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UNBALANCED: We've been warning for a while now that things might not be so rosy in River City. After taking a look at the proposed $894.5 million City of Tucson budget, it appears things are even worse than we thought.

In his first year on the job, City Manager James Keene has crafted a soak-the-poor budget that increases spending by 11 percent, or $86 million. To balance the books, Keene recommends instituting a fee for garbage collections, cutting back on bus service, socking rental property with a 2 percent tax, closing libraries on weekends and trimming funding for after-school programs.

Gee, we don't remember any of that bad news in Mayor Bob Walkup's state-of-the-city happy-talk.

Here's what's worse: Keene says even with the cuts in his budget, problems loom in the future. "What is most important to keep in mind as you review the recommended budget are the huge unfunded needs for this city which the budget does not address," Keene writes. "We have long deferred necessary infrastructure improvements, which this budget does not address, which in the realm of transportation alone total more than $1 billion."

And the worst is yet to come, as Keene projects shrinking revenues from the state and federal governments. Tough times and tough choices are on the horizon. Is it any wonder that the Democrats are having a hard time finding a candidate in Ward 3?


SPEAKING OF WARD 3: Earlier this week, two Democrats pulled candidate packets for campaigns in Ward 3. Ted Downing, a UA anthropology professor who lost a bid for a House of Representatives seat in District 13 last November, says he's considering a run, although he's not yet committed. The other Democrat, Don Vance, remains a man of mystery; reached by telephone, the 53-year-old Vance told The Skinny he wasn't interested in talking to the press until he decided whether to run, although he did describe himself as an "author."

Other frequently mentioned potential candidates include neighborhood activist Paula Aboud and Democratic Party volunteer Tom Prezelski Jr., who has also pulled a candidate packet.

The only official Democratic candidate remains mobile home park manager Bob Webb, who has said he won't spend more than $500 on the race.

The eventual nominee will face Republican Kathleen Dunbar, who's off to quite a start. Last week, the sergeant at arms booted her off the House floor after she blatantly ignored a prohibition on lobbying. (Former state legislators are supposed to wait a year before the shilling starts.) Dunbar was energetically working the House floor for a very anti-neighborhood bill, SB 1472, that would have raised the bar for citizens fighting rezoning.


DON'T WORRY, EVERYTHING'S JUST FINE: In a recent editorial about Gov. Jane Hull's campaign to nuke the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan through reprehensible "stealth" legislation, the Arizona Daily Star editorial page downplayed the threat, saying the bill wouldn't pass the legislature.

Real reporters are singing a different tune, saying that the vote on HB 2362 will require major defections by Republicans. The smart money says the vote is too close to call. (If you'd like to give 'em a nudge, call your lawmakers toll-free at 1-800-352-8404.)

Does the morning daily have a reason for downplaying the threat posed by this legislation? The Star's anti-environmental tendencies have been obvious since the corporate bag men showed up a few years ago.

But it gets worse. The Star's statehouse reporter, Rhonda Bodfield-Sander, wrote a story about how Rep. Steve Huffman, who hustles real estate when he's not serving in the state legislature, was behind the governor's crappy attempt to derail Pima County's belated entry into the modern world.

The Star's moronic editorial page actually lauded Huffman for the sabotage attempt, saying that the good Realtor was merely trying to get mean old Pima County to include the State Land Department in its planning process.

"Huffman's may be the only reasonable voice in the middle of the rancor," read the editorial.

Sure, the State Land Department should be part of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. The Tucson Weekly was way ahead of the Star in bagging on Huckelberry and the county for being arrogant and awkward when it comes to public participation. But the Star's naiveté is astounding. The gung-ho pro-development State Land Department never wanted any part of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

The suggestion that Huffman was being statesmanlike by trying to give knuckle-dragging state land officials veto power over Pima County conservation efforts is too stupid for words. Or is it just a corrupt attempt to help developers?

The Skinny casts its vote for both.


INVISIBLE ENVIROS: What excuse did the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection have for being virtually invisible while Gov. Hull was about to sabotage the coalition's raison d'être?

Sure, coalition chair Carolyn Campbell did her usual soundbite thing before blithely leaving town. But why didn't the coalition post an alert on its Web site, www.sonorandesert.org? The site is so old, it looks like Hull's hairdo. Where were the ads? The signs? The picket lines outside state buildings?

Local environmentalists have been unrealistic about the magnitude of this fight from the very beginning. They can't even plead ignorance. Last year, Campbell was present at a breakfast meeting on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan sponsored by Luther Propst of the Sonoran Institute. Guest speaker Doug Wheeler, who helped promote San Diego's species conservation plan when he headed California's conservation agency, told the group they needed several million dollars to get public support for the SDCP.

Wheeler's warning obviously fell on deaf ears. The coalition's fundraising efforts are the functional equivalent of a church raffle or school bake sale. Part of the problem is that some coalition members, notably the Audubon chapter headed by longtime Tucson enviro Kevin Dahl, are guarding their funding turf.

Tucson's environmentalists need to take off their blinders. Campbell is a good lobbyist and an excellent coalition-builder, but she's never shown the qualities of an executive director. In the non-profit world, the executive director's job is three-fold: fundraising, fundraising and fundraising.

The deus ex machina would be for coalition supporter Barbara Kingsolver and big-time environmental funder (and part-time Tucson resident) Hansjorg Wyss to get together and give $100,000 to the coalition--but only on condition that the money goes to hiring a real executive director who will raise cash and hire a PR honcho.

The Skinny's top candidates would be Roseanne Hansen, who's currently turbocharging the Sky Island Alliance, and Mike Finkelstein, a national-level campaigner for forest protection who recently returned to his home state of Arizona. The coalition desperately needs a fundraising dynamo like Hansen and a media pro like Finkelstein.

News flash, guys: Just calling your Birkenstock-clad friends to do their usual ineffectual thing isn't going to make it.

The worst-case scenario is that Hull's bill--which SDCP godfather Chuck Huckelberry is calling the "Death to the Desert Bill"--will pass, hobbling future conservation efforts. The best-case scenario, if the coalition doesn't get its act together, is that the kinder, gentler Don Diamond--you know, the progressive statesman who opposed Hull's blatant power grab--will water down the plan through local influence. (We can't help wondering just what happened in that meeting the legendary land speculator had with Huckelberry a few weeks ago.)

The Skinny's advice to local enviros: You're playing with the big boys now. Get some big toys.


FIXIN' FELIX: The Tucson Unified School District board's 1998 move to name political hack Paul Felix assistant human resources director was so foul that it ranked in the Weekly's greatest fixes of the year. Felix, a pork-barrel teacher, and his school librarian wife have been major players in the campaigns of their patrons on the TUSD board. Even when their favorite, Joel Tracy Ireland, was in the slam-dunk lineup last year--three candidates for three seats--Felix raced to suck up and be the first to carry a nominating petition. Felix got his reward last week.

Superintendent Stan Paz, who is showing his willingness to play Ireland's crummy political games, propped Felix up for a big raise. Although he didn't possess an ounce of human resources experience when he got the job three years ago, Felix was just bathed in a 16.3 percent, $10,117 raise. He's now making $72,008 a year. What's worse is the raise was made retroactive to December. Paz also sent a clear message--screw the teachers and workers--with the Felix raise and an identical one for another human resources assistant director, Loretta Martinez.

Teachers, meanwhile, are forced to fight for every penny in what is developing into acrimonious contract negotiations. Paz has stumbled with this and other raises, including for the PR machine he inherited from former Superintendent George Garcia.

Meanwhile, Paz was glowing in the positively positive press the dailies and talking heads lavished upon him for the miserable job Garcia, Ireland and longtime board member Mary Belle McCorkle have done with 17 schools on the south and west sides. Paz's solution is to hire a consultant. The Star, in its odd puff-for-failure coverage, quoted McCorkle, who should assume much of the blame, not only because of her time on the board (she's in her third term) but also because of all that time she spent as a TUSD administrator. Instead of making some tough decisions to fix these and other TUSD problems, McCorkle is bent on having a school named after her. She'll succeed, no doubt. And then we'll wait for her to fix it for her daughter to be named principal of the Mary Belle McCorkle school. (Quit your laughing! Remember when she cried out about her "faith" in her daughter last year when she cast the necessary vote to install her as principal at Dietz Elementary?)

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