Some people believed money from Proposition 469 last November could be used to build a parking lot – and if you consider the state of traffic during rush hour from Interstate 10 to Maricopa, they weren’t wrong.
It’s just one example of an ill-informed electorate, despite the efforts of Pinal Regional Transportation Authority, which spent $343,188 on the proposition’s campaign for the half-cent sales tax to improve and build roads and freeways county-wide.
Foremost among the improvements, from the perspective of Maricopa, would have been widening SR 347 to three lanes in each direction. Maricopa backed the measure overwhelmingly, with 63% of the vote. The remainder of the county slapped it down, and the measure was defeated by 2%.
Backers said the campaign, which was tracking overwhelmingly in their favor in the summer, took a U-turn when automobile dealers in the county not only flipped their position but actively campaigned against 469.
So, did the authority get bang for its buck? How effective was the campaign? Did the public-relations firm, Rose and Allyn, hired to direct the campaign do a good job?
“Yes, they did,” said Tony Smith, president and CEO of Pinal Partnership, which strives to improve research, planning and coordination of private and public efforts related to infrastructure, natural resources and community development in the county.
Smith is a former Maricopa mayor and county supervisor.
“The blue signs you see around town, 40-something of them, I picked those locations since I’ve run a number of campaigns here in the city. Most said widen the 347.
“They customized signs to the location county-wide. In the Queen Creek area and San Tan Valley, 469 would have extended State Route 24 to a north-south freeway in the eastern part of the county. That would have been their Loop 101 (like a major freeway in the Valley). I think they did a good job.”
Rose and Allyn did not respond to requests for comment.
Maricopa Mayor Nancy Smith, Tony Smith’s wife, said the campaign relied on the support of car dealers in Casa Grande.
“We were hoping they weren’t going to protest the proposition and when we found out they went ahead and did that, with a marketing campaign and sending flyers to homes, we were questioning why car dealerships, that profited so well during COVID, would protest a proposition to improve transportation for people who are purchasing cars at their facilities,” she said.
The car dealers’ campaign was effective, and Tony Smith said numbers quickly shifted against 469 in Casa Grande and Apache Junction, dooming the effort.
Campaign leaders suspect because the half-cent sales tax would have added about $200 to the price of a $50,000 vehicle. the dealers feared they would be at a competitive disadvantage with Maricopa County dealers.
The Arizona Automobile Dealers Association did not respond to requests for comment.
“We tried to carry the elements of the county that did not support it, but when you have two large cities that didn’t support it, it’s a lot to overcome,” Nancy Smith said. “We probably needed more like 80% support of our Maricopa voters to overcome it.”
The mayor, acknowledging the conservative nature of Pinal County voters, said timing was not great for a tax hike as inflation spiked.
“I’m a very conservative voter as well, and I don’t like additional taxes, but I do look at propositions that offer my community value,” she said. “When I understand there is value, I really don’t have a problem voting yes.
“And if you read Facebook and other social media, there was a lot of misinformation. I know myself, our vice mayor and our city manager tried to counter that when we saw it. No, ‘parking lot’ does not mean a real parking lot. It means that you have, just like in the business world, a ‘parking-lot’ list. It does not mean we are going to build a parking lot.