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THAT SINKING FEELING

As that deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling comes closer and closer, Republicans are becoming increasingly insistent that no tax increases can be part of a deal to reduce the deficit, while Democrats are insisting that any agreement can't just involve the spending side.

Or, as Robert Bixby of the Concord Coalition put it during a visit to Tucson last week, "Right now, there is total denial and gridlock in Washington."

Bixby was in town with David Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general who has become a rock star on the deficit-reduction talk circuit. The two men spoke at a town hall on the national debt organized by the office of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

We could get into the details of why the demographic trends show that we've got a major crisis on our hands, but you can find those details just about anywhere on the Internet. We'll skip to the basic takeaway: The U.S. is in big financial trouble.

Or, as Walker put it: "The last 10 years have been the most fiscally irresponsible in the history of the United States, and both political parties are to blame."

Bixby says the fundamental problem revolves around rising health-care costs—but political rhetoric has gotten so phony that it's impossible to find a solution.

"If you do anything that's going to reduce health-care costs, then you're in favor of letting people die," Bixby says. "And if you do anything on the revenue side that's going to increase taxes, you're going to kill the economy. Those two propositions are demonstrably false. There's nothing to back them up. But when you have both parties going to the extremes on this, it makes it very difficult to deal with the situation."


PARK PROBLEMS

Here's the good news from the recent Arizona State Parks board meeting in Tucson: Despite more sweeps of the parks' funds by the Arizona Legislature, all of the state parks that are now open will remain open through the fiscal year that started on July 1.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee agreed last month to allow the State Parks Department to shift some funds around so the agency would have enough money to handle payroll and other expenses.

Here's the bad news: The parks are continuing to run on a shoestring, and the current path is a road to disaster.

"We can't go on every year like this and try to sustain a statewide park system," said board member William Scalzo.

The GOP-led Legislature has whittled away at the parks' funds for years now. The parks used to get $10 million per year in lottery dollars, but that has been redirected by the Legislature. And in the upcoming budget year, lawmakers swiped a portion of the gate fees from the parks, as well as some of the money from the parks' State Lake Improvement Fund.

At this point, the department has no money for any capital improvements—new campgrounds, improved sewer systems, historic renovation, etc. The parks had $150 million in unmet capital needs in 2007; parks director Renée Bahl says that number is even higher today, but the department doesn't have enough money to even survey the needs.

Several parks are open because local governments, business leaders and nonprofits have stepped up to help.

The partners have been "fantastic," says Bahl, but the arrangement "was a bridge, and there's only so long a bridge can go."

Several board members talked about the dangers of "partnership fatigue" and the likelihood that local governments, with their own financial pressures, would not be able to keep helping out in the long term.

That, in turn, is bad news for rural economies. There's a reason local governments and businesses want the parks to remain open: They are a big boost to tourism—and outside tax dollars—for rural communities.

But board members also acknowledged the reality that lawmakers weren't likely to either dramatically increase funding for parks or put a legislative proposition on the ballot to create a dedicated funding stream—such as a small fee on license plates, which was floated as an idea last year.

Board members and parks staff ended the meeting by talking about the possibility of a ballot initiative that would dedicate dollars to the parks system. There are several conservation-oriented ballot drives being formulated, and park supporters are looking into whether they can join forces with one of the efforts.

"We want a sustainable, non-sweepable revenue source," said board member Larry Landry.


FOLLOWING THE MONEY

Mayoral candidate Jonathan Rothschild has raised more than $160,000 for his mayoral campaign—which is a whole lot of cheese, especially since, as it now stands, he'll only face a Green Party candidate in the general election. (Republicans are talking about fielding a write-in candidate in the primary in order to get a GOP candidate into the general.)

The two Green Party candidates, Dave Croteau and Mary DeCamp, don't have much money to follow in their primary. Croteau has vowed to spend less than $500, while DeCamp reported no activity with her campaign before the end of May.

The reason that Rothschild has such an easy path to the mayor's office: Two GOP candidates and one independent didn't manage to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

But at least two of them spent a lot of money trying to get signatures. Republican Ron Asta spent more than $8,000 on his campaign, including $5,000 he lent himself.

Meanwhile, independent Pat Darcy spent $1,600, with all of it going to political consultants Zimmerman and Associates for a signature-gathering effort. It appears he didn't really get his money's worth, but it's mostly his own fault for getting such a late start.

Republican Shaun McClusky didn't turn in a campaign-finance report by the June 30 deadline.

When it comes to fundraising in the Tucson City Council races, the incumbents definitely have the advantage, according to the latest campaign-finance reports, which cover contributions and spending through May 31.

Take Ward 1, where Democratic incumbent Regina Romero is facing a primary challenge from Democrat Joe Flores.

Romero had raised $43,500 and applied for matching funds, which will provide a dollar-for-dollar match for her private contributions. As we reported weeks ago, that means that Romero is essentially done with fundraising.

Flores, a political newcomer, raised only $2,291 by the end of May and has loaned his campaign another $2,623. He had $2,030 in the bank at the end of the reporting period.

In Ward 2, Democratic incumbent Paul Cunningham had a big lead over Republican challenger Jennifer Rawson. Cunningham had raised $16,711 and has qualified for matching funds. His campaign manager, Curtis Dutiel, said earlier this month that Cunningham had received an additional $11,000 in matching funds since the report was filed and had roughly $23,000 in cash on hand.

Rawson reported raising $1,432 and had $665 in the bank at the end of the reporting period.

In Ward 4, incumbent Councilwoman Shirley Scott has raised just $15,861. She had less than $11,000 left in the bank and has yet to apply for matching funds.

But her GOP challenger, Tyler Vogt, had raised just $4,797 and had only $1,886 in the bank.

More by Jim Nintzel

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