"€œSen. Leff has already established herself as a strong voice of fairness, cooperation and communication . . .

Her no-nonsense, practical approach will be a vital part of the leadership team, as will her energy and commitment to helping lead our state to a brighter future."€

-Arizona State Senate President Bob Burns, upon appointing Barbara Leff as Senate President Pro-Tem, 8/27/09


News Room


This article appeared as a "My Turn" column in the Arizona Republic on February 4, 2004 and in the Tribune on February 6, 2004.

The recent Senate deliberations concerning the continuation of the half-cent sales tax for transportation have inspired much editorial activity from publications around the Valley. Many of those have seriously missed the mark, taking legislators to task for not rubber stamping or rushing through a transportation plan brought to them by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG).

What seems to be forgotten is that legislators do not represent MAG, or the mayors and lobbyists who came to the Senate to insist that their plan be adopted with no changes, no discussion. I was elected to the Senate to represent the interests and voice the concerns of the people in my district.  It would have been unconscionable for me to act as a rubber stamp for a plan that did not serve those people as well as it could.

Before the continuation of the half-cent sales tax can go to the ballot in Maricopa County, it must be approved by the State Legislature. The debate has been heated and the controversy has been focused on one part of the transportation plan. We all agree that the tax must be extended to keep the Valley transportation capabilities on pace with our continuing growth. We all agree that there must be a viable public transportation component to the plan in addition to roads and freeways. 

Light rail is the only real controversial piece of the plan. Voters should be able to determine whether light rail is extended beyond the central city. In cities that have light rail in their transit plans, voters should have a choice on whether they want to extend the light rail system at a cost of  approximately $2.4 billion for only 27 miles of track, or have those dollars used for other public transportation options in their city.

Everyone I have spoken to recognizes the need for an alternative to the car. The issue is what makes sense for each community. Light rail is being built in Central Phoenix and Tempe. The debate is on the extension of light rail into the areas of the Valley that do not have the density to support it.  There are no natural transportation corridors in the outlying areas where large numbers of people use the same street to get to work. In fact, Phoenix was designed to have a variety of hubs for business activity. The Village Core concept, where people work, play and live in  areas other than downtown, was planned and designed by the same city planners who now seem surprised that we are so spread out.

Light Rail is a €œtrolley€ system. Permanent tracks will be laid in the middle of the road taking out vehicle traffic lanes to accommodate those tracks. It moves slowly with an average speed of just 16 miles per hour. This makes no sense for an area like Paradise Valley. The plan shows permanent tracks up State Route 51 and from 32nd Street and Shea to the Paradise Valley Mall. If the goal is to get people to downtown Phoenix, then we should build a rapid transit system. There are other options for public transportation that are more cost effective and less disruptive than light rail.

Giving people a choice at the ballot is the right thing to do. If the extension of light rail is such a good idea, people will vote “yes.€ That'€™s why it has been my position that the voters deserve a question on the ballot that asks them if they want to spend $2.4 billion on extending light rail or whether they want the money to be used to build a sensible public transportation system that would help move the most people around this Valley.

With the bill that has passed the legislature, voters will not have the opportunity to vote on light rail separately. It would be a shame if the entire package fails in November as a result.