It's on, baby! The city of Tucson election is underway, with early voting starting Thursday, Oct. 8.
Here's a new twist in this year's city election: Pima County will be managing it instead of the City Clerk's Office. And that could significantly boost turnout.
Roughly 61,400 city voters on the new county permanent early-voter list will be getting ballots in the mail starting this week. In the past, city voters have had to request an early ballot.
That means more than 27 percent of the 224,000 city voters will soon be holding a ballot. We expect that many of them will hang on to them for a few weeks, and some may never get around to sending them back.
But considering that city elections often only see a 25 percent turnout (four years ago, in the hotly contested 2005 contest, four in 10 voters cast a ballot), we might see a comparatively big turnout—which, given the city's Democratic leanings, is probably good news for Nina Trasoff, Karin Uhlich and Richard Fimbres.
And now, let us fill you in on a whole host of electoral tidbits.
The Public Safety First Initiative keeps picking up opposition. The Arizona Multihousing Association has joined the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Cox Cable in announcing its opposition to Proposition 200.
Barb Dolan, government affairs liaison for the AMA, said that Prop 200 would likely force the Tucson City Council to raise taxes or cut services to pay for the additional police officers and firefighters. She dismissed the proposition "fiscally irresponsible" in a statement.
"An unfunded mandate is bad public policy anytime, but especially with the current economic conditions," Dolan says. "It does not make sense to impose this mandate when the city has already experienced overwhelming budget cuts to services. This mandate will only further those cuts."
We hear there may be some high-powered companies coming out against Prop 200 later this week. Check The Range—blog.tucsonweekly.com—for developments on that front.
Even Republican Steve Kozachik, who wants to unseat Democratic City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, had some second thoughts about supporting Prop 200 earlier this week.
Kozachik, who has been a firm supporter of the initiative, told us that he was concerned that the city may not be able to afford it. Kozachik took another look at the city budget to see if it could afford the costs of Prop 200, given that City Manager Mike Letcher forecasts a $45.9 million deficit in next year's budget.
But Kozachik—who complains that the budget is a "damn shell game," echoing complaints that Trasoff had when she ran four years ago against Republican Fred Ronstadt—ultimately decided he didn't trust the numbers coming from Letcher, so he decided to stick with his support of Prop 200.
We're tight on space, but we'll take a look at those numbers next week.
One of the complaints of Republicans who are supporting the Public Safety First Initiative is that the city's estimates of the cost keep changing.
Yes, it's too bad that the city can't run every risky scheme that a special-interest group cooks up through a simple formula and produce immediate numbers. All that studyin' just makes our head hurt.
We've been hearing a lot about how Prop 200—which would force the city to hire an estimated 333 police officers and 70 firefighters over the next five years (along with more support staff in both departments) and pay the associated costs of equipping the new staff—would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $51 million annually once it is fully implemented in five years.
But a new report from the city's Independent Audit and Performance Commission suggests the price could be even higher. The commission estimates that the recurring operating costs of the initiative will actually be $64 million a year once it is fully implemented, with an additional $3.1 million annually in capital costs. That will be offset by an estimated $3.3 million new fees and fines collected from criminals who are caught by the new police officers.
It's little wonder that the Chamber of Commerce, the apartment lobby and the cable folks are coming out against this: They're aware that they're the ones who are going to get taxed to pay for it. And they'll be passing those costs along to you!
If there's one thing the Prop 200 campaign isn't short on, it's money.
The latest campaign-finance report shows that the Public Safety First campaign had raised $268,988 through Sept. 21. The Tucson Association of Realtors and assorted real-estate professionals around town remain the biggest donors, with TAR giving $135,276. Car dealer Jim Click kicked in $50K, and the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association's total contribution has risen to $30K.
The campaign had spent $239,412, with most of the money moving through political consultants Zimmerman and Associates.
By contrast, Don't Handcuff Tucson, the committee that is opposing Prop 200, had raised about $13,000, although we hear that they've picked up a few big contributions since then. The big question: Will they be able to start spending it soon enough to reach early voters?
Speaking of campaign-finance reports: We got our first peek at the Tucson Vision Committee when the independent campaign that's targeting Democrats with hit ads filed a campaign-finance report.
The biggest contributor is Michael Goodman, the man who is destroying the quality of life of homeowners north of the University of Arizona by demolishing existing houses and replacing them with gargantuan mini-dorms. Goodman kicked in $5,000 of the $9,000 that the committee reported raising between Sept. 15 and Sept. 21.
The committee showed only three other contributors through Sept. 21, one of whom isn't even pretending to be a Tucsonan. That would be Grace Howard of Phoenix, who kicked in $500.
Investor Charlie Bass, who gave $1,000, and developer Richard Studwell, who gave $2,500, round out the list of visionaries. We're guessing that the next filing will be far more interesting.
There's just enough space to mention that the latest financial report from the state shows Arizona is still seeing a drop in tax collections compared to the same month one year ago. That means the state hasn't hit bottom in its financial collapse.
Budget gurus now say that the state may be facing a $1.5 billion shortfall this year, up from an estimated billion dollars just weeks ago.
We also hear that a special session of the Legislature might be on the horizon, but probably not until November.
One more hot tip: The Tucson Police Department is on the verge of setting a second photo-radar van loose on the streets to ticket speeding drivers. Expect an announcement any day now.
TPD also wants to put up cameras at four more intersections to nab people who run red lights, but that project has yet to get a green light from the Tucson City Council.
Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch.