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FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH

Pima County residents reacted in horror last week when they opened their mailboxes to discover their assessed property values jumped, on average, 25 percent last year.

The annual notices brought out Pima County Assessor Bill Staples to say that a hike in value doesn't necessarily mean your property taxes are going up. That's a tough sell--mostly because those property taxes do seem to keep going up.

But don't blame Staples, who's got the unenviable job of keeping pace with a rapidly rising market. If he doesn't increase the values, then when you're lucky enough to buy a house in central Tucson, you could end up paying twice as much as your neighbor in property taxes.

And here's a dirty little secret: Most of us could sell our houses for a lot more than their value on the assessor's rolls. (Admittedly, that doesn't do us much good if we want to just, y'know, live in our homes rather than flip them.)

The real problem with the property tax is based in its arcane nature. When you start trying to talk about secondary values versus primary values and the tax rates from a dozen different jurisdictions, you lose the average taxpayer's attention pretty quick.

Let's skip all the fine print and get to the point: The people to blame for higher property taxes are the ones who control the tax rates: Your Pima County Board of Supervisors, your local school districts, your Pima Community College board and anyone else who gets a piece of the property-tax action.

While those politicians say they're cutting their tax rates, most of us are still paying more in property taxes because of value increases. The only folks who helped lower property taxes were in the Arizona Legislature, which temporarily eliminated an education property tax last year while permanently cutting the income tax. Frankly, we think they should have permanently cut the property tax while temporarily cutting income taxes, because that would have helped more Arizonans, but nobody ever listens to us.

All that aside: If you want to appeal your new valuation, the folks from the Pima Association of Taxpayers will host a forum with Staples and his staff from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., Saturday, March 17, at the Wood Memorial Library, 3455 N. First Ave.


SCRAMBLEWATCH '08: LATE NIGHT EDITION

Our snowy-haired senior senator, John McCain, kinda sorta made it official last week when he informally told Dave Letterman he would be formally announcing his intention to run for president next month.

Good for McCain--and for us, since he'll liven up the primary season.

McCain is joining a fun gang of candidates: Rudy Giuliani, who has to sell values to GOP conservatives; Mitt Romney, who has to convince conservatives he's had a change of heart since his pro-abort days as a Massachusetts Republican; Sam Brownback, the Kansas senator who remains unknown to most Americans; and maybe Newt Gingrich, who has to decide if this is his shot at a political comeback.

McCain has his share of problems with some Arizona conservatives who see him as the quisling who stopped conservatives from taking over the Supreme Court and curtailed the First Amendment with his campaign-finance scheme.

What's a guy got to do? McCain can totally oppose abortion, support putting more troops in Iraq and suck up to Pat Robertson, but some folks are just never going to trust him.

But you know what? Even if they never get over their loathing, McCain shouldn't have much trouble here. The most recent poll from Maricopa PBS affiliate KAET-TV and Arizona State University's Cronkite journalism school, released last week, shows that 44 percent of 240 Republicans surveyed statewide supported McCain. Giuliani was at 25 percent; Gingrich was at 11 percent, and Romney--who picked up Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio's endorsement last week--was at 6 percent.

Nationally, McCain is still trailing Giuliani by anywhere from 9 to 23 percentage points, judging from the polls we've checked out this week. But numbers this early are nearly meaningless, especially since the race will be fought state by state.

Most of those statewide polls, neatly rounded up at electoral-vote.com, still show Giuliani as an early favorite. But is our repeatedly wedded, gay-friendly former NYC mayor going to hang on to conservatives? Frankly, he seems more our kind of guy.

Those conservatives got together at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, where Romney came in first in a straw poll, winning 21 percent of the audience. Giuliani came in second with 17 percent, followed by Brownback with 15 percent and Gingrich at 14 percent. McCain, who skipped the event, finished down at 12 percent.

But the big news out of CPAC came when conservative skank-in-chief Ann Coulter dismissed Democrat John Edwards as a total gaywad.

"I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot,' so I--so kind of an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards," Coulter told the audience.

In a curious twist, Coulter later tried to tell Fox News that the word "faggot" has nothing to do with gays. But her comments at the conference still brought swift condemnation from McCain, Giuliani and Romney, who all said they were unacceptable. Edwards, meanwhile, turned the insult into a fundraising pitch.

We're just wondering why Coulter spends so much time fantasizing about big gay romps starring Edwards and Bill Clinton.


MORE SCORES

Oh, we almost forgot to mention: The Cronkite-8 poll showed that Hillary led among the Democrats (28 percent), just ahead of Obama (24 percent). Al Gore (16 percent) was ahead of John Edwards (14 percent). Ann Coulter might say Edwards is looking for some big mo.

McCain vs. Hillary? McCain wins, 52-32.

Also noted: Just more than six in 10 Arizonans still support Roe vs. Wade, while 30 percent want it overturned.


SPEAKING OF SURVEYS

Let's give a hearty welcome to Project Vote Smart, which has relocated parts of its operation to the University of Arizona. A clearinghouse of political information about federal and state candidates for office, Project Vote Smart was launched by Richard Kimball, who lost his bid for a U.S. Senate seat to John McCain back in 1988. Kimball was so distressed by the lack of information available to voters through the media that he cooked up the idea of a place where people could go to find out where candidates stand on the issues.

Project Vote Smart has compiled voting records, interest-group ratings and biographical info about thousands of elected officials and their challengers. But they've now found they have a hard time getting candidates to respond to their National Political Awareness Test, a comprehensive survey to find out exactly where politicians stand on the most important issues the country faces.

Between 1996 and 1998, 72 percent of federal candidates were willing to respond to the NPAT. By 2006, that number had dropped to 48 percent.

The reason? The NPAT is so comprehensive that it's become one-stop shopping for opposition research--which puts candidates in the strange position of refusing to say what they'd do if elected. How screwed up is that?

Now underway: A tracking system of all 50 state legislatures. That's a project that wasn't possible before Project Vote Smart's move from Montana, mostly because it was impossible to get interns up there in the heart of winter.

If you're interested in helping out, give them a call at 626-8752, or check 'em out online.

More by Jim Nintzel

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