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H2-UH-OH

Last month, reporter Rob O'Dell wrote a story in the morning daily that set a nice framework for this year's battle over the Tucson Water Users' Bill of Rights: Both sides are going to be making all sorts of outlandish claims between now and November.

In other words: Get ready for a flood of bullshit.

Opponents of the initiative jumped right into O'Dell's frame with their first salvo last week, claiming that the initiative might force Tucson Water to turn off the taps to the University of Arizona and the Veterans Hospital.

That's not what political gadfly John Kromko meant to do when he wrote the initiative to get rid of the city's $14-a-month trash fee, block future home delivery of reclaimed water (even after recharge) and prohibit Tucson Water from adding any new connections once the city begins delivering 140,000 acre-feet a year, which is essentially the annual Central Arizona Project allotment.

To prevent the city of Tucson from circumventing the rules on future hookups, Kromko added a clause stating: "Tucson Water shall never supply water to any other distributor, except for emergencies for no longer than 10 days."

But Kromko didn't define "distributor," which has led his opponents to say that the UA and the Veterans Hospital are covered under the term, because they are considered water providers under the state's definition.

Kromko says the argument is absurd: "They're trying to say that everyone who owns a duplex is a water provider."

Larry Hecker, chair of No on 200 and a lawyer himself, is turning for support to Herb Guenther, head of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, who has said that he believes that Proposition 200 would force the city to stop delivering water to the UA.

But the Arizona Department of Water Resources isn't the agency with the authority to make that call. Even Hecker admits that the responsibility is up to City Attorney Mike Rankin, City Manager Mike Hein and the Tucson City Council.

Rankin agrees that it's possible a court could say that Prop 200 requires the city to shut down delivery to the UA and the Veterans Hospital, because the language in the initiative is so vague.

"If this thing passes, there are a number of provisions that we're going to have to give the mayor and council advice on," Rankin says. "Nothing in it is defined. ... Almost certainly, the final answer is going to come through litigation."

Rankin stopped short of actually making a legal call right now. "I'm not going to take a position unless and until the thing passes, but I can certainly say that the position that the UA and the VA are included by the use of his word 'distributor' is certainly a very legitimate position."

We're not lawyers, but we're guessing that short of a court order, no City Council is going to let young coeds and sick vets die of thirst. Sure, a court could decide that's what the voters intended, provided someone really, really crazy decided to file a lawsuit (which is totally possible, because we've got thousands of gallons of crazy in this town).

But we're wondering why the No on 200 bunch thought this was the best issue with which to launch the campaign. It smells more like the kind of thing you'd save for a last-minute hit.

Hecker says the campaign opened with this thrust because "we saw this as a significant enough issue that we were going to focus on it."

The opponents ought to be focusing on the more obvious problem with the proposition: Even if Tucson Water can't provide water service to new developments in Tucson, developers can always drill their own wells by joining the state's Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District. That means they can suck water right out of our aquifer, as long as they recharge water elsewhere in the state. Instead of Tucson Water--whatever its flaws--controlling the system, we'd let developers sink a well wherever they want to.

Even Kromko admits that's a problem with his proposition, although he says there's plenty of time to fix problems with it before the city would face any negative consequences.

That sounds like a pretty lame argument to pass a flawed initiative to us.


TAX ATTACKS

Did you catch that latest message from Osama bin Laden? He said one way to get al-Qaida to cease hostilities against the United States would be for all Americans to convert to Islam.

Much of his rant seemed to lean left--all that stuff about global warming and the failures of the capitalist market--but there was one bit that must have warmed the hearts of anti-tax types on the right.

"There are no taxes in Islam, but rather there is a limited Zakaat (alms) totaling 2.5 percent," Osama said, according to the Fox News translation.

That's got to have folks like Tom Jenney of the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers wondering what direction Mecca is in.

Last week, Jenney's organization released a survey of county and local governments throughout Arizona regarding tax burdens. Turns out most local officials are Allies and Friends of Big Government, and very few are Allies and Friends of the Taxpayer.

We have to admit that Jenney and his crew have done a lot of research into governments across the state. Too bad it's basically a useless measuring stick, because there's no corresponding analysis of how those tax dollars are being spent.

Here in Tucson, Mayor Bob Walkup and the Democrats on the City Council all got labeled Allies of Big Government. And what's that big, bad government doing with those spending increases? Well, it's hiring cops and firefighters, and paving neighborhood streets for the first time in way too long. Clearly, it's out of control.

Meanwhile, Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll got the organization's Local Hero award for blocking a half-cent sales tax. Carroll's fellow Republican, Ann Day, was also honored by the organization as a Champion of the Taxpayer, while the Democrats on the board--Sharon Bronson, Richard Elias and Ramon Valadez--were called Champions of Big Government.

Of course, Day actually supported the half-cent sales tax, agreeing with Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry's proposal that enacting a sales tax could allow the county to reduce its property-tax burden. But again, that's a detail that's too complicated for the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers to work into its analysis.

How long before Osama is named a Champion of the Taxpayer?


PAPER PUSH

The U.S. House is close to voting on an election-reform bill that would force states to ditch those touch-screen voting machines that became the hot new thing after the election fiasco in Florida during the 2000 presidential race.

The bill is facing opposition from state officials who complain that some provisions of the bill are too cumbersome. They also say that the $1 billion in federal dollars being offered is not enough to cover their costs.

We haven't looked closely enough at all of the provisions in the bill to say whether those are valid concerns, but we'll add our voice to the call to get rid of touch-screen machines. We want a verifiable paper trail of every ballot that is cast.

No major election is ever going to go off with a perfect count, but having paper ballots at least ensures that the intent of the voter--even if they screwed up their own ballot somehow--can be traced. You can't say that about touch-screen machines.

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