Time to Keep the Good Times Rolling – Again

Written by Stephen Anderson

Stephen Anderson is a veteran zoning and land use attorney at the law firm Gammage & Burnham. His experience extends to due diligence and acquisitions related to utilities, transportation, and retail and residential projects. Stephen serves on the Board of Directors for Arizona Forward. 

Good government is often invisible. It goes about its business without much notice or fanfare. Such is the role of the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). Through the Regional Transportation Plan, and funding from a county transportation sale tax, MAG plans our freeway and regional transportation systems years into the future with investments made in identified priorities and improvements. The Loop 202 (South Mountain Freeway) and light rail’s expanded reach farther east across Mesa to Gilbert Road are two of the most prominent, recent examples to join the system, but they are two giants among a cornucopia of transportation projects. Patiently and quietly, our metropolitan infrastructure grows to meet our growing needs.

None of MAG’s work occurs without public oversight and input. And right now, there’s a lot of public oversight underway for two big, connected reasons.

The first reason is that our sales tax only keeps going if we, the voters, say so. Maricopa County residents first consented to this tax when they approved Proposition 300 back in 1985 (a lot us, including me, weren’t here yet – and neither were State Route51, Loop 101, 202 or 303). That tax was good for 20 years, so in 2004, we (yep, I had been here a long time by then) approved Proposition 400, extending the existing tax for another 20 years. If you check your calendar, that 20-year deadline is coming up here again, and so Maricopa County voters can expect to see the Proposition extension on the ballot as early as November 2022. If we’re happy with the work that’s been done to date —over $12 billion worth so far —then we ought to approve another extension of the tax, and keep the good work going.

The second reason for the heightened public engagement is the development of the Regional Transportation Plan, the document that guides how we spend the tax money. MAG doesn’t decide what projects to invest in on its own. We tell them what we would like to see. That public input process into the Regional Transportation Plan is underway right now. It’s called MOMENTUM: https://www.ourmomentumplan.com/. MAG staff is gathering your comments for the next Regional Transportation Plan. That includes freeways, light rail, major surface streets, buses and dial-a-ride, bicycle routes, safety – you name it, it’s probably on the table. We obviously can’t do everything, so this is the part where we collectively identify what really matters, which projects are the most important ones to be covered by future tax revenues. MAG has lots of ways for you to join the conversation, and if those avenues for comment aren’t convenient, MAG can make arrangements to meet with your group if you like.

So you tell MAG what you think: then what happens? Who are these MAG people anyway? Really, they’re us. As the name suggests, the Maricopa Association of Governments is just that: the elected leaders of every city and town, county, and Native nation in the region. At the moment, Mayor Jerry Weiers of the City of Glendale is the Chair of the MAG Regional Council, and Mayor Kate Gallego of the City of Phoenix is Chair of the Transportation Policy Committee. Our locally elected leaders will be the next-to-last folks who make the final decisions about what projects make up the Regional Transportation Plan. Of course, the final decision rests with us, the voters, when we consider an extension of the sales tax in 2022.

The Valley of the Sun continues to attract new residents and new businesses alike. One important reason is our continued, collective effort to plan, invest, and build our infrastructure in a responsible manner. Our freeways, streets, buses and rails are the direct fruits of those plans and investments, but our strong economy, our strong growth, and our strong communities are the real yields of those investments. I would encourage you to participate in MAG’s MOMENTUM process, to keep an eye on the Regional Transportation Plan development, and, if you think things have been running smoothly, vote to approve the sales tax extension to continue our quiet-but-critical investment in our community.