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JUST SAY NO

These are good times for the state of Arizona. In the month of April, the state pulled in the most money ever: $1.2 billion, which was $161.3 million more than forecast. For the first 10 months of the fiscal year, the state has collected $7.49 billion, which is almost $295 million more than anticipated.

So why has it been so hard for Republican leaders to put together a state budget? Because some Republicans want to spend more; some want to spend less, and some just want to make sure their slice of pork makes it into the final package.

But leadership may have finally pulled together a budget, just weeks before the end of the fiscal year. Whether Gov. Janet Napolitano will sign it remains to be seen, at least as of press time. She's surely not gonna like the $500 million in permanent tax cuts that lawmakers have cooked up.

While they're bickering over spending and tax cuts, Republicans did find the time to pass their silly omnibus illegal-immigration package last week, only to see it vetoed by Napolitano. The big question now: Will an illegal-immigration package go on the ballot?

The veto pushes the Napster toward the record number now held by Gov. Bruce Babbitt. And, as Capitol Media Service's Howie Fischer points out, it took Babbitt nine years to hit that number, while Napolitano hasn't even finished her first four-year term yet.

There are a couple of reasons why Napolitano's numbers are climbing so quickly. One is that the state budget is made up of a whole bunch of bills, so when Napolitano rejects GOP spending plans, her numbers jump.

The second reason is more political: Many moderate Republicans go along with crazy right-wing bills simply because they know Napolitano will veto them. It gives the mods a chance to burnish their conservative credentials to protect them in primaries, especially now that Clean Elections has enabled far-right candidates to drop glossy hit pieces against them.

Many of those Republicans owe Napolitano thanks. If Republican Matt Salmon were sitting in the governor's chair instead of Napolitano, a lot of those votes would be a lot tougher.


THE REPLACEMENTS

Republican Mark Spitzer, a former state lawmaker who now sits on the Arizona Corporation Commission, has been nominated to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by President George W. Bush.

So what does that mean for his seat?

Well, he could resign, meaning Gov. Janet Napolitano would get to appoint one of her pals. Or he could announce he's going to remain in office for the rest of his term, which ends next January. Hey, why not? He'll be around at least as long as embattled Treasurer David Petersen.

The bigger question: Spitzer, who's one of the brainiest guys in state politics, was also one of two Republicans running for two Corporation Commission seats that are up for grabs this year. Since he'll have to withdraw as a candidate, the state GOP executive committee gets to pick a new candidate for the race. So who's it gonna be?

The three names we're hearing are state lawmakers: Rep. Gary Pierce of Mesa, Rep. Bob Robson of Chandler and Tucson's own Sen. Tim Bee. As of press time, Pierce had the inside track.


PASSING ON

It's tough to be a Republican in Washington these days. Poll numbers are dropping; corruption scandals are spreading; deficits are rising, and the Iraq war just keeps dragging on.

So what to do? Rejuvenate the base with a little gay-bashing action, tax cuts for the wealthy and a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration.

The first step--a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage--came nowhere near getting the two-thirds vote needed to make it out of the Senate, although it did put Democrats and some Republicans on the record as obvious enemies of good-ol'-fashioned 'merican values.

Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl supported the doomed measure, while Sen. John McCain opposed it, saying the matter should be left up to individual states. (In a gigantic pander to conservatives as he warms up his next White House run, McCain has said he does support the ongoing petition drive to ask Arizona voters to amend the state Constitution to ban gay marriage and all other forms of domestic partnerships, but it remains to be seen whether the Center for Arizona Policy will have the signatures to get the question on the ballot.)

Next up for the GOP: elimination of the estate tax. But that push failed last week, mostly because there are still a few fiscally responsible Republicans in Congress.

In 2004, the estate tax, which is now applied to assets of more than $2 million, touched about 1 percent of the households in America, at a 46 percent rate, according to the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan budget-watching outfit. So if you died with $2.1 million in the bank, your kids had to settle for splitting just more than a million bucks. How unfair!

Republicans have pushed for years to turn this into a populist issue--and, sadly, about half of all voters have come to believe the line that people pay taxes all their lives, so the government shouldn't tax them on their deathbed. Because, of course, their heirs have worked so hard for the money.

The Concord Coalition estimates that elimination of the estate tax would reduce federal revenues by at least $369 billion through 2016--and the costs could be even higher. That means one or more of three things: higher taxes for the rest of us to make up the difference; fewer services from the federal government; or even more national debt. Call us crazy, but we'd rather soak the dead.

Kyl, who is facing a re-election challenge from Democrat Jim Pederson this year, has proposed a "compromise" on estate tax amounts that still amounts to a gigantic giveaway to the ultra-wealthy. Kyl wants to exempt the first $5 million in assets--which has been whittled down from an earlier proposal of $10 million--and then tax the remainder at 15 percent.

The cost, according the Concord Coalition: "The Kyl plan would reduce revenues nearly as much as full repeal."

Given that the United States is running record deficits, and we have both Social Security and health-insurance programs to worry about, we're having trouble understanding why it's the right time to give the richest people in the country another tax break.


THE ONLY ONE

Scramblewatch '06 update: As the preseason action wraps up and the 2006 crop of candidates reach the starting gate by formally filing their petitions this week, there were a few more endorsements on the Democratic side of the Congressional District 8 race.

Former state lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords announced she'd won the endorsement of the Arizona Education Association. John Wright, president of the teacher's union, said in a press release: "Gabrielle is ... the only candidate who has built the campaign infrastructure and momentum necessary to win both the primary and the general election."

A few days later, Patty Weiss, the former newscaster now launching a political career, announced she'd won the endorsement of Nina Roosevelt, the granddaughter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Said Nina, in a fund-raising letter urging folks to cut a check to the campaign: "Patty Weiss is ... the candidate who can beat the Republicans in the Congressional District 8 election this fall."

Gee, what message are these campaigns peddling?

More by Jim Nintzel

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