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ROAD RAGE: We're having a hard time getting worked up about Pima County's recent big bond switcheroo. For those who came in late, the Board of Supes voted last week to spend $10 million fixing residential streets in southside District 2 instead of helping the city widen 22nd Street between Park Avenue and I-10, as the county had promised to do when the bond proposition was passed by voters back in '97.

Critics are screaming that the county should be widening major arterials instead of fixing streets for a bunch of southside Mexicans. But if you ask us, the board's vote makes a lot of sense.

That 22nd Street widening wasn't going to happen anytime soon. The project isn't even in the city's five-year forecast of major projects. Why not? Because finances are in a deep pothole. City staff estimates a $520 million bill to bring streets, sidewalks and lighting up to minimal standards. Just repairing our crumbling residential streets will cost $60 million. At this point, so much of the city's transportation budget is going to debt service that the city is delaying selling its own bonds, even though they've been approved by voters. (There's a tip the morning daily's roadrunner might want to follow up.)

The city is so cash-poor it wants to roll the dice on a half-cent sales tax next May, despite the fact that voters have rejected that proposition twice in the last 15 years.

The county isn't exactly rich, either. Turns out that a lot of the bond projects are costing a lot more than anticipated. Do the math: The cost of those projects has increased from $350 million to an estimated $700 million. So guess what? Not all of the promised projects are going to get done. And given that the 22nd Street project was a low priority--even the city was talking about moving the money elsewhere--it probably wouldn't have been built with this package anyway.

At least now the bond dollars will be buying some asphalt for southside streets, where people have been paying taxes for a long time. If the board hadn't transferred the funds, the money would have likely been spent on the urban fringe.

That said, the manner in which the board pulled the switch leaves much to be desired. Although county officials say they contacted the city about the changes, Mayor Bob Walkup and other City Council members complain they were sandbagged.

The move doesn't do much for trust in government, which makes it a little harder for the city to pass that half-cent sales tax next spring. But then, given that the county would prefer to enact its own half-cent sales tax, maybe that was part of the plan all along.


SIGNS OF TROUBLE: As an amendment to the Incumbent Protection Act, the Tucson City Council has drastically limited the use of signs in political campaigns. First, the city banned them in city right-of-way; now it's attempting to control them on private property.

No one disputes the council has the power of at least regulation for the former, although the arguments for banning them are pretty weak. "Public safety" is the catch-all used by all control freaks since Caesar terminated the Roman Republic. If any of the signs were deemed by traffic folks to be interfering with public safety, they could have easily been removed and the campaigns could have been fined. Likewise, the complaint about signs never being removed could have similarly been handled by forcing recalcitrant candidates to eat the costs involved. After all, it's not hard to identify the culprit.

The argument that they just look tacky is trumped by the importance of the messages they bear, which is occasionally more than just a candidate's name. Democratic state Senate candidate Mark Osterloh got some mileage using signs as low-budget message boards in his losing campaign against Republican Toni Hellon last year. And while most of the signs don't carry much of a message, they do perform one important function: They let people know there's an election coming up.

Ward 5 Councilmaember Steve Leal, who voted in favor of banning the signs last year, is seeing the downside this week. The independent campaign committee Tucsonans for Alert Government, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Growth Lobby, has bought giant billboards throughout Ward 5 supporting Jesse Lugo, Leal's opponent in the September 11 Democratic primary. Leal has little opportunity to directly counter the billboards. Guess when you piss off a guy like Karl Eller, you can expect that kind of thing.

Councilman "Wrong Way" José Ibarra is delighted with the new law, suggesting it will force candidates into what he feels is better use of their campaign money. Hey, José, you just made our point--you are not entitled to force your opponents and others into specified campaign methodologies. (José would have more credibility if he hadn't used so damn many signs himself in his two campaigns.)

Now City Clerk Kathy Detrich has gone another step and issued an edict, no doubt supported by the legal geniuses in the City Attorney's office (which include her husband Brad), to declare certain displays of yard signs to be an in-kind campaign contribution!

In a convoluted memo to candidates indicating a total absence of any grasp of the First Amendment, Detrich explains that, among other things, if a yard sign is displayed on a business site with a high-visibility location, the owner must allow all other candidates equal access for their signs, too. Otherwise, the sign is considered an in-kind contribution worth $2 per square foot. And Detrick now claims that if a corporation owns the business, it is prohibited from making an in-kind contribution in the first place, thereby banning the sign.

Huh? Ever hear of freedom of expression?

These are the same legal giants who have also decreed that the appearance by an incumbent council member on a radio talk show is an in-kind contribution by the talk show. Therefore, since several local shows (as well as the stations that broadcast them) are incorporated, does that also ban them from interviewing candidates?

Better yet, does it prohibit a newspaper--all of which are corporations, including this one--from candidate endorsements?

Message for the potted plants on the Council: Tell these bureaucratic dipshits to put a sock in it and start making the policy yourselves--if you know how.


TEST FLIGHT: Is anyone surprised that the state Board of Education followed new Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera's recommendation that the AIMS exam be scrapped? Sure, the kids are still going to take it, but they won't need to pass it to graduate until 2006. And when that date rolls around, state officials will probably find a way to delay it again.

Molera inherited a bad situation from former schools supe Lisa Graham Keegan, who quit earlier this year to join a D.C. education think tank. He punted the political football before two out of three high-school seniors had to be denied diplomas because they couldn't pass the test. If that had happened, Molera could have kissed his re-election prospects next year goodbye.

The real shame in all of it is the cost: More than $9.2 million has been spent designing the exam since the late '90s. It might have done more good in the classrooms than in the pockets of the firms that designed the test.


PARHAM PAROLED: Having served her time, Maria Parham has been paroled from the miserable post of reader advocate at the Arizona Daily Star. Parham is due to swap jobs with Accent section editor Debbie Kornmiller next week. Parham had once vowed never to take up the editorial features reins again, but 20 months as reader advocate probably makes any job look like fun.

Parham will find herself short-staffed in the Accent department. Longtime staffer Ed Severson has finally had enough of the asylum and is taking retirement. Meanwhile, youngster Jim Purdy has filed his last pop music story. We hear there are no plans to fill either position. Why bother? There's plenty of wire copy.

Kornmiller's experience with the morning daily's annual comics poll will undoubtedly prove invaluable in the new post, particularly when it comes to the phone calls she'll soon be getting from Second Amendment enthusiasts.

Speaking of Second Amendment enthusiasts, we hear Star assistant managing editor and Idaho-bred gun nut Randy Wright ordered reporters down to fondle firearms in a recent workshop. To get around the Star's policy banning firearms in the plant, the show-and-tell session took place at the nearby StarNet offices, after someone pointed out that a proposed gathering at and funded by the Safari Club-backed International Wildlife Museum would be, just maybe, a conflict of interest.

Some reporters refused to attend Wright's gun love-in, noting that "gun awareness" sessions seemed a lower priority than "writing awareness" or other professional development sessions, which the paper does not offer. As one staffer reasoned, "I don't have to shoot heroin to write about drugs; why should I have to shoot a gun?"

If we were part of the colonial government at the morning daily, we'd be careful about arming the troops. You never know when someone might snap.


STORMY WEATHER: OK, hats off to Pima Community College's new football team, which opened its inaugural season with a big win against Glendale, the defending national JC champ. But the cheerleading from Brian Pedersen in the Arizona Daily Star deserves an offside call. Yes, Jeff Scurran is successful. He's a pitchman. Tucson loves a pitchman.

You'd never know if the win was a big upset or real. Pedersen never got around to telling us if Glendale was the same team, reloaded or bereft.

We laugh and laugh at the Star/Citizen stories about the plight of poor Scurran. No field. No money. No this. No that. Always poor mouthing. It is good that Pima has a team for the local products to continue playing, and, perhaps, get ready for four-year schools. But enough.

The biggest laugh is Doug Holland, a Scurran lieutenant who is listed as head of recruiting. Didn't he do that at Sabino? And with Holland on board, there should never be an academic casualty for the Storm. He was a magician at Sabino at making sure his players made/got/changed the grade.

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