As the last few weeks have demonstrated, you can do a lot of things at the Arizona Legislature without outraging the public. You can push to kick more than a million people off health care, shift tax burdens from corporations to homeowners, and threaten to turn hospital workers into immigration agents—all without triggering much blowback.
But, as Senate Majority Leader Scott Bundgaard is discovering, you can't get into a fight with your girlfriend on the side of the freeway and expect it all to just go away.
Bundgaard, a Republican from Peoria, evaded arrest late on Friday, Feb. 25, after he ended up in a scuffle with his now-ex-girlfriend following a "Dancing With the Stars" charity event. While Bundgaard was telling the cops that he had legislative immunity from arrest, his date was dragged off to jail to cool her heels.
It doesn't help Bundgaard that the police reports from the incident don't back up his story. It also doesn't help that his statement on the subject suggested that the biggest mistake he made "was failing to ask my girlfriend to meet with Kurt Warner's wife about how to understand and support a spouse or partner for a 'Dancing With the Stars' competition."
Senate Democrats are calling on Bundgaard to resign.
"Sen. Bundgaard is still in denial that he did anything wrong, even though we have police reports," says Sen. Paula Aboud of Tucson. "At the very minimum, he needs to step down from leadership."
Aboud points out that former state Rep. Mark DeSimone stepped down from his legislative seat after he was arrested by police who responded to a domestic-violence call at his home, even though DeSimone denied the charges.
Since Democrats hold little power at the Legislature, Bundgaard can ignore them. Of greater concern is the criticism within his own ranks. Republican Sen. Ron Gould told ArizonaGuardian.com that if his daughter had been with Bundgaard that night, he would have dealt with him in an "old-school" fashion.
Still, Bundgaard remains one of Senate President Russell Pearce's favorites, which means he enjoys an unusual level of protection. Last week, Pearce told The Arizona Republic that he considers Bundgaard to be the real victim in this tawdry mess.
Will Pearce block an ethics investigation into Bundgaard?
The state's finances are slowly moving in the right direction. Tax collections have been on an upswing—compared to the same month one year ago—for six straight months.
The sales-tax numbers look especially promising. In January of this year, retail sales were up 4 percent, so we're shopping again. Restaurant and bar collections jumped by more than 10 percent, so we're going out. Even contracting tax collections saw a 4 percent bump, although they're still lagging for the fiscal year. Overall, the state collected $9.2 million more than the budget estimate.
The income-tax collections are also coming in ahead of forecast, but the report notes that wages and salaries don't show very many signs of growth, so the numbers might mean that Arizonans are having too much money taken out of their paychecks. (Cue the Tea Party outrage.)
The Skinny would like to take a moment to point out that this economic performance undercuts the primary GOP economic theory, which is that higher taxes always inhibit economic growth—or, as we've heard it, "Nobody ever taxed their way to prosperity." In the last couple of years, Arizonans have increased their sales taxes by a penny per dollar and seen the return of a minor statewide property tax. If every tax increase is bad, those economic tremors should have sent the state's economy into a tailspin.
Instead, the economy is bouncing back, albeit slowly.
There's plenty that could still wreck it. New figures released last week show that unemployment is higher than 10 percent—and has been for some time. As many as half of the mortgages in Arizona are underwater, meaning that people can't move without taking a financial loss, which limits mobility—both here and in neighboring states, where the problem is just as bad, if not worse. And that weak housing market means that there aren't a lot of jobs to be found in the construction sector.
On top of that, big government cuts still loom, both at the state and the federal levels, which will result in job losses. And the state has guaranteed future corporate tax cuts that will once again throw the budget out of whack.
Speaking of those corporate taxes: Year to date, corporate tax revenues are up 80 percent over the previous year, and are $19 million above the forecast. So you can see how today's oppressive rates are really holding back corporate profits and growth.
Democrat Shirley Scott has a new opponent in her campaign for a fifth term representing the eastside's Ward 4 on the Tucson City Council: Tyler Vogt, brother of state Rep. Ted Vogt, has filed paperwork for a run on the Republican ticket.
Vogt is still getting the campaign off the ground, but will be available for an interview soon, according to spokesman Sam Stone.
We told you last week about Ron Barber's slow recovery from the gunshot wounds he suffered in the Jan. 8 shooting rampage that claimed six lives and left 13 others wounded. (See "Lives in the Balance," March 3.)
We also told you that Barber, who is the district director for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, had launched the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, which is designed to support victims of the Jan. 8 shootings in the short term. In the long term, the fund will support programs that help people with mental illnesses and combat bullying.
Over the weekend, auto dealer Jim Click came through with a $50,000 contribution to Barber's new effort. Although Click is one of the biggest GOP fundraisers west of the Mississippi and has given more than his share of time and money to efforts to defeat Giffords, he has great affection and respect for Barber, dating back to the days when Barber was the Southern Arizona director of the state's Division of Developmental Disabilities.
BTW, you can still buy tickets to Barber's big rock 'n' roll show on Thursday, March 10, at the Tucson Convention Center. Jackson Browne and Alice Cooper are headlining, and special guests include David Crosby and Graham Nash, Sam Moore, Keb' Mo', Ozomatli, Nils Lofgren, Calexico, Roger Clyne and others.
We're a bit shy on space, but you should know we're continuing to follow many of the bills at the Capitol via our online Blogislature at The Range, our daily dispatch, at daily.tucsonweekly.com.
A quick summary: We tracked the passage of an abortion-funding measure that could force the UA ob/gyn program to lose its accreditation—and, subsequently, most of its students; choked on the passage of the "Freedom to Breathe Act," which forbids the federal regulation of air quality; noted that Senate President Russell Pearce's border bills had stalled, at least until lawmakers pass a budget; and traced the progress of a firearms bill that lift nearly all remaining restrictions on carrying a gun into public buildings or gatherings.
Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel