Kochs Want to Kill Light Rail in Phoenix

Photo:  Nick Bastion/Flickr
Photo: Nick Bastion/Flickr

The Koch Brothers’ nationwide campaign against transit has a new target: Phoenix.

A $31.5-billion transit levy approved by a 10-point margin just three years ago is now under threat thanks to an anti-light rail group that portrays itself as grassroots. But records show it is being backed by — wait for it! — Koch-funded organizations and a wealthy developer.

The new group Building a Better Phoenix has launched a campaign to gather 20,000 signatures for a voter referendum to overturn the city’s light rail plans. The organization listed Mel Martin — a Phoenix business- and land-owner — as the chairperson [PDF]. Just a few weeks later, however, the organization changed the chairperson to Jadon Contreras, whose occupation is listed as student [PDF]. The address he provided is 4108 Central Ave., which is the business address of Tony’s Window Tinting. Contreras appears to be a relative of Celia Contreras, the owner of the business, who has been leading the charge to halt light rail expansion. He could not be reached.

The group hasn’t filed any financial disclosures yet — but it is receiving financial support from the Arizona Free Enterprise Institute, which is a “Koch-connected dark-money group,” the Arizona Republic reported. The organization paid for the domain name for Building a Better Phoenix’s website, which is clear from the domain registration [PDF].

Byron Waldrep, who is now listed as the treasurer for the month-old organization, told Streetsblog that, Martin, a multi-millionaire developer, enlisted South Central business owners for chairman and treasurer because “he couldn’t go further” with his proposition to kill light rail “without us.”

It’s clear why Martin would want locals fronting his organization. When the light rail funding measure passed soundly, it had even wider support in South Central, the center of the controversy, where voters gave it a 70-percent landslide.

Waldrep said he didn’t know anything about the Charles and David Koch or the Arizona Free Enterprise Institute. But he could not explain why or how the group had paid for the organization’s website.

It’s not the first time the Koch Brothers’ shadowy political network has played an outsized role in a local anti-transit effort. The New York Times highlighted the siblings’ successful campaigns to defeat light rail plans in Nashville and other cities. The billionaire industrialists made their fortune in oil and gas and have, since then, supported far-right political causes and have opposing local transit projects. In Arizona, their statewide action group is called Americans for Prosperity.

“They don’t want to be the face of this. They want to pretend this is a community group,” said Lisa Fernandez of the pro-transit Build South Central Coalition. “If they succeed, this could be the playbook that they use to kill light rail for cities that have approved it.”

On Wednesday, Phoenix City Council will vote on whether to proceed with the South Central light rail project as planned. Changing the design to accommodate Four Lanes or No Train’s concerns would be a death sentence for the $1-billion project, which is facing a November deadline to finish the design phase and move into engineering. The Trump administration — which is already holding up many transit projects around the country, as Streetsblog reported — may be looking for an excuse to withhold its $600-million share of the project, recently instructing Valley Metro to not submit paperwork until the City Council had voted again on the matter.

The Council may give Martin the delay he wants. Pro-transit forces suffered a blow when Mayor Greg Stanton, a key light rail backer, resigned in May to run for Congress.

The first line — and two extensions — of Phoenix’s light rail investment have been a success any way you look at them. Daily ridership is relatively strong and the investment in the initial line has spurred hundreds of new housing units in walkable, transit-oriented locations. South Central light rail was to expand it into an underserved area and help connect residents with more economic opportunities.

  • Claude

    “Really you mention “roads”, do you NOT realize the Federal and State
    gasoline taxes have been around for decades for such infrastructure?”
    BINGO!!!! After all this time you finally got around to a fact based argument in support of your position. Admittedly, it was already covered back when I mentioned that the Federal Highway Administration reported back in 2007 that all dedicated revenues only covered about half the total cost of the highway system. You might also remember that I was the one who asked if you thought the gas taxes should be increased to cover the subsidies, so apparently I did know about the gas tax.
    But at least you tried for once, bless your little heart.
    And then fell back into the usual boring refrain of venom and insults as if you thought that was the same as intelligent debate.
    You like my research skills? It’s easy. Try this one. Daniel 5:27.

  • Solarman

    I don’t administer myself to bible code. LOL You’ve been chasing your tail little dog. The article was about the “Koch” brother campaign to stop the Phoenix light rail addition. MY point is where does one want to spend their tax money and how much do they want to spend. Federal and State highways have been financed by fuel taxes for decades. YOU are trying to make a local train line a State tax commitment. Not how the the Arizona Constitution defines the Home Rule or its use. Enjoy your new taxes and fees, if YOU want it, YOU pay for it. DUH

  • Claude

    No, the gas tax is only supposed to pay for a share (90% for interstates) of construction and maintenance and it no longer even does that, which is why the highway trust fund has had to have bailouts.
    Operating costs have always been subsidized from the general funds.
    But you’re right. Trying to engage you in fact based discussion is like picking up buttered Jello. I’ve abandoned any hope.

  • Solarman

    Good, you’re wrong, have been wrong, and will continue to be wrong. IF you want it you pay for it.

  • Claude

    Sorry, I’ve already tried several times to engage in a fact based discussion but you weren’t interested. I’ve given up on you.
    Abayo.

  • neroden

    I’ve researched it. The fact is that an RPS *will* bring power prices down, Steyer is actaully telling the truth, and APS is lying through their teeth.

    But don’t believe me. Do your own research on the prices of solar & wind power vs coal and gas power — the numbers are out there.

  • neroden

    They believe in taxes spent on petroleum. Which they sell. Makes sense…

  • neroden

    Yeah, I don’t think that’s right — the initiative should have gone on the ballot anyway. The fact is that the utility managements should be adopting RPSes on their own anyway, but they need a wake-up call to realize that solar and wind are cheaper than coal and gas now (since 2016, specifically).

  • Solarman

    Yeah, I get that solar PV and wind are cheaper over the long run, as opposed to the LCOE of a “fueled” generation plant as compared to the LCOE of a “non-fueled” generation plant. MY point is the interloper Tom Steyer will in fact cause rate increases for electricity for the foreseeable future. When going from “fueled” to non-fueled generation the intermittency of the non-fueled solar PV and Wind generation have to be accommodated within the grid infrastructure. The energy storage is not there now and will take time to bring online using Capital Improvement projects. Think about it, within 12 years, Steyers NextGen group wants Arizona to put in another 35% more alternative generation AND also install energy storage for those plants online now and in the future. This is by some’s estimation to be 75 Gigawatts more generation and at least that much energy storage online to compliment the intermittent generation. The up side is energy storage reacts faster than any fueled generation plant online now. Energy storage can be installed along the grid infrastructure and used to take an intermittent generation resource and store it for later use. Power shifting is something the grid has needed for at least 40 years.

    APS has already weighed in with “their” estimate of 50% by 2030. It is said to be on average of $1,000 a year, about $83 a month, every month added onto your electric bill. The bottom line is, there is NO breakdown of what capital construction of new generation and energy storage sites will cost. Then there will be “decommissioning” costs of some of the coal fired plants and perhaps natural gas fired plants. Electric bills are increased by two major factors. IF you enter into an energy efficiency program and cut electricity use, the Utility doesn’t sell as many KWh, this is called “lost revenues”. The Utility places a rate case in front of the ACC to increase electric rates. When the utility decommissions an old plant, this is called “stranded costs”. The money for demolition, environmental remediation and disposal of debris and toxic substances will be paid for by another electricity rate increase through the ACC. A perhaps aggressive program would be over 25 years, this RPS will be part of Arizona’s Constitution, the will of the people. Pass Proposition 127 and let the rate increases begin!!!

  • Solarman

    How do you make an intermittent generation source like solar PV or wind generation ACT like a “fueled” generation resource like coal fired or natural gas fired generation? Right now “fueled” generation can be ramped up and down to meet demand on the grid. Coal fired plants are operated in what is called “spinning reserve”, coal is burned 24/7, just enough to keep the water in the boiler(s) near steam, just in case the plant needs to be ramped up during grid demand increases. When the utility decommissions an old coal or natural gas fired plant, the ACC will get a rate case to increase electricity rates to recover “Stranded costs”. The Utility will also get a rate increase to build Solar PV and or Wind generation. I’ve done my homework, have you done yours?

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