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On the Road Again

OK, citizens: Are you finally ready to approve a transportation sales tax?

The fledgling Regional Transportation Authority last week released a draft of a $1.9 billion plan to fix roads and improve bus service, funded through a county-wide half-cent sales tax over the next 20 years. The proposal wisely dumps grandiose and/or screwball ideas sure to stir opposition at the ballot box--freeways, grade-separated intersections, light rail--and instead focuses on the old-fashioned widening of major corridors to increase traffic capacity.

Roughly 75 percent of the money will be spent on roads, including widening Grant, Tangerine, Houghton and Valencia roads, and Broadway and La Cholla boulevards. The screwiest proposal, at our first glance: $200 million for an extension of the eastern end of the little-used Barraza-Aviation Parkway to Interstate 10. The plan also increased bus pull-outs, right-turn lanes and other low-cost methods of improving traffic flow, as well as bike lanes.

The remaining 25 percent of revenues will be spent on improving mass transit, including extended evening and weekend bus service, bus service in Green Valley, Marana, Oro Valley and Rita Ranch, and a neat-o urban streetcar that would carry passengers between University Medical Center and downtown.

RTA officials, who say they are willing to tweak projects based on public response before voters decide its fate next May, have launched an outreach program to get your opinion on the plan. This week's meetings are from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14, at the Randolph Golf Course Clubhouse, 600 S. Alvernon Way; and 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 16, at the Rancho Resort, 1330 W. Sahuarita Road (at Interstate 19 and Sahuarita Road). For details on the proposal, visit www.rtamobility.com.


Karl Rouge

As New York Times reporter Judith Miller was hauled off to jail for refusing to rat out her sources, Karl Rove emerged as the man who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. In a Clintonesque parsing of legalese, Rove, aka Bush's brain, said through his attorney that he had mentioned that Plame was a CIA agent, but had not identified her by name. He merely mentioned that she was the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had embarrassed the White House by writing an op-ed discrediting Bush's State of the Union contention that Iraq was seeking yellowcake uranium in Niger.

Asked whether Bush would follow through with his promise to fire whoever had broken the law by leaking the identity of an undercover CIA agent, White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who had previously insisted that it was "ridiculous" to suggest Rove was involved, said he now could not comment on the case because it remained under investigation.


Fire on the Mountain

A lightning-sparked blaze had devoured more than 1,700 acres in the Santa Rita mountains as of press time Tuesday. A challenge for firefighters thanks to steep terrain, the Florida Fire had forced the closing of the Madera Canyon Recreation Area but had not threatened any structures.


Nipping at McCain

Arizona conservatives pressed their attack on Sen. John McCain, with the Maricopa County Republican Party's Executive Guidance Committee formally voting to condemn him for his betrayal of the GOP on issues including campaign-finance reform, gun ownership, gay marriage, immigration reform and filibuster rules related to judicial nominations, according to our friends at azconservative.org.

Members of the committee rejected an effort to delay the vote until next month, when McCain could attend the meeting to defend himself.

The resolution mirrored the language in McCain's deal with Democrats on judicial filibusters, stating that "only under extremely 'extraordinary circumstances' will we support the candidacy of John McCain for president of the United States."


The Not-So-Big Reveal

Republican Vernon Walker, who is challenging incumbent Ward 5 City Councilman Steve Leal, turned in a campaign finance report one week after the deadline. Walker, who is making his first run for public office, had raised $3,575 as of May 31, mostly in the form of $10 contributions. Among his backers: Republican City Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar ($10) and her hubby, Dick ($100). Dunbar's GOP colleagues, Mayor Bob Walkup and City Councilman Fred Ronstadt, had not yet opened up their checkbooks for Walker.

Leal, a Democrat seeking his fifth term, had raised more than $35,000 through May 31, according to a report that was filed on time.


Windfall

Following a billion-dollar April that was boosted by income-tax filings, state revenues fell to a mere $663.5 million in May, according to the most recent report from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. The good news: That's $99.5 million more than anticipated a couple of months ago, leaving the state $252.1 million above the forecast with one month left to tally in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

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