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SHOW US THE MONEY: As the Legislature swung into gear last week, Gov. Janet Napolitano revealed her $7.2 billion budget proposal, calling for more money for kids, universities and state workers.

That's up more than $820 million from last year's budget, with more than half of the increase driven by mandatory increases in education and health-care spending.

Napolitano estimates the economy will continue to rebound, putting more money into state coffers. So far, that's been the case, with job creation and retail sales continuing to climb. Through the first five months of the fiscal year, the state was about $83 million ahead of projections, meaning officials won't have to start talking about mid-year corrections for a change.

Despite the good news, Napolitano has to resort to a few tricks to make her budget work. She puts off some bills until the following fiscal year, lifts a little from car registration fees and borrows or otherwise finagles about $500 million to build and repair schools and prisons.

The GOP leadership released its more austere plan this week, holding the line on state spending with the exception of education and healthcare increases driven by voter-approved formulas. Republicans have wisely abandoned the slash-and-burn strategy that resulted in a public-relations nightmare last year.

Like last year, Napolitano has ruled out seeking any major changes to the state's tax code, probably because she senses that conservatives would block her efforts.

Rep. Steve Huffman, a Republican who represents the metro area's northwest side, is picking up tax reform to push for a decrease in the property taxes extracted from businesses, which pay at least 2 1/2 times the rate of homeowners.

But if you lower business property taxes, you shift more of the burden onto people who own homes. That makes us think that Huffman isn't going to get anything passed until a more comprehensive reform package comes together.


TRAVELIN' SHOW: With Maricopa County fighting up at the Legislature for an extension of the half-cent transportation sales tax they've had in place for two decades now, Pima County has a reasonably good chance to push through its own plan to empower the Pima Association of Governments.

We're shocked to report that all of the various local governments in these parts have agreed--tentatively, at least--to work together through PAG in hopes of finally developing a plan that would allow the regional transportation agency to collect a half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements.

But even if the Legislature smiles upon Pima County, can local leaders convince voters to approve a sales tax for transportation? It's been shot down, in one form or another, four times since 1986, including twice in the last two years.

Here's the big jam planners will face: Since Pima County has a much smaller tax base than Maricopa, the half-cent sales tax raises a lot less money--somewhere between $55 and $60 million a year. When you start divvying that up between the city, the county, Marana, Oro Valley, Sahuarita and other jurisdictions, it doesn't go very far.

Say, for the sake o' argument, that the city of Tucson--where a good chuck of voters live--gets back what business owners collect at the register, roughly $40 million annually. To win at the ballot box, that'll have to be split among the different constituencies that want wider arterial roads, improved residential streets and a better mass-transit system. When you get right down to it, it won't be a lot of money for any one of those three categories, so everyone will feel shortchanged.

Meanwhile, unless the plan spreads bling throughout the county, voters outside the city will worry that too much money will be lifted from their pockets to pay for improvements they'll never use.

Admittedly, being able to spend an extra $60 million a year in the region is better than the current stall in improvements--but the bottom line remains: Will it do enough for voters to be willing to raise the sales tax?


BETWEEN THE LINES: When voters approved a ballot prop transferring the power to draw the state's political boundaries from lawmakers themselves to an Independent Redistricting Commission, the campaign focused around the idea of creating competition rather than districts that were heavily Democratic or Republican.

But when the commission finally finished its maps, only four of the 30 districts in the state were remotely "competitive." So it was no surprise last year when the state Senate changed from an evenly split body to one that was 17-13 in favor of the GOP.

Granted, it was naïve to imagine that redistricting commission members wouldn't have political connections of their own. And as a practical matter, basic demographic factors work against an even balance of voters in all districts.

Still, you only have to look at the redistricting experience in Texas, where a raw GOP power grab sent Democrats literally fleeing for the borders, to realize that maybe the commission wasn't an entirely bad idea.

After the maps were finalized, a group of Hispanic activists and Democrats cried foul and sued to have the maps thrown out. Last week, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields ruled in their favor, saying the commission didn't do enough to ensure competitive districts.

Unless the state Court of Appeals steps in, the state's Independent Redistricting Committee now has fewer than 45 days to redraw the maps so Democrats will have a fighting chance in more districts. And if they don't get it done on time, Fields is threatening to appoint some genius to take over the process.

Of course, given the way Democrats seem to get whipped in tight races, it might not make much of a difference unless they get a lot better at turning out voters.

There's no telling how it's all going to play out, but we're hoping that when all is said and done, a sliver of a heavily Democratic district will stretch down the Santa Cruz River into Green Valley and take in the residence of House Majority Whip Randy Graf.


GIVE TED A BONE: First-term state Rep. Ted Downing, a professor who thirsted for the attention given those in elected office, is doing the right thing by seeking legislation to further outlaw the theft of pets for the purpose of using them as training fodder for illegal fight dogs. It's a disgusting practice that has robbed kids and families of their beloved dogs and other pets. Sic 'em, Ted.


ANGEL WITH MONEY: Tucson native Arte Moreno, who made a fortune off his billboard and signs-of-all-types business, has been in the news a lot since his purchase of the Anaheim Angels last year. He's been covered in the pages of The Weekly and was the subject of a good Greg Hansen column in the Arizona Daily Star last week.

Make no mistake: Moreno is tough and shrewd. But we'll take him over the other billboard baron, Karl Eller, any day.

Moreno is quiet where Eller brays. Eller dumped some $26 million to get the UA's entrepreneurial program named for him. Believe it, Moreno has probably done more for education with his scholarship support for his many members of his extended family.

Sure, Moreno made money off of unsightly billboards in Arizona, but he has never manipulated the Legislature or the courts the way Eller has. And he didn't further desecrate Tucson and the rest of Arizona with horrid Circle Ks.

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