Tucson’s economy depends on federal spending, but what does that mean?
The city gets federal money for housing assistance programs, for road construction and transit operation, and to hire police and firefighters.
Economists say the region's dependence on federal spending is one reason the area's economic recovery lags the rest of the state.
Tucson pays $279,000 a year to lobbyists to try to keep that money coming to Tucson. That contract is spent on Arizona and federal lobbying.
The city’s federal lobbyist Terry Bracy puts federal spending on city of Tucson projects into three categories:
Sustaining economic activities: almost permanent funding that will reliably be coming to Tucson for the long term, such as Medicare and Medicaid spending at hospitals, Davis-Monthan’s budget, and Raytheon’s defense department contracts.
Anchor funding: obvious funding for individual projects, such as downtown redevelopment, including building the new Martin Luther King, Jr. apartments, purchasing the Thrifty Block of Congress Street for redevelopment, and renovations at the historic train depot.
Infrastructure funding: initial funding for new projects, and ongoing funding for road work. This includes original construction of Houghton Road, and the Kolb underpass below the air force base, plus Interstate 10 and Aviation Parkway.
“Without these federal funds, I just cannot imagine what our community would be like,” Bracy said.
For example, it was the federal investment in other projects downtown that spurred private investment, which drew the federal transit funding for the streetcar, he said.
“So much of it is silent to our eyes, but it’s a huge, huge impact to our society and our every day life,” he said.
Bracy represents Tucson government to members of Congress, and the executive branch of the U.S. government. He said he crafts a list of Tucson’s priorities by talking to city department heads, then asking the city council and manager to make the final choices.
Although Congressional gridlock frequently makes the future of federal government funding uncertain, Bracy said federal spending doesn’t usually reflect that.
“I’ve been around long enough to see that federal funding over five- and 10-year periods rarely goes down, it never goes down,” he said.
Periods of fiscal restraint tend to mean slower increases in spending, rather than reductions, despite many attempts, beginning in 1985, to cap federal spending, he said.