The Skinny 

FRODO VS. THE ORCS OF SAHBA

Is the dark eye of Mordor turning its fiery gaze toward City Councilman Frodo Ronstadt? At the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association banquet last weekend, leaders of the Growth Lobby were openly talking about how they needed to do all that they could to help out their friends on the council--and to punish the one who did not stand with them.

With Republican Kathleen Dunbar and Democrat Steve Leal both on SAHBA's side over the recent dust-up regarding water delivery outside the city limits, we're left to imagine it's Fred who has earned their wrath.

Hey, this might turn out to be an interesting election year after all!


PROGNOSIS: NEGATIVE

Health care is one of three areas of the state budget that's driving the increase in spending. (The others are the yin and yang of schools and prisons.)

Under the Healthy Arizona guidelines enacted by voters in 2000, anyone with an income below the federal poverty level is eligible for health coverage through the state. That's less than $19,000 for a family of four, which is barely enough to survive week to week.

But we've got no shortage of low-wage workers in this state, with more than a million people on the AHCCCS rolls. And despite a rebounding economy, the caseloads continue to grow--up 11.8 percent since last May.

The cost of expanding health-care coverage was supposed to be covered by a settlement with tobacco companies, but that fund ran short long ago, meaning the balance must be made up by the general fund. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates that health care will cost $80 million more than expected this year and require an additional $200 million in fiscal year 2006.

Conservative Republicans are now weighing returning Healthy Arizona to the ballot to ask voters to cut back eligibility, saying it's drawing too much money from other vital programs.

We're wondering: What's more vital than saving someone's life?


FREEZE PLAY

Another bad idea has awakened from its slumber at the Capitol: The Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

This proposed constitutional amendment would make it illegal for state spending to increase at a rate faster than inflation, adjusted for population growth.

Sound like a reasonable idea? Sure, until you realize that some of the things that government pays for, such as those skyrocketing health-care costs, have a higher-than-average inflation rate. And that education spending automatically increases by formula. And that many areas of state government are underfunded now.

What would end up happening is a few areas of the budget--like education and health care--will continue to increase, eating up more and more of the budget. That will lead to inevitable cuts elsewhere.

In the summer of 2003, when lawmakers were first kicking this idea around, a Republican state senator visited from Colorado, which had passed a similar law a few years earlier. The Skinny remembers how she described it as a total disaster for the state.

With a ringing endorsement like that, it's no wonder that legislative leaders have resurrected the idea.


ALL HAIL HOWIE

Tireless capitol reporter Howard Fischer would joke about the Arizona Daily Star's commitment to legislative and state government news when he was that paper's fast-as-lightning and mostly one-man capitol bureau. "Let the wires cover it," Howie would say about Star editors who didn't quite want to be bothered with the things lawmakers do to you.

The point was that it was nearly always better to have one of your own troops--one who knew the difference between South Tucson and south Tucson, between Oro Valley and Marana, and between Marana and "new" Marana.

Fischer left the Star decades ago and after stints with a trial lawyers association and the Phoenix New Times, when he realized his calling was to cover everything there is to cover at the state Senate, House and governor's office, with a little state Supreme Court action thrown in. He created his own news service, Capitol Media Services, and is the true dean of capitol reporting. No one is better at knowing and reporting the daily happenings of state government. And we mean "daily." Don't look for Howie to waste his time on in-depth analysis or trend stories.

And because the Star can't keep the Phoenix bureau filled with its own reporters, the heavy lifting has fallen again to Howie. (The Star's latest drop-out, Barrett Marson, has turned spokesmodel for the Republicans who control the House of Representatives.)

Last Friday's Star was a prime example of a Howie-palooza. He cranked out five pieces for the Star, plus a lengthy (by Star standards, anyhow) list of key legislative proposals with the impact and sponsors. The only thing Howie didn't do last week was file an Ann Landers replacement column.

Don't weep for Howie; he'd run over family members to get and file a daily story. Star readers are better for it.


FETUS FATIGUE

Looks as if the Center for Arizona Policy hasn't merely abandoned the legislative effort to ban gay marriage; word has it that the conservative lobbying organization also plans to lay low on the issue of informed consent, which is code a for law requiring a woman to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion.

We're guessing they'd rather push for the law in 2006 so Gov. Janet Napolitano has to veto it in an election year.


MAY WE SEE YOUR PAPERS, PLEASE?

Last year, the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign for Proposition 200, the Protect Arizona Now initiative passed by 56 percent of the voters last November.

FAIR never set up its own political committee in the state, instead writing checks to local various committees. But FAIR also sent out a fund-raising letter that urged readers to approve Prop 200--which, as attorney Tom Berning points out, appears to be a violation of Arizona's campaign-finance laws.

Berning, the former Tucson city attorney who now works for a local legal-aid outfit, complained to Secretary of State Jan Brewer that "FAIR's activities should qualify it as a 'political committee' ... and consequently it should have been required to register with the Secretary of State."

That led Joseph Kanefield, the state election director, to drop a line to FAIR earlier this month outlining Arizona's election laws.

"It appears that FAIR engaged in advocacy on behalf of Proposition 200 prior to the general election," Kanefield wrote. "Our records, however, indicate that FAIR has not filed a statement of organization with our office, nor has it complied with any of the campaign finance statues cited above."

Man! Don't you hate it when people cross our borders to engage in some sort of illegal activity?


MEDIA MIX-UP

Last Sunday's Arizona Daily Star included a house ad, "Who's Talking," touting the work of television and media columnist David Hatfield.

Looks like somebody at TNI hasn't been following Hatfield's column on comings and goings in the local media. Hatfield left the Star gig Nov. 22 when he became the editor of the Weekly's sister publications, The Daily Territorial and Inside Tucson Business. It is in the latter that Hatfield continues to report on media.

Back when he was at the Star, Hatfield could have only hoped for such promotion. But we here at Territorial Newspapers appreciate the plug!

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