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OUT TO LUNCH: Had to love the Tucson Citizen's anguished look at meal and entertainment money spent by Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, a Republican who has distinguished himself from his Democratic predecessors George Miller and Tom Volgy by living large. Sort of. Certainly he's far ahead of Miller, who prided himself on being a tightwad during his four-plus terms as a councilmember in Ward 3 and two in the mayor's office. He brought his own sandwiches most days, although he did share.

All this business, mostly from Walkup and his boy, Ward 6 Republican Councilmember Fred Ronstadt, about how Walkup must spend taxpayer money on food and gifts because he is the only economic-development mayor is far-fetched. Hell, it was Volgy who set up the Greater Tucson Economic Council. Walkup was strictly mediocre in his spin as the chairman of GTEC.

Ronstadt also earns laughs in justifying money for gifts to Mexican officials who visit. It's expected, Ronstadt said. Sure. So were the bags of money, scholarships and other treasures the Salt Lake City Olympic Organizing Committee lavished on the crooked bastards on the IOC.

Citizen brass will soon capitulate to the mayor and apologize for trying to embarrass him with details of the expense account, items that are never easy to find in Finance Director Kay Gray's hidden vaults. Indeed, all some editors were after was a photo of hizzoner eating at his favorite sushi spot. They were stunned when Andrew Greenhill, the deputy mayor (in his mind), stonewalled.

The real issue is this: That type of spending is up for review when the budget is assembled and adopted in late spring and early summer. Complaining and whining about it now, which is what dissident Ward 1 Democrat José "Window Dresser" Ibarra did when he spilled a bunch of the vouchers to the Citizen, is much like Tucson Unified School Board member Judy Burns voting against raises for Superintendent Stan Paz and his top bureaucrats when she voted last summer to approve the budget that contained those raises. Ibarra and Burns should have the guts and brains to examine budgets, including the details, and demand changes when they come up for votes.


FUEL'S GOLD: While Tucson officials roll the dice on a half-cent sales tax to boost transportation spending this May, the state is weighing transportation options as well.

After taking its road show across the state, Gov. Jane Dee Hull's Vision 21 transportation task force has delivered its final report, estimating a $20 billion shortfall in the state's $61 billion in transportation needs over the next 20 years.

Can you say "Pay your growth bill"? It's obvious that this colossal price tag is directly linked to our exploding population--and we're going to have to pay higher taxes as the quality of life continues its wretched decline. Yep, it's a real economic miracle.

The task force is recommending a gradual three-quarters-of-a-cent hike in the sales tax, an increased gas tax and statewide impact fees.

We're all for the impact fees (it's probably the only way we'll ever see 'em collected in the Tucson city limits), but the Growth Lobby will kill that before it ever gets out of the Legislature.

The gas tax, meanwhile, is the ideal user fee. And now's the time to enact it, while gas prices are low, low, low. Crank it up and index it to inflation. It's not as if it'll put us at a competitive disadvantage. Arizona's miniscule gas tax is way below our neighbors in California and New Mexico. It strikes us as a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, we're talking about the Arizona Legislature, where even a no-brainer is challenging material, so that proposal isn't going anywhere soon. Our lawmakers will fiddle away years of revenue while our cars stall and our air browns.


RED SHOE DIARIES: The PR people in Homicide Survivors want money to monitor judges who might let the accused out of jail on bail the group thinks is too low. The group also is upset that the Board of Supervisors voted December 18 to reappoint Justice of the Peace Pro Tem Walter U. Weber to another six-month term in a job that pays at an annual rate of more than $80,000. With no timely and good representation by prosecutors, Weber set bail at $5,500 for a Tucson man accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl.

All this brings to mind the lopsided and politically-tainted "monitoring" of Justice of the Peace Tom Rallis, an effort by the Mothers Against Drunk Driving to derail Rallis' bid for a third term in 1986.

There was one strange vote on the Board of Supervisors. Democrat Sharon Bronson voted to reappoint Weber. Yet in 1997, Bronson blocked a similar reappointment for Michael Lex. His misdeed? The admittedly inappropriate remark to a woman who wore red shoes to her courthouse job. Lex said his mother instructed him that only whores wore red shoes.

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