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Proposal would give state voice on Rio Nuevo board

The bad economy will likely save Rio Nuevo from the legislative wolves, said state Sen. Jonathan Paton.

The Tucson Republican’s proposal to add state-appointed board members to the Rio Nuevo board is the only Rio Nuevo proposal being drafted by the Republican majority caucus staff to insert into the state budget, he said Thursday.

“There’s no money in Rio Nuevo right now,” Paton said. “There’s nothing to scrap. I think the (economic crisis) actually helped out.”

Phoenix legislators in the past several months had threatened to withhold Rio Nuevo’s tax increment financing, which is generated from a share of the sales tax in downtown and along the Broadway corridor to Park Place.

The Rio Nuevo board has four members – two appointed by the Tucson City Council and two appointed by the South Tucson City Council. Enabling for Rio Nuevo requires at least two municipalities to form a multipurpose facilities district.

“There are a few wrinkles we need to work out. I think we have a framework we can work out,” Paton said.

One wrinkle is how many board members would be added. Another is whether Tucson and South Tucson would still appoint board members, Paton said.

Tucson city lobbyist Mary Okoye said legislators are looking at expanding the board to nine or 12 members, with one-third appointed by the governor, one third by the state Senate and one third by the House of Representatives.

“I would like to thank the leadership, the governor and the southern Arizona delegation for supporting us to help us keep much needed revenue for investment in our community,” Okoye said.

Paton said the Rio Nuevo board would become like many of the other state-appointed boards and commissions.

Paton’s amendment also would add a searchable database for Rio Nuevo expenditures and a provision for a “real, independent audit.”

“The general consensus is we would prioritize revenue-producing projects,” said Paton, referring to investing in the Tucson Convention Center expansion and hotel rather than the Tucson Origins museum complex.

Okoye said the city applauds Paton’s amendment.

“We welcome the transparency and accountability,” she said. “We welcome more people that can participate to create a world-class downtown.”

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