Newly re-elected Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton makes his monthly appearance to talk about top issues for the city, including a measure that was approved by voters to expand light rail and other transit services.
TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll visit in-studio with newly reelected Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton. And hear about a new effort to approach technology in a more holistic way. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."
VIDEO: "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. The state is expected to save about $2.5 million per year over the next 13 years after refinancing the debt owed on buildings at the capitol mall. Arizona was able to refinance after the state's credit ratings improved. The Arizona Capitol Times reports that the savings will go to the general fund in the first year and then be used to reduce rents on the capitol buildings. And a new study shows that tougher border enforcement over the past two decades has increased the number of Mexican migrants in Arizona. The study found that 33,000 more migrants came to Arizona instead of California or Texas, where they might have gone without increased enforcement. The study did not look at the impact of any enforcement action after 2011, including Arizona's senate bill 1070. Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton was elected to another four-year term last week. City voters also approved a tax increase and extension to expand light rail. Joining us now to continue his monthly appearances on "Arizona Horizon," Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton. Good to have you back.
GREG STANTON: Great to be back.
TED SIMONS: Congratulations on your win. Why do you think you won?
GREG STANTON: Well, I think that the people of Phoenix agreed with not just my vision but I would say our collective vision of what we want in the future of our city. We know we need to build a more competitive economy and I presented a message backed up with actions, I'm building a more innovative economy, building a more export-based economy, supporting higher education and important investments in ourselves like the future of transportation. That very positive message about how Phoenix can compete successfully in this growing competitive international economy obviously was supported by the vast majority of people.
TED SIMONS: I want to get to those economic ideas. You've had your critics along the way. Why was there no serious challenge?
GREG STANTON: I'll let other political pundits make that analysis. Here's what I do. I just work hard. I present a very positive vision for the future of the city of Phoenix. I'm very present out in the community and I know this community. I love this community. And so I think the ideas that I had presented about how we can best compete moving forward in this competitive international economy, that's exactly what people want to hear. They want to believe it because they know that what has gotten us here to this point probably won't sustain us moving forward to the future. We've got to improve education. We've got to make sure more of our young people achieve a higher education. We've got to have a more innovative economy. We have to build a stronger export base in order to create jobs here. That message obviously resonates because people see it in their own lives.
TED SIMONS: Phoenix seems to elect Democrats, at least recently it seems to be electing Democrats. The state very much the opposite. Why is that happening?
GREG STANTON: I think it's a partisan issue per se. However I will say I presented a progressive message. We're unabashedly pro-people in the city of Phoenix. I love the people of Phoenix and we need to make sure that every single person has the best chance to succeed, no matter what neighborhood they come from, no matter their socioeconomic status, no matter if they happen to be gay, lesbian or transgender. Regardless of religion. Regardless of immigration status, if you're here, we want you to succeed because you're part of our future. We're pro people and we're unabashedly pro-business. Because of the pro-business policies that have been in place since I've been mayor, the national federation of independent business, which is a conservative pro-business organization has recently ranked Phoenix as one of the top five cities in the United States in doing business. We have tried to stand for the proposition that when you are pro-people, you are pro-business. It's a little bit of a different governing philosophy, it's worked very, very successfully here in Phoenix.
TED SIMONS: Prop 104 passed, as well. Were the results a little closer than you expected? Certainly, didn't pass by as much you did.
GREG STANTON: Well, no, we knew that proposition 104 was going to be a tough election. We knew we were going to have to work incredibly hard to get the message across by what transportation infrastructure investment could mean to the future of our economy and we worked really hard to rally as many organizations and people as possible. The bicycle community, the transit community, the business community, the chamber of commerce unanimously supported our proposition. So we made the case that by supporting transportation infrastructure investment you're providing so many more opportunities for people to connect to education, connect to employment centers, improving our economy. We were able to make that case and it was a pretty big win. We got almost 56% of the vote and I'm very, very proud that the people of Phoenix overwhelmingly supported this investment in ourselves.
TED SIMONS: So this investment means what? What does it mean now? What does it mean in the future? When do we see tangible results?
GREG STANTON: Almost immediately. You're going to see improved dial a ride services, improved bus services, we're working right now to start the process of building a new light rail station at the disability empowerment center in east Phoenix so they can access disability services much more easily. Obviously, now, we move very quickly into the process of the construction on new light rail lines in south Phoenix and the metro center.
TED SIMONS: What does that entail?
GREG STANTON: We believe it's going to start by 2018 construction. So we're finishing the engineering over the next year or so and we're going to begin construction in a pretty short period of time. The first order of business, the very first thing we're going to do is put together our citizen oversight committee. We promised people there would be a citizen oversight committee that would ensure that the transportation resources get spent in a way that maximizes the value to the people of the city of Phoenix. You're going to see an oversight citizen committee put in place for the next few weeks.
TED SIMONS: For those who didn't vote for prop 104 and continue to say I don't use light rail, why should I have to pay for it?
GREG STANTON: Well, because you live in this community and overwhelmingly, this transportation infrastructure investment is going to advance our economy. So even if you happen to not utilize light rail, you probably know somebody that does, that takes it to ASU or Grand Canyon University or to gateway community college or even to U. of A. medical school or ASU west, even if you don't personally utilize dial a ride services, you probably know someone with a disability or maybe a senior that isn't comfortable driving anymore who's going to utilize dial a ride so that they can advance their lives. Look, most people in the city of Phoenix don't just look at an issue and say am I personally going to access it? The question that most people ask is it good for my city? Is it good for the future of my community? And obviously, overwhelmingly the people of the city of Phoenix said this transportation infrastructure investment is great for the future of the city of Phoenix and oh, by the way any person that opposed prop 104, even members of my own council, they are more than welcome to come to the numerous groundbreakings that are going to occur of new businesses along the way light rail line, of new opportunities to bring transportation to people of south Phoenix and west Phoenix, etc. Over time people are going to see this was a very, very wise investment. So even if you voted against it or thought it wasn't the right decision, now if you change your mind you're more than welcome to come to any of the incredible, exciting economic development opportunities that are going to be associated with this great investment that the people of Phoenix have made.
TED SIMONS: A couple more election questions. Why does Phoenix hold elections in off years?
GREG STANTON: We have held our elections during the odd nobody years for as long as anyone can remember. It's a tradition of the city of Phoenix. I know some of the political commentators suggest that there's something nefarious going on. The reality is it's long been a multi-decades long, 40 or 50 years that we have held the elections in off-number years and the main reason is so that when people vote on city issues, that's the main focus of the election is the issues related to the city. I know when the elections are held in the even-numbered years, you get involved in partisan elections and we're a nonpartisan election. We'll be a down-ballot item. I think that decision by the city over many mayors, over a long period of time, is the right decision. But I think frankly, the suggestion that somehow, it's a nefarious decision, nothing's changed. It's been that way for decades.
TED SIMONS: But is it a good decision if turnout was at or near 20%? I know it was 74% something like that in 2012, 48% a couple of years later. 20%, is that a good healthy thing?
GREG STANTON: Four years ago when we had a very competitive mayor's election we had a debate right here on this stage. We did have a significantly increased voter turnout. It was near 30% which is a very high turnout for city of Phoenix elections. If you can compare this election which was a somewhat less competitive mayoral race which often drives people to the ballot box, it still was significantly above average in terms of voter turnout. If you look at major cities around the country, when Los Angeles had a mayor's race in the middle of his term, they only got 18%. So we're actually above the national average here in the city of Phoenix. We should always look for ways that we can improve voter turnout. We've done things like creating voting centers so you can go to any of the centers across the city on Saturday, Monday or Tuesday of the election week. We've got to make it even easier for people. We've got to look at things like online voting, obviously, with Internet security being top of mind but looking to make things as easy as possible to participate in the election. But the idea that a city election would stand on the top of the ballot, I think it's a good thing for the city of Phoenix.
TED SIMONS: Is it a good thing to vote during the hottest time of the year.
GREG STANTON: As you know, no. The decision on the dates of the election are set by the state legislature. They require that cities have elections during the August and November time period. If you're going to have a primary, it has to be in August, just like they do next year, they're going to have next year during the presidential election. They're going to have it in the August time period, as well. So that would be a question of our friends at the state legislature if they wanted to give more flexibility for cities to have primaries on different election dates.
TED SIMONS: As far as challenges are concerned, I know you talked about the economy and more export based and we understand that's better positioning in the global economy, these sorts of things, why isn't Phoenix doing better economically?
GREG STANTON: Frankly, we are doing better. As you know, during my time as mayor unemployment rate is significantly down, our export rate as you just saw in the paper for Arizona and the Phoenix area in particular has one of the highest growth rates in the entire United States of America but still we still -- look I'm not pollyannish-- where we've had an economy based on real estate and growth of the desert's edge, we've got a lot of work to do. We've got to make sure most of our young people move on to college, we've got to make sure they have opportunities for innovative careers, science-based careers, technology careers. Here in Phoenix, Arizona, and we have to make sure that we provide as much of a marketplace for people's products and ideas, that's why building an export-based economy is so important. Another issue we have to talk about is water. Water is one of the greatest challenges facing not only the state of Arizona but in particular the city of Phoenix. Phoenix has done a good job of water planning. We've talked on this show about some of the innovative things Phoenix has done partnering with Tucson and allowing our CAP water to be stored in aquifers in southern Arizona, doing things like the Colorado River Resiliency Fund where we work on forest restoration in northern Arizona, paid for by Phoenix rate payers of our water rate. We have to be even more innovative and come up with new ideas to better work on conservation and protecting our long-term water position. That's one of the biggest challenges facing the future of our city.
TED SIMONS: Another big challenge is the budget, the deficit, the structural deficit. I know you balanced this time around but the forecast for the next few years is not good. What are you going to do?
GREG STANTON: We're going to do in future years exactly what we have done during my time as mayor. There's a reason why Phoenix has the highest credit rating of any of the big six cities in the United States of America. So we are a fiscally well run city but when we have noticed that in years ahead we might have deficits we roll up our sleeves. Because we're a conservative government, we tend to overestimate those potential deficits so we prepare for them and then we make the necessary choices, major pension reform like we have done, the size of our city government has shrunk on a per capita basis. Efficiency efforts led by the council have been hugely successful saving over $100 million. And so in years past when we were projected to have a budget deficit this year, there was no budget deficit. We made those tough choices early enough to provide that balanced budget and that's exactly what we're doing for future years. So I'll come back, I'll be back on every month and we can report on our budget and the success of our budget and I'm telling you now, I'm going to come back and predict a balanced budget next year and the remaining four years that I'm mayor of the city of Phoenix.
TED SIMONS: Without service cuts?
GREG STANTON: We've done it without service cuts.
TED SIMONS: Can you continue to do that?
GREG STANTON: Yes. We're going to continue to do that. This effort that we've made on innovation and efficiency has been spectacular. And that is going nowhere but up in terms of how we provide a better government with smaller resources, without people in the community really seeing it. In fact, our citizen survey of customer satisfaction has been the best that it's ever been the last two years that we've done that survey. The pension reform that the people of Phoenix overwhelmingly supported in 2013 really starts to kick in. We just got started with it. As it kicks in more and more you're going to see greater savings in our budget. We do need, though, pension reform from the state, from the governor and the legislature as it relates to public safety pension reform in order to relieve pressure on our budget. They ought to look at our leadership to deal with the difficult issue of public safety pension reform.
TED SIMONS: Last question before you go. Arizona is looking to rebrand its image. Does Phoenix need to rebrand its image?
GREG STANTON: I think that's exactly what we've been doing during my time as mayor. I mentioned city of Phoenix is pro-people. You want progressive pro-people policies, look to the city of Phoenix. We've got 100% score from the human rights campaign for our pro-LGBT community policies. The same as any other big city in the country. I've tried to stand for the principle of working with the councilman Kate Gallego on equal pay for equal work. We passed a new ordinance in that regard. We stand for comprehensive immigration reform. Some of this rhetoric that you're hearing nationally as it relates to birthright citizenship, a negative attitude towards our local Latino community, we're supportive of our local community and we're pro business and we're taking a much stronger stance. I would suggest that actions speak louder than words. And instead of a rebranding campaign, pass policies that really support your local economy, improve education, reinvest in education, do what we've done, reinvest in innovative public policies, work on building a more export-based economy and the results will speak for themselves. You won't have to do a rebranding in words.
TED SIMONS: It sounds like you're happy enough with the branding so far?
GREG STANTON: We are as the city of Phoenix we're moving in the right direction. I think we are making a lot of progress. When I was elected mayor, there was a book that said we were the least sustainable city in the entire country, book called Bird On Fire by Andrew Ross. Just recently, city of Phoenix won first place for sustainability by the U.S. conference of mayors. Their highest award. We are making progress and we're starting to take notice on a national level by the progress we're making here in Phoenix, Arizona. There's an optimism here in Phoenix, and I think Tuesday's results are based on people's optimistic view of our position moving forward.
TED SIMONS: Mayor good to have you here.
GREG STANTON: Thank you so much.
In this segment:
Greg Stanton: Phoenix Mayor
Also in this episode:
Arizona Technology and Innovation: School for the Future of Innovation in Society
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