Mayor Greg Stanton

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Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton makes his monthly appearance on Arizona Horizon to talk about important issues in the City of Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton joins to us discuss the city's new transit plan. Also tonight we'll look at efforts to improve college graduation rates for Latinos. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon." "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton joins us each month to discuss issues of importance to the state's largest city, including a $32 billion, 35-year transportation plan. Here now is Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. Good see you again.

Greg Stanton: Great to be back.

Ted Simons: Before we get to the transportation plan, a little tease there, last time you were here we talked about the city manager's ideas for a budget, he and now we have the city manager's budget. Balanced again now, but for the next five years, not so balanced. Talk to us.

Greg Stanton: Over the last few years we've always had deficits in our budget that had to be managed appropriately. We've ended up with a balanced budget. City of Phoenix is a very, very fiscally well-managed city. We do have a balanced budget this year. We're going to be hiring more police officers this year. Our police officer hiring plan is in full swing. We have 10 officers in the academy now and 25 every quarter for the next three years. We will get over 3,000 officers for the city as a whole. Very positive thing for the city. Obviously we've got more work to do. In future years we do a projected deficit, just like we had originally projected expense for this year. We have to roll up our sleeves and do everything we can possibly do to think about this in advance, so we could be in a better position of a balanced budget next year.

Ted Simons: Police and fire pensions are 37 million dollars. Should the city delay those payments or phase in those payments?

Greg Stanton: What people watching the show may have read about recently was the result of some litigation. The state legislature did pass a law that reduced cost-of-living increases for people receiving their pension. There was a lawsuit among the recipients of the pension and they won. The state lost and therefore the cities lost. We got new numbers on what we had to pay in order to make up for the past lesser amount of payments. It was a huge amount. This year alone, well over $30 million. By spreading that out over a 22-year period we won't have to take over $30 million in cuts this year. That simply would have been unfair to the City of Phoenix. Found out about the results of this litigation in November of this year, to have a take a 30-plus-million hit on the budget this year. City managers recommended united service to support, a very wise decision. Spread it out much like you would a mortgage, that is the best way to protect police officers, firefighters, the core city services of the City of Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Or this $70 some odd million, the terms are due. Or you could raise taxes as we saw you do previously. Is that still an option?

Greg Stanton: For this year, that's not a realistic option, to take the full lump sum if you will, the cost of litigation, would be almost $40 million in a single year. There is no reasonable way to do that without making significant cuts. Again, our core city services, public safety, parks, libraries, senior centers, youth centers, there's no way to reasonably do that. This is a very well-managed city. Moody's has consistently said Phoenix is one of the best cities that managed through the recession period with high credit rate among any large city in America. Continuing in the smart fiscal management type of system. The city manager has made this recommendation and I do believe it is the right recommendation.

Ted Simons: How smart can you be when the pensions continue to increase. At some point the rubber is going hit the road, is it not?

Greg Stanton: It certainly is. I have called the Governor and the legislature to act quickly on public safety pensions.

Greg Stanton: What people watching the show at home need to know, the civilian employee pension, the one we manage, is doing very, very well. We have passed significant pension reform, have eliminated pension spiking. You don't see those numbers going up for civilian pensions. It's actually going to start to shrink. The public safety pension for police officers and firefighters are increasing exponentially. On this television show I will once again call upon the Governor and legislature, take the offer being made by the leadership of police officers and firefighters across the state, accept that offer to get to the negotiating table and engage in pension reform, so that you, too, can get the saving that we are receiving and we can also receive those savings. Civilian pension is doing much better. The public safety pension needs a lot of help, but needs to be done at the state level.

Ted Simons: That civilian pension, is there another question on the August ballot regarding pensions?

Greg Stanton: Yes. We have authorized city management to put on the ballot, there will be some additional pension reform at the City of Phoenix. When we passed the pension reform in 2013 the voters overwhelmingly said we've got to get this better under control. We've got to ask new employees to pay a significantly higher amount in order to receive a pension. We're not trying to be too difficult on these employees but the math has to work. They have to pay more to receive it. Under this pension reform instead of paying 15 to 16% of their compensation to receive a pension, we will lock it at 11%. But they will reduce benefits at the end of the day, as well. The mathematics will work. We will are also going to cap the amount someone can receive for pension only up to $125,000 of your salary. Above that you're not in the pension system any more. You're no longer going to see payouts like you saw for our former city manager. The system there is to assure that our rank and file employees have retirement security. Everybody wants to ensure that people have a reasonable decent retirement security so people can live in dignity during their later years. It's not supposed to be so people can get wealthy off of this. This pension reform will fix this problem.

Ted Simons: Last point, very quickly on this, the idea of delaying phasing in those payments. You like it, the city manager likes it, does the council like it? Do you expect a fight out of this?

Greg Stanton: Like everything in our city council, we will have a healthy disagreement, a good debate. It's good for democracy. Both sides should get a full airing of their views. But realistically, an almost $40 million hit to our budget in a single year would cause difficulties in people's daily lives in terms of, again, those parks, libraries, senior centers, youth centers. Even public safety. That's too much of a hit in one year. That would not be smart to physically manage it to take it all in one year. The city manager's plan is a much smarter way of dealing with the issue.

Ted Simons: About transportation plan. Thirty two billion in five years. Are the numbers solid? I'm seeing 50% for buses, 33% for street improvement, 17% for light rail. Critics are saying those are nice promises, similar things were promised in 2000, never happened.

Greg Stanton: We did pass transit 2000 overwhelmingly in the City of Phoenix in 2000. And you know what? It's been a great thing for the City of Phoenix to have buses on Sundays, buss that go later in the evening. Light rail, $7 billion of economic activity along the light rail line. Light rail has gone significantly above projections. So much the excitement that's happening in our city or throughout the cities wouldn't be happening if we didn't have a great light rail system. I believe as mayor, and I believe the people of the City of Phoenix understand, you can't be a great city unless you offer great transportation options to the City of Phoenix. That's what this plan will do.

Ted Simons: When you offer the options you gotta make sure the numbers are solid. And again I'm seeing 50 and 17 and 33 --

Greg Stanton: Sure.

Ted Simons: 17 for light rail. Critics are saying no way it's going to be 17. Can you say this is exactly what the people are gonna get?

Greg Stanton: The critics were there in 2000 saying people would not ride light rail. I respect critics, I respect view points. We should have a healthy debate over critically important issues like transportation. Light rail been overwhelmingly popular and successful in the City of Phoenix. Can you imagine going back to pre-2000? We didn't have bus service on Sunday or late into the evening. The people with disabilities, the mobility help that transportation gives them, you can't measure it. This plan will triple the amount of light rail. It'll get light rail into South Phoenix, along I-10 to the west, to Grand Canyon University west, up the metro center, up to northeast Phoenix and Paradise Valley mall. Significant improvements in bus service, significant improvements in Dial a ride. And it has a tremendous amount of money for street improvements.
We had cut by state legislature what is called HURF money, highway user fund money, I'm not going to wait for the legislature any. We've got to improve or streets and get them to up to appropriate standards for commerce and this plan will allow to us do that. If you want to wait around for the federal government or state government give you money, I'll let acceptable do that. In Phoenix we are going to take the bull by the horns and advance our city's transportation.

Ted Simons: So they are kind of solid. Are they gelatinous?

Greg Stanton: We have a very solid history of fiscal management and fiscal responsibility. Those are the best numbers that we have.

Ted Simons: Okay.

Greg Stanton: And by the way, if we're able to get some federal money, this plan is not dependent on a significant amount of federal money. If more federal dollars come in like they have in the past, we can actually do more than what the plains calling for. We try to be as honest as we can with people.

Ted Simons: For those who say if light rail is so fantastic, and you wax poetic on it, let developers pay for it. Why are we paying for this?

Greg Stanton: I will wax poetic even more. We need a broad range of transportation options. Great light rail improvements, great bus improvements, increased dial-a-ride for those who have disabilities. The unemployment rate among people with disability is unacceptably high around the country and in this community. Dial-a-ride improvements will significantly add to employment options for disability community. Street improvements, dedicated thousand lines of bike lanes within the city, that is multimodal plan. It's not over relying on one type of transportation or others. It is a comprehensive plan and it's exactly what will move our city forward.

Ted Simons: So the developers and others probably wouldn't pay for it? Is that the gist of that?

Greg Stanton: Arguably you could say freeways should be paid for by landowners that are -- that's not -- we owe it to the City of Phoenix to provide as many transportation options as possible. And yes, there will be significant development along the light rail. Jobs will be created along the light rail, that's good for everyone in this economy.

Ted Simons: We've got to stop right there, Mayor.

Greg Stanton: Darn it, I wanted to keep waxing poetic!

Ted Simons: Good to see you.

Greg Stanton: Thank you so much.

Greg Stanton:Mayor, Phoenix;

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