SURVEY SAYS: DUVAL HAS SHOT IN GOV RACE
Democrat Fred DuVal released a poll earlier this week showing that this year's gubernatorial race is up for grabs.
One takeaway: Hardly anyone knows who's running for governor this year. Just 39 percent recognized Secretary of State Ken Bennett's name, just 29 percent recognized Arizona Treasurer Doug Ducey's name and just 24 percent recognized DuVal's name.
Despite that lack of name ID, Team DuVal saw a lot to like in the poll, which surveyed 500 likely Arizona voters between Feb. 3-6 and had a margin of error of +/-4.5 percent.
For starters, it appears that, at least at this point, Arizonans are willing to consider electing a Democrat for governor. The Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group survey was weighted toward Republican voters (43 percent of respondents were Republicans, compared to the 31 percent who were Democrats) and when asked if they'd vote for a Republican or Democrat, 43 percent of survey respondents said they'd lean toward the GOP, while 39 percent said they would prefer a Democrat. When the wording shifted to a "moderate Democrat" vs. a Republican, the race turned into a virtual tie, with 43 percent still preferring a Republican but 42 percent said they'd go with the Dem.
In trial heats for governor, DuVal is currently tied with Doug Ducey (32%-32%) and trails Bennett by just 3 percentage points (35%-32%).
We should note that there are other candidates in the GOP primary, including Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, former GoDaddy counsel Christine Jones, disbarred attorney Andrew Thomas, state Sen. Al Melvin and probably a few other long-shot characters whose names escape us at the moment.
The most encouraging tidbit for Team DuVal is the response to the message that DuVal hopes to drive home. When voters are asked if they'd prefer "a Republican who supports cutting state taxes for business and individuals and reducing spending," or "a Democrat who favors making targeted investments in early childhood education and K-12 public schools," the voters prefer the latter. That includes 47 percent of all surveyed voters, 51 percent of independents and 49 percent of GOP women aged 18 to 54.
Whether Team DuVal can keep voters focused on that message remains to be seen. The conventional wisdom suggests that with President Barack Obama in the sixth year of his presidency, voters will be looking to support the GOP ticket on the federal level and that same instinct could create a strong headwind against Democrats at the state level.
On the other hand, Arizona Republicans certainly demonstrated last week with the "No Cake For Gays" bill that they are willing to embrace ideas that bring national attention and ridicule to the state.
SO MUCH FOR THOSE IDEAS
Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller has frequently complained that the county could easily find more money for pavement repair in its general-fund budget.
Miller—who is the topic of this week's cover story—recently offered a list of four specific suggestions: Cutting off $15 million the county provides to the UA Medical Center South Campus; eliminating outside contracts; spending any surplus money that the county has at the end of the fiscal year; and cancelling the issuance of $47 million in transportation bonds.
Huckelberry sent out a memo last week addressing those four suggestions:
• Huckelberry says the $15 million that Miller identified for the UA Medical Center South Campus (formerly known as Kino Hospital) actually goes to the Arizona Board of Regents, which then sends it off to the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid, which returns the money in the form of three-to-one or two-to-one matching grants, so Huckelberry believes it is a solid leverage of county dollars that brings more federal money back to the county. But beyond that, he says if the county were to eliminate the funding, it would likely lose the management of the UA Medical Center South Campus, which would put it back into the county's hands.
"The reality is, without that money, the university would soon turn back to us the former Kino Community Hospital, which we ran miserably when we had it," Huckelberry told The Skinny last week.
Huckelberry recalls that when the county last operated Kino Hospital in 2003, it lost $33 million, had an average medical bed count of just 35 patients a day and had just one specialty, psychiatry.
"It wasn't a hospital, it was a miserable failure," Huckelberry said. "Turned over to the university, it is now a vibrant hospital with the only level 2 trauma center in Southern Arizona."
• Huckelberry argued that spending any surplus money was a bad idea because quite often, county departments have unexpected needs and the money is needed.
While the Board of Supervisors could spend more of its surplus on improving roads, Huckelberry warned in a memo that "the risk is that our year-end fund balance would drop below minimum acceptable standards by our national bond rating agencies, causing the county to pay more in interest for our existing and future debt retirement. It is likely the adverse impact of this would offset any short-term benefit of increased road repair and pavement preservation."
• Huckelberry included a list of the outside contracts along with their purposes and said "canceling or deleting any of these contracts has significant consequences." For example, one contract is with the city of Tucson to process billing for the sewer system along with Tucson Water bills. The county could cancel that contract, but it would still have to send out bills to its customers, which is going to cost money nonetheless. (Huckelberry noted that Tucson Water is looking to jack up the cost of the sewer billing next year and suggested that county might want to pursue alternatives.)
• Finally, there's Miller's proposal to cancel the remaining transportation bonds and use the money now set aside to repay them to instead repave current streets.
Huckelberry noted that the county could cancel those projects—but most of them are partnerships with the city of Tucson, which is moving forward with projects and counting on aid from the county and the Regional Transportation Authority. (Huckelberry noted that some savings might be possible if the city of Tucson decides to abandon plans to widen Broadway Boulevard from downtown to Country Club Road.)
The remaining projects are scheduled to improve District 1 roads, including improvement projects for Thornydale Road, Mainsail Boulevard in Catalina and Kolb Road/Sabino Canyon Road near Sunrise Drive.
In other words, canceling the projects would—wait for it—take nearly $14 million away from District 1 roads.
IN FULL RETREAT
If you were hoping to have a chance to reject the overhaul of Arizona's voting laws in November, you can forget about it.
Republican lawmakers repealed the changes to voting statutes that they passed last year. Had it taken effect, the law would have criminalized the collection of early ballots by political activists, made it easier to clear voters off the permanent early-voter list and created new hurdles to getting initiatives or third-party candidates on the ballot.
A coalition of groups led by Democrats collected enough referendum signatures to put the law on hold until voters could approve it in November.
Republican lawmakers, realizing that they didn't want to run while explaining their support for the "Voter Suppression Act," decided instead to just repeal the changes in their entirety. Gov. Jan Brewer signed the repeal last week.
But Republican lawmakers still have the option of trying to bring back the restrictions and hurdles in new legislation.
Julie Erfle, chair of the Protect Your Right To Vote Committee that put the referendum on the ballot, opposed the repeal because she wanted to see voters reject the changes in November.
"We are confident the voters would have soundly rejected HB 2305," Erfle said in a press release. "Now we strongly urge the Governor and the Legislature to respect the will of the 146,000 voters who signed our petitions and not attempt to circumvent their will and pass any element of HB 2305 piecemeal."