Jun 7, 2022 - Politics

Phoenix to ask voters to approve new bonds for parks and housing

Illustration of Phoenix City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Phoenix is preparing to ask voters to approve $500 million for new parks, housing, cultural centers, police stations and more in its first bond election since 2006.

Why it matters: Bond elections, like this one planned for November 2023, are one of the most significant ways cities can invest in new buildings and infrastructure.

Previous bond elections have funded the Arizona State University downtown Phoenix campus, Burton Barr Central Library and new fire stations across the city.

  • Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego told Axios the city has identified eight areas of focus for the 2023 bond program including public safety, housing, streets, economic development and arts and culture.

Driving the news: The city council voted last week to establish a General Obligation Bond Committee of more than 75 community leaders who will propose a list of projects to send to voters in 2023.

  • This was the first formal signal that the city plans to hold a bond election next year.

How it works: Unlike voter-approved sales-tax increases, like the Phoenix transportation one approved by voters in 2015, bonds don't necessarily raise taxes for residents.

  • If a bond is approved, it allows the city to take out debt to fund projects. City leaders then structure the debt so that it can be paid off over time.
  • The city's finance leaders told Axios they're recommending a $500 million bond program for 2023, which will not require a tax rate increase.

Flashback: In the 2006 election, voters overwhelmingly approved $878.5 million for projects across seven categories ranging from affordable housing to higher education.

  • It's unusual for big, fast-growing cities like Phoenix to wait so long between bond elections.
  • For instance, San Antonio voters have approved four bond programs since 2006.

Of note: Phoenix councilmember Debra Stark told Axios she hopes the city will run bond programs more often going forward.

  • City finance leaders said they should be able to run a $500 million program every five years for the next 20 years without raising taxes.

What they're saying: Even one of the council's most conservative leaders said there is a need for some capital investments. Councilman Jim Waring told Axios some city buildings, particularly police and fire stations built in the '70s and '80s, have significant structural, mold and flooding issues.

  • "Some of those buildings, if it was a business, would have closed up shop," Waring said.
  • Whether he'll support the full bond depends on the details, though, which he said won’t be hashed out until later this year.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to show a bond program will not require a tax rate increase (not a tax increase).


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