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JD Fitzgerald

Rocky Roads

State officials estimate Arizona is facing a $62 billion shortfall in transportation funding

Arizona is now facing a $62 billion shortfall in highway funding between now and 2035.

The Arizona Auditor General released a report last week that showed that the Arizona Department of Transportation needs to spend $260 million just to maintain the existing roads—and because it also needs to expand roads, the money isn't there to maintain the highways. On top of that, the longer repairs are put off, the bigger the price tag.

ADOT is projecting that the cost of keeping up the road needs of the state between 2010 and 2035 will be about $88.9 billion, but they expect to collect just $26.2 billion over that period of time. Part of the problem is the state's failure to adjust the gas tax for inflation, so even though collections remain mostly flat as people drive more fuel-efficient cars, inflation has driven up the cost of fixing the roads.

Gov. Doug Ducey, through his spokesman Daniel Scarpinato, has already told the press that he's opposed to raising taxes to fix our roads, but there's a chance that if you leave a hunk of asphalt under your pillow, the pothole fairy will leave you tens of billions of dollars.

So transportation now joins education as vital public services that are wildly underfunded in our state. The money problems for both roads and schools would be a lot easier to solve if voters had just allowed the temporary one-cent sales tax to continue by approving Prop 204 back in 2012. That would have provided an estimated $900 million a year for education from pre-kindergarten all the way up to the universities, as well as $100 million a year for transportation projects. But Ducey, who was then treasurer and trying to boost his name ID ahead of his gubernatorial run, led the opposition to it, saying the money wasn't needed. We can still recall how he told us three years ago that "our current trend of tax collections is adequate for what is necessary for infrastructure."

Well, he was only off by $62 billion. Then again, we imagine Ducey can fix the problem by eliminating the Auditor General's Office.

Field of Dreams

Gowan, Babeu join the race for Congressional District 1

The race for the Congressional District 1 seat got a whole bunch more entertaining this week with the entrance of both Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and Arizona Speaker of the House David Gowan.

There's an open seat in the largely rural district that stretches from Oro Valley all the way to Flagstaff and the Native American reservations beyond because incumbent Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick has set her sights on John McCain's U.S. Senate seat. CD1 is a competitive district that leans Democratic.

Babeu is a charismatic speaker who can light up a right-wing crowd with his passionate speeches about illegal immigration, federal government overreach and how the Obama administration is destroying this once-proud nation.

But he found his once-promising political career sidelined in 2012 after the Phoenix New Times revealed (a) that he was gay (which is barely noteworthy these days, although it could be a liability in GOP primaries) and (b) he had tried to keep a former lover from outing him by threatening to have him deported. It didn't help that the former boyfriend had revealing photos that Babeu had posted online to find anonymous sex partners.

Gowan, a Sierra Vista resident who doesn't even live in the district, made a big deal of his conservative bona fides in a press release.

"As your Congressman, I will continue working to shrink the size and scope of government, I will fight to restore our Constitutional rights, I will make securing our borders the priority it ought to be, and I will work to ensure that our government's focus is on getting out of the way of the private sector so that we can unleash our economy and create the millions of jobs we need to get our nation back on track," Gowan said. "I will also stand for our values, work to defund Planned Parenthood, protect innocent life, defend our family values and stop Common Core."

Gowan also boasted state spending had been reduced by $2 billion over the seven years he's been in the Legislature.

Gowan didn't mention that even as he was cutting programs for schools, neglected and abused kids, road repair, environmental protection and nearly everything else the state does (with the notable exception of prisons), he was working to remodel his own offices at the House of Representatives, including plans for a gym in the basement and fancy new office furniture for himself and his political allies. Hey, once you make all those tough decisions to take money away from desperate families, you deserve a "treat yo'self" day!

Gowan and Babeu will be joining rancher Gary Kiehne and former Senate President and Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett in the GOP primary.

Kiehne is a rancher, rodeo cowboy, developer, hotelier and oilman who jumped in the CD1 primary last time and lost by a few hundred votes to Andy Tobin, a state lawmaker who would go on to lose to Kirkpatrick. Kiehne had a rural authenticity to him that made him a fascinating candidate, but he got tripped up by gaffes, such as when he proclaimed that 99 percent of mass shooters were Democrats. Kiehne has one advantage that none of the other candidates have: The ability to self-fund his campaign. We hear he has hired a fancy-pants D.C. consultant for this run.

Bennett is a soft-spoken, mostly practical politician with old-school conservative GOP values. He has decent name recognition in parts of the district, but he's never been someone who has raised a lot of money and he has some opposition in the business community stemming from investigations that were launched into dark-money groups while he was secretary of state.

On the Democratic side, most of the excitement has centered around Tom O'Halleran, a former GOP state lawmaker who has jumped over to the Democratic Party for the run. O'Halleran is well known in the northern half of the district and, as a former Republican, might be able to win over independents and moderate Republicans.

Other Democrats have been considering the race, but whether they'll end up jumping in remains to be seen.

Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs at 8 a.m. Sunday morning on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 58 on DirecTV, Dish Network and broadcast. You can also hear it at 5 p.m. Sundays on KXCI, 91.3 FM. This week's guests are investigative reporter John Dougherty, who will talk about the Rosemont Mine project, and the Loft Cinema's Peggy Johnson and Jeff Yanc, who will preview the upcoming Loft Film Fest.

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