO to 412, why would I vote YES?
Every con man knows that time pressure and scarcity are the best tools with which to fleece a mark: you have to decide now, time is running out!; this is last one, someone is going to buy it out from under you, act now! The pitch I’m hearing is sounding troublingly familiar for 412.
What will really happen if the electorate votes NO on 412? Nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing changes. Nothing ends. No disaster is courted. No debt ceiling is breached. TEP and the Tucson Administration will have to return to the negotiating table, and Tucson will likely have an even stronger hand for the electorate having rejected TEP’s offer.
That’s right: Tucson will be in a better negotiating position. There might not be a whole lot left on the negotiating table; there are things we simply can’t get with a franchise agreement. But rejecting TEP’s anti-democratic ploy and inequitable franchise increment will only strengthen Tucson’s position. Every day closer we draw to the April 2026 expiry of TEP’s franchise, the more leverage Tucson has for the continued use of our rights of way. Every time the Tucson electorate spits out what TEP tries to feed us, the more TEP gets the message that we are not patsies or marks to be bum-rushed into a sucker’s deal.
Now, don’t take any of this amiss. Those who are supporting this deal by endorsing 412 have good reasons for doing so. They sincerely believe that 412 is a progressive and positive deal for Tucson. I respectfully disagree. I hope you will join me in saying: NoOn412.com.
Please like and share this post on social media, and tell your friends and neighbors to please consider voting NO on 412. Send them to this post, which will also be posted at NoOn412.com. Please call your city council office and ask them to reconsider their support for this bad deal. Please call your county officials and ask them the same. There is still time to turn this around, even as signs for YesOn412 sprout on every corner, and as TEP spends what it takes to drive this deal home. It is fundamentally not a good one for Tucson, for democracy, nor for equity in our community.
Thank you for your time and attention.