More bad news on the state-budget front: The Joint Legislative Budget Committee released its April revenue report last week.
To avoid going all wonky, let's just say that the numbers aren't so hot. The state took in about $10 million less than the bean counters predicted just a few months ago, when they revised their projections from the overly optimistic forecast that lawmakers used when they first passed this year's budget about a year ago.
Sales and corporate taxes are still lagging behind where they were in April 2007, while income-tax collections are slightly up.
The JLBC staff is expecting the May numbers to look pretty grim as well. That means that the state may have to dig a little deeper into the rainy-day fund, which will leave less money available to balance the 2009 budget.
Speaking of that 2009 budget: In light of the weak economy, the JLBC report notes that the expected shortfall for next year has now grown by another $300 million, to $2.2 billion.
That's hardly good news, especially given the hard time that Republican lawmakers seem to be having working out a budget plan to counter Gov. Janet Napolitano's proposal. Members of the GOP caucus in both the House and the Senate are still wrestling behind closed doors over how much to cut and how much to borrow for school construction. It's an especially tricky process, because most of the low-hanging fruit--dipping into the rainy-day fund and sweeping money from various state accounts with positive balances--was plucked to solve this year's shortfall.
Republicans are so busy with the budget negotiations that they keep letting the rest of the lawmakers go home on Wednesday nights, because there's nothing for them to do on Thursdays. But hey, what's the rush? They've got until the end of June to come up with a spending plan.
One person who would surely like to wrap up the session and get to work on campaigning full-time: Senate President Tim Bee, who is splitting his time between his legislative duties and his campaign against Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Bee has scheduled a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., this Thursday, June 5. The shindig, which costs $500 per person (and $1,000 per political action committee) is being hosted by a bunch of Republican members of Congress, including Jeff Flake, Trent Franks and John Shadegg of the Arizona delegation. (That corruption indictment is probably why Rick Renzi isn't involved.) A special guest at the party: Former Congressman Jim Kolbe.
Watch for Democrats to be dogging Bee for campaigning while the clock is ticking on the budget.
Former state lawmaker John Kromko, last seen unsuccessfully trying to persuade voters to pass water restrictions in last year's city election via Proposition 200, has been collecting signatures to run for the state House of Representatives as a Democrat in Legislative District 27.
"Every day, when I read the papers or watch the news, I get more and more mad," Kromko told us last week. "The city, county (and) state (are) out of control, and it seems like people don't know what they're doing. You can't believe some of these decisions coming out the Legislature and coming out of the City Council. So sometimes, one person, by pointing things out, can make a difference."
The two LD27 incumbents, Democrats Phil Lopes and Olivia Cajero-Bedford, are also seeking re-election. In previous campaigns, Cajero-Bedford has typically run ahead of Lopes by about 10 percentage points.
"I'm puzzled by it because, I've never had any indication from John that he has any problem with the job I'm doing," says Lopes, who went out of his way to shower Kromko with praise when he appeared at a press conference of local lawmakers who were opposed to Kromko's Prop 200 last year.
Kromko had to collect at least 402 valid signatures from voters in the westside district by Wednesday, June 4.
The backers of the T.I.M.E. initiative, which would raise the state sales tax by a penny per dollar to invest in highways, rail and local transportation needs, feel pretty confident that they'll have the necessary 153,365 signatures to make the ballot in November--even though they got a late start passing their petitions.
The group certainly has enough money to pay signature-gatherers. Although complete campaign-finance reports aren't due until the end of June, the group reported receiving more than $190,000 in contributions of more than $10,000, according to reports filed with the Secretary of State.
As you might expect, the checks are coming from construction and engineering firms that expect to make a bundle if Arizona does go on a road-building jamboree with the new tax revenue.
Approval of the plan would increase the sales tax inside the Tucson city limits to 9.1 percent--which would be one of the highest rates in the nation.
The tax is expected to raise about $43 billion over the next three decades. Precise projects have yet to be worked out, but 58 percent of the money would go for highways; 18 percent would go for rail and transit projects (including $5.45 billion on that high-speed rail between Tucson and Phoenix, and $1 billion for light-rail projects in Tucson and Maricopa County); and 20 percent would trickle down to local jurisdictions.
One problem on the horizon: Some state lawmakers, who balked at placing the T.I.M.E. proposal on the ballot via referendum, are considering putting an alternative plan on the ballot with a smaller tax increase. Details are sketchy, but giving voters the option of voting for a half-cent tax increase rather than a full penny would certainly monkey-wrench the T.I.M.E. campaign.
If you're interested in learning more about the T.I.M.E. campaign, the state Board of Transportation will be having two local hearings down here. The first is Monday, June 9, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Marana Town Hall, 11555 W. Civic Center Drive. The second is Thursday, June 19, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Manning House, 450 W. Paseo Redondo.
Yuri Downing, the one-time Libertarian candidate who absconded rather than face prison time after he pled guilty to perjury charges related to the misuse of Clean Elections dollars, has been cooling his heels at the Pima County Jail while he awaits transfer to Maricopa County.
Downing, the son of former District 28 state Rep. Ted Downing, was arrested last week by the Tucson Police Department, according to Deputy Dawn Hanke, a spokeswoman for the Pima County Sheriff's Department.
Downing got into trouble after he and two buddies formed a Libertarian slate in a Maricopa County legislative district and received about $100,000 in Clean Elections dollars for their campaigns. A good chunk ended up being spent at Scottsdale nightclubs and other hotspots, which the candidates explained was part of their effort to reach out to new voters.
Clean Elections officials didn't buy that explanation and ordered them to repay the money. Downing's pals eventually agreed to reimburse the program on an installment plan; an anonymous benefactor ended up bailing them out.
But Downing initially vowed to fight the commission, saying his campaign was totally legitimate. He folded his hand and ended up pleading guilty to perjury once the Attorney General's Office got involved.
As his sentencing date approached, Downing wigged out and ended up running rather than face jail time. Before his capture last week, he'd been on the lam for more than three years.