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CONGESTION CONJECTURE

Every year, the Texas Transportation Institute rolls out a survey that reveals our wait in traffic is getting worse--and every year, we wonder if it's such a big deal.

The average Tucsonan wasted 42 hours stuck in traffic during rush hour in 2005, according to the road nerds' calculations. That's up from 39 hours in 2004.

The traffic delays mean the average traveler burned an extra 26 gallons of gas over the course of the year.

Although The Skinny telecommutes most of the time, we're sympathetic to drivers who get stuck in rush-hour traffic. But we remain skeptical that 42 hours, over the course of a year, is something to get all worked up about.

Let's assume you get five weeks of vacation and holidays. That leaves you commuting to work 47 weeks of the year, so the average delay per week comes out to less than an hour. Break that down into 10 commutes a week back and forth to work, and you get a delay of just more than 5 1/2 minutes per commute. Inconvenient, yes, but we spend that much time every day just looking for our car keys. (Hey, it's all part of getting older. It's a bitch to find the TiVo remote, too.)

A five-minute delay in your drive hardly seems like something to whine about, especially if you use the time wisely by texting your friends or watching a DVD.


MONEY TROUBLES

Gov. Janet Napolitano faced up to the sobering reality that the state's financial picture ain't so bright now that the economy is starting to tank.

With home sales plummeting, construction slowing down and job growth stalling, the state is now facing a deficit instead of those big surpluses we've enjoyed in recent years.

You think maybe that $500 million income-tax cut that mostly went to Arizona's wealthiest citizens might not have been such a great idea?

In a budget-revision plan released last week, Napolitano announced she wanted to adjust state spending by $600 million in the current fiscal year. The Napster said she wanted to protect education--K-12 and the universities--from spending cuts, along with programs for children.

To get to her $600 million adjustment, Napolitano suggested cutting spending by $100 million, dipping into the rainy-day fund by $200 million and borrowing $300 million to pay for school construction.

The initial reaction from Republican lawmakers, predictably enough, is to call for deeper cuts in state spending rather than borrowing or dipping into the rainy-day fund. What's on the cutting board? Well, lawmakers haven't been all that specific yet.

The tight budget means we're bound to have a contentious legislative session, especially if the budget problems aren't addressed before lawmakers get to work in January.

That could mean trouble for state Sen. Tim Bee, who enjoyed a bipartisan lovefest during this year's session when times were good. But with ugly money fights on the horizon, Bee may find that the honeymoon is over.

The big question: Will Democrats create trouble for Bee to embarrass him and put a stick in the wheels of his campaign against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords next year? Or will they recognize that by playing nice, they stand a better chance of getting their own legislation passed?

Wait and see!


POWER OF ATTORNEY

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall tried a last-minute maneuver to disrupt a legislative inquiry into whether Child Protective Services bungled two cases in which Tucson kids ended up dead earlier this year.

The House Government Committee had been planning on interviewing CPS officials to examine whether they had followed proper policy in the cases of Brandon Williams and Ariana and Tyler Payne.

Brandon died from an overdose of painkillers while in the custody of his mother. In a separate case, 4-year-old Ariana's body was discovered in a storage locker earlier this year, while 5-year-old Tyler remains missing and is presumed dead. Their father, Christopher Matthew Payne, is facing homicide charges, with prosecutors alleging that he starved the kids to death.

LaWall said she was worried that a public hearing "could cause substantial harm to our criminal prosecutions." She urged lawmakers to discuss the cases behind closed doors and said she would "discourage witnesses who are investigators or may be assisting our prosecutors from revealing ... information in a public forum prior to trial."

LaWall suggested a transcript from the closed hearing could be released after the criminal trials were completed.

Rep. Kirk Adams, chair of the committee, shot down LaWall's suggestion, saying she was a little late to the party, especially considering that legislative staff had been in touch with her office weeks ago.

Adams also pointed out that the committee would be asking questions about records that had been released months ago--and he added that LaWall's office hadn't opposed the release of those records.

"I hope that this last-hour communication is not simply an effort to discourage inquiry of CPS," Adams wrote. "I am at a loss to explain your cautionary e-mail that you sent less than 24 hours before the hearing."

The hearing went off as planned, with Lillian Downing, the CPS supervisor who is responsible for Pima County, admitting that the agency blew it by closing down an investigation into Jamie Hallam, the mother of Ariana and Tyler.

CPS workers had suspected Hallam of abusing meth and, even though Hallam had custody of the two kids, had told police to leave the kids with their father--a decision that, in retrospect, turned out to be a very bad call.


FRIENDS AND FOES

Opponents of Tucson Proposition 200, aka the Tucson Water Users' Bill of Rights, continue to emerge as the November election approaches.

It's opposed by the Growth Lobby, the Democratic and Republican candidates for City Council and all of the current City Council members we've talked to. (We suppose that outgoing Ward 1 Councilman José Ibarra may theoretically support it, but who cares what José thinks anymore?) The latest group to come out against the initiative--which would, as we tell you every week, repeal the trash fee, ban the home delivery of treated and recharged effluent, and cap Tucson Water's annual distribution at 140,000 acre-feet unless voters agree to expand it--is the Pima County Republican Party's Executive Committee.

Judi White, chair of the county GOP, says the initiative is "poorly written" and "doesn't do some of the things it says it will do."

White adds: "Tucson will not be well served if this passes."

Political gadfly John Kromko, who is spearheading the campaign to pass the initiative, did pick up one supporter last week.

Roy Warden--the wackjob who threatens to "blow the freaking head off of anyone" who enters his "defensive perimeter" when he's setting Mexican flags ablaze--has declared his support for Prop 200, which voters will decide in November. Why? Well, it will slow down illegal immigration, of course.

Warden notes: "All the 'Rich, Fat-Cat Bastards' who've been making a fortune off illegals for the past 30 years, and 'The Red Star,' oppose Proposition 200. And that's all I really need to know."

But Roy: If we cut off the water supply, we won't be able to extinguish all the burning Mexican flags!

More by Jim Nintzel

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