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AGAINST THE CURRENT-- WITH BANJOS!

Legislation to extend downtown's Rio Nuevo district for an extra 30 years is rolling right through the Arizona Legislature, with the House of Representatives giving it a tentative OK last week.

Most Southern Arizona lawmakers of both parties have signed on to the plan, which would allow the city take a portion of the sales taxes that would normally be sent to the state and instead invest those dollars in downtown revitalization. Even those with misgivings about the progress of downtown revitalization reckon it's better to keep the pie down here than give it to Phoenix.

The biggest obstacle so far hasn't been Maricopa County conservatives, but Rep. Ted Downing, a Democrat who represents central Tucson.

Downing went amendment-happy during a recent Committee of the Whole session: He offered one provision to require city voters to approve any extension of Rio Nuevo and another to make the city undergo quarterly audits of how the downtown revitalization dollars are being spent.

In heat of the moment, Downing tried to force a roll-call vote that would have required his colleagues to go on the record, rather than a simple voice vote where they all just yell out "aye" or "nay." But he bungled his motion, and Speaker Pro Tem Bob Robson, who was running the show, told him: No takebacks.

Ted did remember the magic words--which we believe to be "Simon says"--on one amendment, so the House resoundingly smacked him down on a 48-6 vote.

Downing insists he's a big booster of Rio Nuevo--some of his best friends are redeveloped downtowns--but says he's worried that too much city revenue will be required to match the state funds. And he says the city could waste those redevelopment dollars on an arena or resurrecting the idea of burying Interstate 10 along Congress Street.

"All that crap--they're going to have so much money from this extension, and the current City Council is going to take that money, put it in their pocket and spend it," warns Downing.

Hey, Ted, that's the new progressive Democratic City Council you were celebrating with down at Hotel Congress on Election Night, isn't it? Bet they're happy to see how hard you're working to derail their gravy train.

Downing complains his colleagues don't share his commitment to "transparency and accountability." And he was incredulous that Rep. Tom Prezelski would suggest that Rio Nuevo's appointed board--which includes his own mom, Carmen Prezelski--amounts to any kind of meaningful oversight.

"Prezelski tells me his mother's on the damn board, so it's accountable," Downing says. "If we're going to set up the bureaucracy of this town where the accountability of all public officials and money is based upon putting your relative on a board--saying, 'Look, my brother's on the board'--I mean, shall I go back to Mexico where I used to work?"

Prezelski says Downing's comment sounds "borderline racist," but there's not much he can do, because "Rep. Downing is very difficult to work with."

Prezelski is among the members of the Southern Arizona delegation with the crazy notion that extending Rio Nuevo will capture a billion dollars of state tax revenue. As he puts it: "Do we want the sales-tax revenues to be spent to improve infrastructure in Tucson or to build another monument to Barry Goldwater in Phoenix?"

Downing, who is laying the groundwork for a campaign against appointed Sen. Paula Aboud, knows full well that he's not making many friends with his Rio Nuevo crusade, but he's not bothered by pedestrian political concerns.

"I don't decide what's right and wrong by who's standing behind me," Downing says. "If it cooks me, so be it. ... I went into the Folk Shop down here where the banjo is, walked in there, and somebody said ... 'Go at it. Find out what's going on with our money.' That's my crowd, the banjo shop."

Downing's other political complaint: The bill is a vehicle to help Rep. Steve Huffman, a Republican who recently announced he's in the running for Congressman Jim Kolbe's seat, come out on top in the crowded GOP primary. You know, if something as mind-numbingly boring as tax-increment financing is central to Huffman's secret plan to beat Randy Graf, he might as well just drop out of the race right now.

By the way, Professor Downing isn't making any friends among his paymasters at the University of Arizona with his opposition to the proposed arch/science-center bridge that would span I-10.

"Give me $10 million, and I'll put up two 500-foot plastic statues, one of Ronald Reagan and one of Bill Clinton," says Downing. "And I'll have them dance. It'll have the same impact on people."


MONEY TROUBLES

Looks like incumbent Arizona Treasurer David Petersen won't be seeking re-election. Petersen, who is in charge of investing a big chunk of the state's portfolio, has seen significant staff turnover; he seems like a really lousy boss. The bloggers on the both the right--Greg Patterson at espressopundit.com--and the left--Ted Prezelski at rumromanismrebellion.blogspot.com--are spreading rumors that Petersen is on his way out, maybe even before the end of his term next January.

But hey, at least Attorney General Terry Goddard hasn't sent in a team of investigators yet. Has he?

One Republican looking to replace Petersen is state Sen. Dean Martin, a fiscal conservative who has been smart enough to curry favor with the press by running bills to open public records.

With Martin giving up his Senate seat, Rep. Ted Carpenter is rapidly backing away from his utterly hopeless plan to run for governor. The Senate looks a lot more plausible for Carpenter, although he will have to defeat his seatmate, freshman Rep. Pamela Gorman.


GRINDING GEARS

Remember Fantasy Island, the 335-acre mountain-bike paradise built on state-trust land over near Houghton and Irvington roads? Last year, the State Land Department gang was all gung-ho to get the parcel on the auction block, mostly because they think the bikers are a nuisance lowering the property value.

Well, after said bikers and their pals raised a ruckus, the City Council said the area should be designated as a park in the Houghton Area Master Plan. (If you want details, check out "Forbidden Fantasy," March 31, 2005.) The Land Department said they'd be willing to discuss alternatives and quit hassling bikers.

Now Rep. Jonathan Paton, a Republican who represents the area, has teamed up with Democrat Tom Prezelski to sponsor House Concurrent Resolution 2050, aka the Save Fantasy Island Act, which says "members of the Legislature express their strong support for the community efforts to protect and save Fantasy Island."

That was too much for the Land Department, which lobbied unsuccessfully to kill the bill in the House Counties, Municipalities and Military Affairs Committee last week. The resolution made it out on a 12-0 vote.

Why would the Land Department care about some minor resolution that doesn't have binding legal power? We hear that they're now trying to persuade city officials to agree to a deal for some other state land near the airport for a mountain-bike park so they can get busy selling off Fantasy Island for development.

More by Jim Nintzel

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