The Skinny 

CABLE TENSION

Looks like Cox Communications won the big one last week, when it finally managed to get the state to restrict what cities can demand in terms of franchise fees and PEG--public, education and government--channels. Gov. Janet Napolitano signed the cable legislation that Cox had been pushing for years, which means Tucson's PEG channels will likely drop from nine to four when the contract with Cox is renegotiated over the next couple of years.

We've yet to see what that means for Access Tucson, the award-winning public-access station now seen on three channels, but we don't imagine it's gonna be good news. Meanwhile, Cox will get a multi-million-dollar break on fees paid to the city, which will surely result in rollbacks on local cable bills. Won't it?

City and state officials continue to insist that, contrary to rumors at the Capitol, there was never any kind of link between Tucson remaining neutral on the cable bill and GOP legislative support for the extension of the Rio Nuevo downtown-revitalization district, which could be worth more than a billion bucks to the city over an additional 30 years.

But it seems odd to us that Reps. Jennifer Burns and Steve Huffman, two Southern Arizona GOP lawmakers who opposed the cable legislation last year, flipped and voted for it this year, providing the margin for the bill's passage. Huffman, who is now seeking the seat of retiring Congressman Jim Kolbe, was the sponsor of the Rio Nuevo extension. Coincidence, perhaps?

And it also seems strange that the Democrat-dominated City Council remained neutral on the bill, when the GOP-controlled council opposed it last year. You'd think the progressive Dems would be more likely to take on wealthy out-of-town special interests.

Not that we're saying the Democrats were in on the deal, if indeed there were to have been a deal. It's entirely possible that instead of being backroom dealers, they were just duped by Mayor Bob Walkup, City Manager Mike Hein and city lobbyist Mary Okoye.

However it went down, the council, embarrassed by an Arizona Daily Star report that suggested they were taking a dive on the cable legislation, tried to shift from neutral to opposed to the bill last week. We weren't sure exactly what they did--Ward 3 Democrat Karin Uhlich's motion to oppose the bill seemed significantly watered down by Walkup's suggestion that Okoye just try to tweak it a bit--but it really didn't matter, because the council's decision came about an hour after the bill had already passed the House. Oops!

The city's last-minute change of heart wasn't enough to sway Napolitano's decision to sign the bill, either. In fact, she made it plain last week that the city waited too long to weigh in.

"Everybody agreed to this bill and it wasn't until the last moment, when the bill had already passed, that the city of Tucson flipped position to say they were opposed to it and by that time, the die had been cast," Napolitano said.

Now the big question: Will the state Senate come through and pass the Rio Nuevo extension? Maybe it depends on what else lawmakers want from Tucson.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee, an anti-government bunch that includes Sen. Ron Gould, who is notorious for flying a Confederate flag outside his Lake Havasu home. We imagine Gould will ask himself a simple question to decide whether to support the Rio Nuevo legislation: What would Jefferson Davis do?


LOADS OF GARBAGE

OK, citizens, here's the new deal on the trash fee: The Democrat-controlled council, which moaned and moaned after Republicans instituted a trash fee, have decided to keep charging you $14 a month to collect you garbage after all.

Who would have ever seen that coming?

Last week, the new progressive council took the token--and perfectly reasonable--step of offering a $12-a-month break for anyone who earns less than 150 percent of the federal poverty line. (This year, that's $14,364 for an individual and $29,040 for a family of four, for those of you unfamiliar with federal poverty guidelines.)

The council set $1 million aside to pay for the program, with the expectation that only 3 to 5 percent of the eligible households in town would likely apply for it, according to Mitch Basefsky, spokesman for Tucson Water and the Environmental Services Department.

The previous City Council had actually enacted the exact same break, but people who wanted it had to apply every month, which was evidently quite a pain in the ass. Under this new program, they'll only have to apply once a year.

On the other hand, people who participated in the old program also got their water and sewer bill paid, so they'd saved quite a bit more money if they went to the trouble of applying.

Props to Ward 6 City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff for remaining on message so long after the end of the campaign. Nina still argues that charging people to pick up their garbage--which just about everyone else in the southwestern United States does--is wrongheaded or whatever.

The rest of the council, who thought the fee was such a lousy idea, have resigned themselves to the bad news that they're saddled with an extra $20 million a year to spend.

How do you get the city to pay your garbage bill? Check out your May bill, which will include details on the program, which starts July 1. If you want info sooner, call the environmental services customer service line at 791-3171.


PULPIT POLITICS

Arizona's three Catholic bishops delivered a Christian message of tolerance and love last week when they announced their support of an initiative that would create a state constitutional ban on gay marriage, as well as domestic partnerships and civil unions.

In a pastoral statement on marriage, Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix and Donald Pelotte of New Mexico said the proposed amendment would "preserve the unique and irreplaceable status that marriage has always had in our society" as "a lifelong bond of love and life"--which is so true, as long as you ignore about 90 percent of the actual history of marriage.

The bishops also noted that "our own culture is more and more confused on matters of sexuality, and the truth of marriage suffers from the same blurry thinking." It remains unclear whether they were talking about society as a whole or just the culture of the Catholic Church.


THE ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM

Nikia Fico, the leader of Save Tucson Elephants, delivered petitions with 4,000 signatures asking the Tucson City Council to transfer the Reid Park Zoo elephants, Connie and Shaba, to a 2,600-acre Tennessee sanctuary. (For details, see "Pachyderm Push," Feb. 16.)

Fico is asking council members to put a discussion on the elephants on an upcoming meeting agenda. She promises to continue pestering them at upcoming council meetings during the call to the audience.

"We're going to hound them," Fico says.

Zoo boosters want the council to go ahead with plans to spend $8.5 million to expand the zoo and increase the size of the elephant enclosure from the current half-acre to three acres.

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