The Skinny 

WE BE TRAFFIC JAMMIN'

It sure is fun to watch Republicans in the Arizona Legislature try to figure out how to find money for highway construction without raising taxes.

With Arizona now the fastest-growing state in the nation--hardly cause for celebration, but it's the life we've chosen for ourselves--even most members of the GOP caucus are acknowledging that we'd better start spending more on highway construction.

But many of them have also sworn to never raise taxes, so they can't do something simple like indexing the gas tax to the rate of inflation, which would make the people who drive pay for streets. Tucson Rep. Tom Prezelski has sponsored legislation to do just that, but it's probably dead on arrival in the House Transportation Committee.

Instead, lawmakers are busy cooking up other harebrained notions, which were neatly laid out by Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services.

The heads of the hard-core members of the caucus would explode if they found themselves agreeing with Gov. Janet Napolitano, so they're rejecting her sensible idea to change state law to extend the life of bonds from 20 years to 30 years, which would let the state borrow more money upfront and get the work done so we can maybe drive on the highways in our lifetimes.

Rep. Andy Biggs, a Republican from Gilbert, wants to get rid of the gas tax altogether and crank up the sales tax. Somehow, Biggs reckons that gives him a loophole in his no-new-taxes pledge.

Frankly, we're all for higher gas taxes, which might persuade those folks who insist on driving 15-miles-per-gallon SUVs to switch to something that conserves a little more fuel.

Republican Sen. Ron Gould of Lake Havasu has his own solution: toll roads. Because, after all, a toll isn't a tax--it's a fee! Sure, it's paid with the same currency as a tax, but fee sounds so much better than tax to the GOP.

Hey, why not call the gas tax a "gas fee" and index it to inflation? That would probably be the simplest way to go--which means our Legislature will never do it.

If only there were some way to blame illegal immigrants for all the highway traffic ...


SPAMALOT

If you get your Internet hookup from Cox Communications, you're probably now getting propaganda from something called InnovateTucson.org, a Cox project aimed at dumping Tucson's public-access channels in favor of "more innovative products and digital video services at a fair price."

We're certainly glad to see that Cox has no compunction against loading our inboxes with political propaganda aimed at ensuring we have enough home-shopping channels.

This is the latest in a series of moves by Cox to influence the debate over Tucson's cable service. You might recall that earlier this year, Cox sent employees to crowd public meetings designed to discuss what sort of service the citizens of Tucson want from their cable provider.

Negotiations between city officials and Cox management have gotten pretty heated lately, with the city now threatening to make Cox go through a whole new franchise process rather than simply renewing the contract. That's going to be expensive and time-consuming for both sides.

But Cox appears determined to cut back on the nine so-called PEG--public, educational and government--channels that they now provide. Since four of them are now assigned to Access Tucson, the award-winning public-access service that lets anyone in Tucson put on a show, that's where the cuts would undoubtedly be. F'sheezy, the city's propaganda channel, Channel 12, isn't on the chopping block.

The Tucson City Council is partially to blame for the mess we're in. Last year, council members had a chance to protest against Cox-sponsored legislation that limited what local municipalities could ask a cable company to provide. Instead, they remained neutral--perhaps because they had decided to take a dive in exchange for smooth passage of the Rio Nuevo extension.

Yeah, we know--council members and city officials dismiss that as tinfoil-hat, conspiracy-theory talk. But Gov. Janet Napolitano said she ignored the city of Tucson's protest against the bill because it came so late in the process.

Whatever you want to believe, the city is now in a weaker negotiating position as the process moves forward.


SCRAMBLEWATCH '07: AND AWAY WE GO!

With Ward 2 Councilwoman Carol West giving up her eastside seat after two terms, we'll have at least one open seat up for grabs in this year's city elections.

So far, the only Democrat to pull papers in Ward 2 is Rodney Glassman, who most recently has worked as an aide to Congressman Raul Grijalva. Glassman, whose family has made a fortune farming in California, has been cultivating his political base for years with various volunteer efforts. He's also got quite a set of pipes, as anyone who has heard him sing will testify.

We understand that Glassman, who is expected to formally file this week, has ace organizer Katie Bolger in his corner. Bolger, who worked for about a year for Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich after coordinating her 2005 campaign, recently helped engineer the upset Democratic victories of Lena Saradnik and Charlene Pesquiera over Republicans David Jorgenson and Al Melvin in Legislative District 26.

The last time we checked in with Lianda Ludwig, the left-wing Democrat who lost a challenge to West in the primary in 2003, she was considering a second try this year. But our spies say Ludwig's heart isn't in a campaign this year.

Democrat Clarence Boykins, who lost his bid for a House seat in GOP-dominated District 30 two months ago to Republican incumbents Jonathan Paton and Marian McClure, is rumored to have some smoldering coals in his belly.

Republican Lori Oien, an activist with Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, has signed a campaign-finance contract with the city to face the eventual Democratic nominee in Ward 2, which is the only ward in the city with a majority of Republicans--not that it matters much, since council candidates are elected citywide. And since Democrats outnumber Republicans by a significant margin, Oien enters the race as an underdog.

Speaking of that Democratic registration advantage: Will Democrats be able to overthrow Mayor Bob Walkup, the only Republican remaining on the City Council? So far, it appears the only Democrat seriously considering a run is Councilman Steve Leal, who has held his Ward 5 seat since 1989. Leal, who would have to resign his seat to run for mayor, has yet to form an exploratory committee.

Ward 1 Councilman José Ibarra and Ward 4 Councilwoman Shirley Scott are also up for re-election this year. Scott looks like a shoo-in if she wants another term--and she's already pulled the paperwork to organize her campaign--but Ibarra has some baggage that an opponent could capitalize on. If we were writing a hit piece, for example, we'd sure remind voters that he cost taxpayers more than $200,000 when he accused a former employee of stealing money from his office without any evidence, which resulted in a defamation suit that the city settled last year.


JUMPING THE FENCE

C.T. Revere has left his gig knocking out two columns a week for the Tucson Citizen to take on the job of Ward 6 Councilwoman Nina Trasoff's chief of staff, replacing Paul Durham.

Also leaving the Citizen: Food writer C.J. Karamargin, who is going to work for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Karamargin covered politics for the morning daily before moving to the restaurant beat at the Citizen rather than cover the Arizona Legislature.

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