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AUTHORITY FIGURES

Hey, remember that regional transportation plan that we were going to pay for with a half-cent sales tax? Well, the Regional Transportation Authority hasn't quite worked out the final numbers, but it turns out the roads are gonna cost about $152 million more than originally figured. And the mass transit costs have climbed by about $56 million.

Oh, and impact fees, at their current level, are probably gonna fall about $55 million short of projections.

To compensate for the rising shortfall that now stands at $284 million, the RTA tackled the problem head-on, making the tough choice of adding about $87 million for an extension of Kolb Road to Tanque Verde Road and $4 million for a frontage road in Green Valley.

Isn't this how Enron got into trouble?

The RTA gang hopes to ask voters next May to approve the plan, along with the half-cent sales tax, which would raise an estimated $1.9 billion over 20 years. Additional funding will have to come from impact fees and other local funding.

Now's it's time for the public to see the reworked and underfunded second draft of the plan, with public meetings starting next week. If you feel like going: Desert Sky Middle School, 9850 E. Rankin Loop, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19; Historic Depot Lobby, 400 N. Toole Ave., 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20; Catalina Foothills High School Cafeteria, 4300 E. Sunrise Drive, 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 22. Otherwise, check out upcoming meetings and the rest of the plan at rtamobility.com.

At public hearings, critics have been squawking about a handful of big-ticket items, including the widening of Grant Road between Oracle and Swan roads; extending the Barraza-Aviation Parkway to stretch from near the intersection of Valencia Road and Interstate 10 all the way through downtown; and running an urban streetcar between University Medical Center and Rio Nuevo.

But a recent RTA poll of 600 voters suggests the majority are OK with all those projects, at least so far. A full 68 percent definitely or probably support widening Grant; 60 percent definitely or probably support extending Barraza-Aviation from Palo Verde to I-10; 62 percent definitely or probably support Barraza-Aviation's downtown segment; and 57 percent definitely or probably support the urban streetcar.

Another interesting fun fact: Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said that neighborhood opposition to various projects would have no effect on how they voted.

Keep in mind: Early polls showed strong support for the city of Tucson's 2002 transportation proposition, which ended up being rejected by 68 percent of the voters.

Here's a question we're hearing some folks raise already: Rather than rush the process, should we postpone the May election?


THE DEFENSE RESTS

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday, Sept. 13, to pull the plug on $140,000 worth of indigent defense contracts sought by Lourdes Lopez, a central figure in the murder trial of her ex-fiancé, Dr. Bradley A. Schwartz, and his alleged co-conspirator, Ronald Bruce Bigger.

Lopez failed to notify police about what she has since said were Schwartz's repeated threats to have Dr. David Brian Stidham killed before Stidham was murdered on Oct. 5. She now is primed to testify against Schwartz, even though she represented him in several legal matters while they were engaged and after they broke up in May 2004.

Supervisors have struggled with the new contracts for Lopez and several of her friends since June. Republican Ray Carroll attempted in July to strike her from the list of attorneys who could be appointed by Superior Court judges to defend people accused of felonies, murders and misdemeanors. The county will spend $13.5 million on roughly 240 contracts this year to have lawyers in private practice represent indigents.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and supervisors ruled that Lopez was ineligible, not because of her connection to the Stidham case, but because of her federal drug bust in 2002 stemming from Schwartz's fake prescription scheme. Lopez was forced then to resign her job as a deputy county prosecutor.

Lopez was granted diversion in the matter, and her record in federal court was wiped clean last year after she successfully completed probation. But that does not clean the slate for her eligibility as a county contractor. The county's 14-year-old "Bad Boy" ordinance bars contracts for those who have been indicted or convicted, or who face disciplinary action from a regulatory body such as the State Bar.

County officials ignored that ordinance in February 2004 and last summer, when Lopez was handed defense contracts worth up to $255,000.

Action by supervisors Tuesday provided up to $115,000 in defense work for Brad Roach, whose close friendship with Lopez helped put his former job as a county prosecutor in jeopardy, and awarded Janet Altschuler, another former prosecutor disciplined over Lopez-Schwartz matters, up to $90,000 in county work.

Supervisors later modified their action to include up to $90,000 in defense contracts for Nicki DiCampli, another former prosecutor and close friend of Lopez.


PLAYING PERCENTAGES

One reason the Regional Transportation Authority might not want to delay that May 2006 election: Voters may get hit up by a couple of groups looking to raise the sales tax in November 2006.

Supporters of early childhood education want to ask voters to approve a half-cent for programs for rugrats, while the outdoors crowd may ask for a teeny-tiny .1 cent sales-tax hike.

The Skinny recently got a call from a California outfit gauging public perception of Arizona Game and Fish Department and measuring whether voters would support a statewide sales tax. The 20-minute interview ranged from questions about how much we knew about the G&F's current programs to promising all manner of wonderful things that could be done with more money.

The Skinny tried to find out more by calling Game and Fish's Phoenix office, but we got transferred around before being left on hold for 10 minutes, so we gave up. Maybe they can use the money to hire a decent public info officer--or at least someone who can take a message.


SALUTE TO SAN JUAN

After a nearly two-year tour in Iraq and Jordan, Ron St. John was looking forward to heading home to Tucson and immersing himself, again, in local politics. He was looking forward to chronicling his experiences in Mesopotamia for such rags as the Weekly. We were looking forward to getting his pieces.

St. John died Sept. 4 in Amman. He was just 45.

St. John, a Log Cabin Republican and consummate political insider, served as the student body president during his time at the University of Arizona. He was held in the highest esteem by his professors and instructors at the UA Journalism Department. And many remember St. John for settling down an immature Mike Boyd while the latter was a year into his first term as a Republican member of the Board of Supervisors. St. John rescued Boyd from political oblivion after Boyd served as an all-too-eager monkey for Ed Moore, then the Republican chairman of the board.

Of course, the Moore group (the White Crips) had an opposite view. They considered St. John and Boyd and turncoat pawns under the spell of then-Supervisor Raul Grijalva, a Democrat.

When we heard from St. John on July 14, he wanted to know how things were in Pima County. We said: "Who cares? What about Iraq?"

St. John's response:

It's been 20 months in Iraq, but who is counting? Actually the last few weeks I've been in Amman working for the UN as a consultant on public outreach on the constitutional process. It is a three-month gig. But it is interesting to see how the UN works from inside. Haven't seen any black helicopters yet or plans for World Government.

My contract ends in late September and I hope to be occupying my loft in the Old Pueblo by then. Would like to catch up with you on local politics and also see if the Weekly would like a series of pieces on the Iraq democracy front from whence it started back in 2003. It would be quite entertaining if so many friends of mine hadn't been killed and so many Iraqis slaughtered by both sides.

All the best from Amman, Ron

Condolences to his family and his many friends.


AND THE WINNER IS...

By popular demand (and because we're going to press too early to deliver results), The Skinny is once again presenting Choose Your Own Analysis of the Ward 6 Democratic primary. It's easy to play: If Nina Trasoff wins, read the next paragraph and skip the next one. If Steve Farley wins, skip the next paragraph.

Ward 6 voters showed they're becoming more pragmatic in the 21st century, choosing Nina Trasoff over Steve Farley, whose farfetched schemes would have doomed his chances of winning citywide. With endorsements across the Democratic spectrum, Trasoff proved to Democrats that she has the right stuff to take on incumbent Republican Fred Ronstadt this November.

Remember, only read this paragraph if Steve Farley won; otherwise, skip ahead to the next: Ward 6 Democrats showed they're still radicals at heart when they picked Steve Farley, whose creative energy, brilliant ideas and unstoppable drive overcame a Democratic establishment that piled a long list of endorsements for Nina Trasoff. Farley's ability to carve out an underdog win shows he's the candidate best able to take the fight to incumbent Republican Fred Ronstadt.

With the Ward 6 nominee now in place, Democrats are wasting no time in launching a shock-and-awe campaign to dislodge Ronstadt and his fellow Republican, Kathleen Dunbar, this November. They'll be out walking precincts this Saturday, Sept. 17, starting at 9 a.m. at Democratic Headquarters, 4639 E. First St.

The Dems have a secret weapon at their disposal: Local cowpunk Al Perry, who will be performing at headquarters after the walk. For more info, call 370-8554.

Republicans are countering with a yard sale benefiting Habitat for Humanity from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Sabbar Shriner Temple, 450 S. Tucson Blvd.

Later that day, a mere $150 gets you into the GOP BBQ Western Roundup, starting at 5:30 p.m. with a meet-and greet. Western wear a must! Tickets are $75 for Golden Eagles and $100 for Trunk and Tusk members.

The GOP is also looking for volunteers to help build some homes for Habitat for Humanity on Oct. 1. For details on all the GOP fun, call 321-1492 or e-mail hq@pimagop.com.

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