We're not sure things can get much stranger in the budget battle between lawmakers and Gov. Jan Brewer.
A couple of weeks ago, Senate President Bob Burns and House Speaker Kirk Adams managed to get the Republican caucus to pass a budget that bridges a $3 billion shortfall without raising taxes. They did it by cutting into state spending on education, health care, universities and just about everything else government does. Since even those cuts weren't enough, they also proposed selling off a big chunk of the state prison system, swept through most of the remaining funds in various state accounts that survived previous raids and used a lot of stimulus dollars.
But—as of press time, anyway—they haven't gotten around to sending the budget to Brewer, who has complained that the spending plan cuts too deeply and puts Arizona at risk of losing its stimulus funding.
To stave off Brewer's anticipated veto, Burns and Adams have instead been trying to negotiate some kind of deal that would include her approving the budget. But Brewer has been insisting on a temporary sales-tax increase so the state doesn't have to cut as much spending as GOP lawmakers would like—an option that the Republican leadership doesn't even want to refer to the ballot for voters to decide.
Talks between the two sides got heated enough on Sunday, June 14, that Burns walked out of the negotiations.
The next day, Brewer told the press that she wanted the legislative budget sent to her by the end of the day, or she'd sue Burns and Adams to force them to transmit it. As of our deadline, Brewer was reported to be headed for the courthouse herself.
Lotsa luck with that legal maneuver. There's no obvious legal requirement that would force the GOP leaders to hand over the budget, so it comes across as more of a stunt than a viable negotiating ploy.
John Kromko is back in action! The irrepressible political gadfly, who is still fighting charges filed by the Pima County Attorney's Office that he faked signatures on his nominating petitions for an unsuccessful legislative campaign last year, is working with Jerry Juliani and Richard Basye to ensure that Tucsonans will never pay a rental tax on residential property.
The three men are passing petitions for an initiative that would amend the Tucson City Charter to prohibit any rental tax within the city limits. They need at least 9,534 valid signatures by July 2 to make the Nov. 3 ballot.
The rental tax, which has come up a couple of times in this decade, is easily the most unpopular tax option that the council can consider, mainly because it spurs the Arizona Multihousing Association to bus in renters from across the city to loudly complain at council budget hearings.
The only other initiative that could appear on the ballot this year is the Public Safety First Initiative, which would require the city to hire a lot more cops. Within five years, the initiative would probably cost the city an extra $50 million or so annually.
It's a great one-two punch: Force the city to spend more money without a dedicated funding source, and then limit their ability to raise revenues.
When the first campaign reports for this year's City Council elections are turned in at the end of the month, we'll have a better idea of whether the business community is stepping up to support the Republicans who hope to overthrow Democratic incumbents Nina Trasoff and Karin Uhlich.
Uhlich has a jump on the competition. She's already turned in her application for matching funds through the city's publicly financed campaign program.
Here's how the city's program works: If you can collect at least 200 contributions of $10 or more from city residents, you're eligible for a dollar-for-dollar match of every contribution you receive, provided you agree to limit your spending. This year, the limit will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000.
Uhlich has turned in her report before the deadline so she can qualify for those matching funds. As of the end of May, she had raised $40,943, which means she has to collect another $10,000 or so, and she's done with fundraising for the season—a big relief for any politician.
Uhlich had already spent nearly $25,000, with the big expenses going to campaign staffer Brittany Petersen ($7,950), Web site designer MoiaGroup ($4,594) and the political consultants with the Strategic Issues Management Group ($6,481).
The two Republicans who are seeking the Ward 5 City Council seat being vacated by Councilman Steve Leal aren't just newcomers to the campaign trail. They're pretty much unfamiliar with the ballot box, period.
Shaun McClusky, a one-time assistant to Donald Trump and an Air Force veteran who has lived in Tucson since 1999, has only voted three times in the decade he has lived in Tucson.
McClusky, 37, cast ballots in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 general elections for state and federal candidates. He's never voted in a primary election.
McClusky says he hasn't cast ballots in city elections because, as a Chicago transplant, he wasn't familiar with Tucson's system, which allows city residents to vote for all the council members, not just their own ward representatives.
McClusky adds: "Quite honestly, I never have seen a candidate that I have supported or had the same ideals as myself that was running for City Council."
He says he hasn't voted in bond elections or other special elections—such as the 2002 and 2006 elections that offered Tucsonans a chance to approve transportation plans funded through a half-cent sales-tax hike—because he didn't know they were going on.
"Those are more getting—making the public aware and getting the word out and letting us know what the issues are and taking the time to research them," he says. "It's never been very well-publicized in any of the media that I pay attention to."
Judith Gomez has likewise skipped out on primaries and special elections, but she has voted in one city general election, in 2005. She also voted in the general elections in 2004 and 2006, but skipped last year's presidential election.
Gomez, 27, blames the "confusion of youth" for her failure to cast ballots.
"One of the biggest reasons I didn't get more involved was because I didn't know what side I took," she says. "I didn't know where I stood. Was I more Republican than I was a Democrat? Was I more independent than I was Republican? And so I think that a big part of my confusion, or my lack of involvement, was not being able to take a stance on either one of the leaders that was presented. They all had things that I agreed with and that I didn't agree with."
The winner of the Sept. 1 primary will face Democrat Richard Fimbres in the Nov. 3 general election.