‘Cautiously optimistic’: Push to send Phoenix-area transportation sales tax to the ballot coming down to the wire

In operation since the tail end of 2008, the 26-mile Valley Metro Light Rail stretches from 19th Ave. and Dunlap Ave. in upper-central Phoenix to downtown Mesa and offers quick access to downtown Phoenix, Sky Harbor International Airport, Arizona State University, Mill Avenue in Tempe and plenty more along the way./City of Phoenix

By Joshua Bowling |Arizona Republic

A push to ask voters to extend metro Phoenix’s transportation sales tax by getting it on the November ballot is coming down to the wire, awaiting action in the Arizona Legislature.

A coalition of local officials spanning Maricopa County crafted the plan, but they need state lawmakers’ approval to get it on the November ballot.

Extending the half-cent sales tax known as Proposition 400, which voters last renewed in 2004, would pay for projects from freeways and HOV lanes to light rail and streetcar routes.

But the clock is ticking. Senate Bill 1356, sponsored by Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, cleared its first legislative hurdle by passing out of the Senate in late March. It has made little visible progress since. State lawmakers meanwhile are involved in the push and pull of negotiating the state’s budget before their June 30 deadline.

Time is of the essence, transportation officials say. To get on this year’s ballot, the bill would have to be passed and signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey by June 25, according to Megan Gilbertson, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Elections Department. 

Pace confirmed the bill needs to pass with a supermajority and be signed by June 25 to appear on the November ballot. If it’s signed after June 25, it will appear on the November 2024 ballot, he said in an email to The Arizona Republic. 

But that wouldn’t leave much breathing room as the tax expires in 2025.

“We are cautiously optimistic about S.B. 1356,” Valley Metro’s new CEO Jessica Mefford-Miller told The Arizona Republic. “We recognize it’s a very busy time for the House and the Senate here in the state of Arizona and there are other priorities they’re wrestling with.”

Voters first approved the half-cent sales tax in 1985. The tax has paid for some of the largest transportation projects in metro Phoenix, including:

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