Labor Day 2020: Protests against Corporate Welfare Replace Labor Picnic (video)

Labor Day Protest in Tucson

Labor Day 2020 in Tucson was … different.

Instead of hosting a giant picnic at Reid Park with games, food, and networking, the Pima Area Labor Federation (PALF) joined other groups for seven days of protests against corporate tax giveaways, gentrification, and expansion of Tucson’s Central Business District this Labor Day week.

Barrio Neighborhood Coalition activists, PALF members, Mi Familia Vota, Jobs with Justice, college students, neighbors, Catholic workers, and other progressives turned out to protest the upcoming Tucson Mayor and Council decision on Sept. 9 regarding expansion of the Central Business District (CBD) and expansion of GPLET tax giveaways in the CBD.

Tax Giveaway Protest
Ward 3 GPLET protest on Sept. 3.

The first protest was at the Ward 3 office in LD9. This office is located in the Opportunity Zone that conveniently runs along the path of destruction of the Grant Road Widening Project, which has been hanging in limbo for ~30 years just like the Broadway Blvd. Widening Project. In the days of increased online commuting, why are we knocking down all of the businesses on two major arteries, forcing businesses to move or close, and then incentivizing new businesses to go there? This is the ultimate in “picking winners and losers.” How is this friendly to local businesses when government forces many of them to go out of business or forces them to hang in limbo for decades while decisions are made in endless meetings, many of which are behind closed doors?

The Labor Day protest was at the Ward 6 office also in Midtown but in LD10. Approximately, 40 people came to that protest, including former City Councilwoman and former mayoral candidate Molly McKasson.  She lost the mayoral race to Republican and former Raytheon executive Bob Walkup. Years ago in the Arizona Daily Star, Molly said, “It’s too bad Tucson decided to put all of its eggs in the developers’ basket.” Ten years or more later, that statement is prophetic.

When Tucsonans from such varied backgrounds stand together against corporate tax giveaways and the related gentrification, it’s time for government to pay attention. The protesters are asking Mayor and Council for a moratorium on any new GPLETS until the end of year. They also want transparency in the GPLET deals and other tax giveaways that Mayor and Council are making. (Regarding transparency in tax giveaway deals, I would add Arizonza Commerce Authority, Pima County, and Rio Nuevo to the transparency list. )They are asking the same questions that I have been asking for years: Where are the spreadsheets that show GPLETS work? What’s the bottom line? How much is the city making or losing by allowing so many new businesses– like the AC Marriott and the Cadence — forego paying property taxes for years? How much in future revenue is being given away?

One of the union guys came up to me at the Ward 3 protest and said, “We should be able to see the spreadsheets. You know… how much they [Mayor and Council] gave them [developers] and what we got in return. Like the number of jobs.”

I said, “Exactly! That tax money is OUR money. The people deserve transparency in the deal-making and a say in how their money is spent.”

I support a moratorium on all tax giveaways until we are past the COVID19 virus or until we learn to live with it. Billions of dollars in corporate tax giveaways are doled out annually by state, county and local governments in Arizona. What have we got to show for it? A system that favors handouts to big business while our children suffer the highest rate of Adverse Childhood Experiences (like food and housing insecurity), only 6% of Arizonans who are eligible for cash assistance to the poor actually get it, our education system struggles after decades of underfunding, and our roads are crumbling.

The GPLETS are only one type of tax giveaway. I have been in the Arizona Legislature for four years. Every year, there are Ds and Rs who vote to review all of the tax giveaways, determine which ones are working and which ones aren’t, eliminate some of them, and put deadlines and performance measures on the rest. I plan to propose this again in 2021. The People deserve transparency and a voice in how their money is spent.

Please sign the Barrio Neighborhood Coalition’s letter to the Mayor and Council asking for a moratorium on tax giveaways, accountability and transparency here. More about the protests here. Gentrification hurts neighborhoods around Tucson — not just in the barrio.

Here are a few videos: the Ward 3 video, the Ward 6 video, the speech I gave in the barrio in March about tax giveaways and gentrification, and my 2018 Labor Day speech for a bit of nostalgia.