Hey, Arizona! Have we recovered yet from being bullied by President Barack Obama and his gang of thugs?
We know we were all feeling the shakedown last week after some federal bureaucrats sent out letters asking Gov. Jan Brewer if she was sure she needed all that federal stimulus money. How dare they play politics with the federal dollars that Sen. Jon Kyl doesn't think we should have in the first place?
Kyl, who has called the stimulus plan "a stinker" right from the start, declared earlier this month that stimulus funds not yet dished out should be cancelled. Evidently, if you can't turn the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression around in six months, the entire program is an epic failure.
That got a few members of the Obama administration wondering: Do Arizona Republicans really want to give up the money? Brewer got letters from several Cabinet members, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan, asking if she was ready to give up the funds, which are helping Arizona as it faces a budget shortfall of at least $3 billion.
"I believe the stimulus has been very effective in creating job opportunities throughout the country," LaHood wrote. "However, if you prefer to forfeit the money we are making available to the state, as Sen. Kyl suggests, please let me know."
Brewer's spokesperson, Paul Senseman, told the press that the governor "is hopeful that these federal Cabinet officials are not threatening to deny Arizona the portion of federal stimulus funds to which they are entitled."
So when Kyl says the money should go away, he's providing strong leadership. When Obama officials ask Brewer if she's sure the state needs the money, they're being bullies. Got it.
Brewer is having her own problems dealing with stimulus funding. The administration dished out $250 million in state funds on schools, believing the money could be repaid with stimulus funds. Turns out the process doesn't work that way, so we've blown another quarter-billion-dollar hole in the state budget.
Not that anyone seems concerned about that budget these days, anyway.
In the wake of that little misstep, Brewer announced the state was buying the new Microsoft Stimulus 360 accounting software to better track stimulus funding. So, hey, at least Bill Gates is getting something!
MAKING THE GRADE
The Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club released its report card on the 2009 legislative session with the observation: "It could have been worse ... and it nearly was."
Sandy Bahr, the legislative lobbyist for the environmental group, noted that lawmakers proposed a lot of very bad environmental legislation this year, including bills that would have allowed the dumping of used tires into old mines, diverted money set aside for conservation, and limited development impact fees. But much of it failed, largely because Senate President Bob Burns wouldn't allow the Senate to hear any bills until June.
Thirty-four of the 60 House members and 17 of 30 senators got failing grades on the report card, while four senators and 10 House members—all Democrats—earned A's. Among the local friends of the environment: Sen. Paula Aboud and House members David Bradley, Pat Fleming, Phil Lopes, Daniel Patterson and Nancy Young Wright.
On the bright side, Bahr noted that there was bipartisan support for renewable-energy bills.
Among the local legislators who failed on the report card (by supporting bad environmental legislation and missing votes): Al Melvin and Jonathan Paton in the Senate, and David Gowan, Frank Antenori, David Stevens and Vic Williams in the House.
The rest of the Southern Arizona delegation—Jorge Garcia, Olivia Cajero Bedford, Steve Farley and Matt Heinz—earned B's.
Gov. Jan Brewer earned a C, pulling her grade up at the end with her veto of the budget.
Congressman Raúl Grijalva scored a win this week when the Interior Department announced it would not accept new claims for uranium mines on a million acres near the Grand Canyon for the next two years.
"I am calling for a two-year 'time-out' from all new mining claims in the Arizona Strip near the Grand Canyon, because we have a responsibility to ensure we are developing our nation's resources in a way that protects local communities, treasured landscapes and our watersheds," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced in a statement.
Salazar's move does not stop extraction through existing claims or exploration for new claims in the area, which is rich in uranium deposits. The Interior Department notes that several uranium-mining operations are awaiting environmental permits from the state of Arizona.
For years, Grijalva has been fighting mining operations near the Grand Canyon. But under the Bush administration, he was able to make little progress.
Grijalva's Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act, which would permanently withdraw roughly 1 million acres of federal land near Grand Canyon National Park from future mining claims, was scheduled for a hearing in the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands this week.
The decision must have been a disappointment to state Sen. Sylvia Allen, who became a YouTube sensation a few weeks ago when a clip of her declaring her support of state legislation supporting uranium mining went viral.
In the clip, first posted by the Arizona Guardian Web site, Allen announced: "The Earth's been here 6,000 years—and I know I'm going on and on, and I'll shut up—it's been here 6,000 years, long before anybody had environmental laws, and somehow it hasn't been done away with. And we need to get the uranium here in Arizona so this state can get the money from it and it can be done safely, and you'll never even know the mine was there when they're done."
Right! Mining, in a way, is kind of like building new mini-Grand Canyons!
The Skinny salutes Charlie Spillar, the local sculptor who has taken it upon himself to rescue nearly all of the creatures from Magic Carpet Golf, the miniature-golf course on Speedway Boulevard that closed last year.
The Tiki Head is standing on Fourth Avenue (although it's under a cover until the grand unveiling in August); the bull is on its way to O'Shaughnessy's Steakhouse; and a whole bunch of the sculptures will have a new home at the Valley of the Moon, the local fantasyland, which is also getting a facelift.
Spillar tells us that only the massive sphinx and something called "the goop" have not yet found new homes. Spillar says that it would be expensive to move the sphinx, but points out that "it would be cheaper than traveling to Egypt."
Maybe there's a little magic left in this burg after all.
WINGS AND A PRAYER FOR SCHOOLS
Want to get your hands dirty while helping education—and have a scrumptious meal, too? Check out Tucson's Best Wing Fest, which will feature chicken wings from 16 different restaurants, cold beer from Nimbus and music from Still Crusin' and the Shear DeLites.
This gourmet feast, which benefits the Educational Enrichment Foundation, is 4 to 8 p.m., Friday, July 24, at the Hilton East Hotel, 7600 E. Broadway Blvd. Tickets are $10 in advance, and $15 at the door. More info: 325-8688.
Find early and late-breaking Skinny at our new daily dispatch, The Range, at blog.tucsonweekly.com.