Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The City of Phoenix is dealing with volatile issues including pension spiking and less contentious concerns like the city’s new bike-sharing program. Joining us now for more on all these things, in his monthly visit is Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. Always good to see you.
Greg Stanton: Good to see you.
Ted Simons: Let's get to the volatile stuff first. What is happening with pension spiking?
Greg Stanton: We're going to have a vote in a couple days on Thursday morning, we had a vote a week and a half ago and could not reach a majority vote on the council. There was probably three camps on that issue, but you need to get the five votes. A couple members of the council asked for reconsideration, and we are going reconsider it this Thursday. The proposal that an ad hoc subcommittee I've put together, they spent a lot of time, rolled up their sleeves, really went to work and worked well on this issue. Everybody opposes pension spiking, but until you really roll up your sleeves and learn about the variety of issues, it's very complex. In general, their recommendation was eliminate pensionability of cell phone allowance, car allowance, future sick leave, future vacation cash outs. It's a pretty tough policy, but one that also I think would minimize the legal trouble we might be in as well. I supported the recommendation. It got four votes but not five. We'll be back at it on Thursday.
Ted Simons: Is it going to get five votes on Thursday?
Greg Stanton: That would be illegal to know that in advance. Tom Horne may be watching this show!
Ted Simons: With that said, if it was voted down last time, when you had a couple of folks saying it's not fair, it's not right. You had three other folks saying it’s not nearly enough, it doesn’t address the issue. Two liberals, three conservatives. Who's kidding who here? Is something going to change? Are you going to vote on the same proposal? Will there be other options added to it, some of the options taken away from it? Will something change on Thursday?
Greg Stanton: We had multiple options on the table last time. I'm guessing we'll have multiple options on the table this time. Ted, in all honesty it would be illegal for me to know the outcome of a vote before it happens. Some want you to know outcome of a vote before it happens. That would be inappropriate for me as a leader. My job is to make sure the ad hoc committee recommendation, they went through the process for a reason, that deserves a vote and a hearing. We had hundreds of hundreds of people appear at the meeting. I want to hear from all the members of the City Council. My job is to make sure all the voices are heard and then we take a vote. I don't know the answer to the vote in advance, nor should I.
Ted Simons: Got you there. But will other options be considered?
Greg Stanton: Sure, of course. We considered other options last time around, we'll likely consider other options this time around. I'm guessing the original motion will be a motion to -- what was voted on last time, but other councilmembers, as they have in the past, may make substitute motions. Ted, when we go to a public meeting, though some may think the outcome is known in advance, that is actually not accurate. So I don’t know what will happen on Thursday, but we're going to hear from the public, I'm going to hear from my colleagues and then we will vote.
Ted Simons: And then we will wonder why the same thing that didn't get enough votes last time might have gotten enough votes this time. But that’s for us to wonder why at the time.
Greg Stanton: When a member of my council asks for reconsideration, I am legally obligated to do it, and that is part of democracy, and they’re going to get a reconsideration.
Ted Simons: There were critics that said you did not listen enough to other options during that last meeting. Valid criticism?
Greg Stanton: We had a motion on the table, a substitute motion was made by another member of the council. Under our rules, that's it. That's been the rules for decades within the city of Phoenix. I have been on the successful end and the losing end of substitute motions. Anybody who watches our city council meetings, hopefully people who watch this show will spend more time watching our council meetings. One thing I’ve done is put everything on television; it's all televised. You can go to YouTube right now and watch old versions of our council meetings. I think it's an unfair criticism of me to suggest I don't allow every member of the council to get all of the points they want to get across, all of the issues they want to get across. There may be an alternative motion on Thursday, and if there is, we will hear that motion and take a vote. We are not in any regard of the City Council during my time as mayor afraid to take on tough issues or have tough votes. That's exactly what we do do.
Ted Simons: If the alternative motion suggests to end pension spiking, it'll be considered? How far will it go?
Greg Stanton: If a substitute motion is made and it gets a second, we'll have a debate and a vote on that particular item. I think it's fair to say, based upon the reading of what happened last time, whether or not it'll be successful. I don't know whether it will be successful or not, but you can read the council based upon where they have stated their positions. They all have a full and fair opportunity to state where they were on this very difficult issue. Where I land on the issue is we want a tough policy that allows the city to keep its word and doesn't put us in legal peril. I thought the subcommittee that spent weeks looking into this issue actually got that balance just about right.
Ted Simons: All right. The two-cent food tax now cut in half, no cuts in the Police Department, no cuts in Fire apparently. Why wasn't this considered and achieved earlier?
Greg Stanton: We asked the city manager to present a budget with and without the food tax, to do the full food tax immediately would have put a $50 million hole in our budget. That’s why the city manager said in order to accomplish that, it would have required a significant amount of layoffs. A request was made by a couple of city council members and supported by majority of the council, if we can eliminate half of it halfway through the year in a way that doesn't affect police, fire or other core city services, can we come up with a plan that did it? Utilizing transit debt, shifting around of monies, what I call tort liability from the general fund to secondary, we were able to accomplish that goal and it passed by an 8-1 vote. And I think it was the right public policy. We were able to reduce the food tax in a way that it didn't cut core services. I don't think most people in Phoenix wanted to eliminate the full food tax if it would have been a significant cut in public safety. By doing it the way we did it, we struck the right balance, as well.
Ted Simons: Does that end the issue or will there still be a chance to get rid of that food tax completely?
Greg Stanton: We’re going to look at our budget numbers. Our budget numbers are doing well right now. Happy times are here again. We always have to be very fiscally conservative. There’s a reason why Phoenix has the highest credit rating of any big city in the country, among the highest of any in the valley. It's rare for a core Center City to have that distinction. We’re a very well-run city. We should be very fiscally responsible. But if the budget does well enough, we should always, always be looking for the opportunity. We want to get rid of the food tax but not in a way that would hurt public safety. That's going to be the standard where I am and I believe the majority of the council are.
Ted Simons: When critics say you were too reluctant earlier on to take the extra step and all of a sudden coalitions forms somewhere out there and they present something, and now all of a sudden you’re on board. You say...
Greg Stanton: I say the difference was that cutting half the food tax halfway through the year was only about a $12 million hit on our budget. The city manager was able to come up with a mechanism to do that by refinancing debt and shifting tort liability from our general fund to secondary, essentially do a much smaller amount of cuts in a way that didn't have to cut core services. I think it was the right balance in that approach.
Ted Simons: You selling some excess city land, too?
Greg Stanton: $1.5 million is the estimated amount we can do. We’ve had a lot of land in our inventory. Some of the land still has significant value for the city, others of it frankly doesn't. It’s time for us to be open-minded about selling our excess land. We ought to be smart about how we do it. We want to make sure we get full and fair value for that land. But yes, selling excess city land is part of the plan in order to make our budget so we don’t have to cut core services and still be able to eliminate half the food tax halfway through the year.
Ted Simons: Let’s talk about this last thing here: bike-renting project. Not as volatile or controversial as food tax or pension spiking, what's the idea? Ride the bike around, lock it up, somebody else takes it and rides it around?
Greg Stanton: Ted, we are doing lots of exciting things at the city. We’re increasing the budget for arts. We are opening a trade office in Mexico. And we are doing a bike share. The more the city can create a bike-able culture, the better off we’ll be. Bike share has been successful in other cities. Essentially you pay an annual fee, in this case 79 bucks, and you will be able to ride these beautiful green bikes we have. It’s called Grid Bikes. You use it for an hour or so, or maybe a little bit longer. If I as mayor have a meeting at Central and Thomas in the middle of the business day, why not instead of using my car jump on a grid bike and ride a mile or two? Or you're taking the light rail and you’re meeting a half mile from the light rail system, Instead of getting a car or having to walk the distance. It creates a bike-able culture, gets more cars off the road, it promotes health. I love it.
Ted Simons: How do we get non-Grid Bikes members to keep from riding those bikes off into the sunset?
Greg Stanton: They have a security system, there may be a few people watching the show who remember the old purple bikes that did get stolen, an early iteration of bike share. This case, in order to sign up, they will have your credit card information. They have locks on them. They have GPS on them, solar-powered GPS to help you get around but also helps with security. If you do steal them, people will know where you live. It's a much better secure system. And by the way, this has been hugely successful in other parts of the country. This is again, Phoenix being a progressive city, but catching up in many ways to other cities more advanced in this regard. These have been very, very popular.
Ted Simons: How much will this cost?
Greg Stanton: Zero. We work with the contractor, we have to give up right of way at light-rail stations, locations like US Airways Arena, busy city locations. You're going to see a bike rack there. Unlike New York we have enough right of way. That part won't be very controversial. We're improving our streets to make them more bike-able which will benefit bike-ability generally. But in terms of this particular program, there’s zero dollars out of our city budget. It's a win for everybody.
Ted Simons: Mayor, it's good to have you here, thank you so much for answering our questions. See you again next month.
Greg Stanton: Any time.