Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Annexation is a dead horse, stop beating it

One would think that after more than a decade of Tucson mayors flogging the annexation dead horse they’d give up.

That horse just ain’t gonna get up and run.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild last week at his State of the City address repeated what he said last year about the city’s annexation policies, “Tucson Wants You.” Rothschild is following in former Mayor Bob Walkup’s footsteps, who for a decade at his annual SOTC speeches made appeals for city annexation of unincorporated county areas.

Rothschild this year went a step further and proposed meeting with the mayors of Oro Valley, Marana and Sahuarita to come up with a cooperative annexation strategy for the four municipalities.

And in Walkup’s final term, and now echoed in the first two years of Rothschild’s, he also promoted incorporation of new towns on the city’s borders if border dwellers resist annexation.

The goal is to get the 300,000 or so people who live in the unincorporated county into a municipality so that more of the region’s tax revenue is returned here through state shared revenues. The state sends municipalities an extra portion of income, sales and gas taxes (and a few other smaller funds) in addition to what it sends to the counties.

Roughly 90 percent of Maricopa County’s residents live in a municipality but only about 65 percent of Pima County’s residents do, which means Pima County is giving away about $90 million to other Arizona municipalities that could be coming back here.

That’s a pretty good argument for the region but as an annexation sales pitch, it’s pretty lame.

“Please, dear county citizen, sign this Tucson annexation petition so the $300 you represent in state shared revenue is kept here in Pima County.”


If Tucson and the other county municipalities are going to succeed in annexing big areas like the Catalina Foothills, Casas Adobes and Green Valley they’re going to have to prove that city government is better and provides more services than county government.

That’s been a tough sell. Since 2001, Tucson has only increased in size by about seven square miles (about 3 percent), six of which were from two annexations of Raytheon and surrounding vacant land that won’t be built on in order to protect Raytheon from encroachment.

Getting more people into the city will take forever doing dinky annexations a few dozen acres here and there (mostly to grab intersections with lots of sales-tax-collecting shopping centers).

If the city wants the Foothills (and it really, really does) it’s going to take a collapse of county government. But if that happens, we all have much worse things to worry about than how much state shared revenue is coming home.

Incorporation is more likely but we went down that road in 1997 when the Legislature passed an exemption to the state’s incorporation law that only applied to Pima County. Foothills voters rejected incorporating and the city crushed in the courts two towns that managed to incorporate. Six other unincorporated communities considered attempting incorporating and decided against it.

A law passed two years ago made it easier to incorporate in metro areas but so far only Vail is considering it. There’s no incorporation rush like there was in 1997.

Clearly, the people who live in the unincorporated county are happy with the government they’ve got. They don’t want more.

The annexation horse is dead. Stop beating it.

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