The Range

Breaking the Budget

Back to the drawing board! Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed an $8.2 billion budget package passed by GOP lawmakers last week, saying it failed to fund several of her priorities, including all-day kindergarten and more staffers for Child Protective Services.

"The Legislature's budget is balanced on the backs of Arizona children through per capita reductions in child care, Child Protective Services, children's services and juvenile corrections," Napolitano said. "It hurts public safety by failing to fund needed corrections officer salary increases ... and rather than ending with a surplus, it raids the rainy-day fund. We did not have to make cuts or false choices of this nature two years ago when we had a billion-dollar deficit, and we certainly should not make them today."

Elsewhere at the Capitol, the voucher bill that appeared to be a sure thing last week has stalled in the House of Representatives, where a crew of rebellious Republicans, including all GOP members of the Southern Arizona delegation, are opposing the legislation. Supporters have used various procedural tricks to keep the legislation alive while they shop for votes.

Sweet Sixteen

No one-and-done this year! Following a shaky first half in their first game, the Arizona men's basketball team pulled it together to defeat Utah State, 66-53, in the first round of the NCAA tourney. The Cats followed that up with a 85-63 win over the University of Alabama at Birmingham to earn a berth in the Sweet 16 for the 11th time in the last 17 years.

Next up: Oklahoma State, in Chicago on Thursday, March 24. After that--well, that would be jinxing it.

The UA women's basketball team also advanced in the separate-but-equal gal-bracket with Sunday's 72-69 victory over Oklahoma. The Ladycats next game, against LSU, was scheduled to be played after our deadline but before we hit the streets, rendering this report hopelessly outdated.

Meanwhile, the mighty UA softball team suffered its second defeat of the season during the Kia Klassic Championship, losing to Michigan 6-2. In an earlier 9-0 win against Fresno State, junior Alicia Hollowell pitched her eighth no-hitter of the season. You go, girl!

Elsewhere on the sports beat, the bucolic atmosphere of baseball's spring training was interrupted by a congressional investigation into steroid use that had current and former players, including José Canseco and Sammy Sosa, testifying in the front of the House Government Reform Committee. Particularly painful to watch was retired slugger Mark McGwire, whose weasel-like evasion was a big K. Following the testimony, Sen. John McCain said on ABC's This Week that baseball officials "can't be trusted" to get tough on steroids.

Over a Barrel

The Range filled the tank of our stylish Scion the other day, only to be shocked--shocked, we tell you--by the bill. We've since learned from our friends at the American Automobile Association that the price for a gallon of unleaded gas in Pima County was averaging just more than $2 a gallon last week, up nearly 4.5 cents over the previous week. The AAA crew tells us that half the states in the country are now experiencing record highs, although Arizona is not yet among them.

The increases come as crude oil prices hit a new high on the international market of more than $57 a barrel, leading AAA officials to suggest more increases are likely on the horizon.

"While it is impossible to know how prices will play out between now and Memorial Day weekend, it is interesting to note that Arizona gasoline prices increased approximately 24 cents per gallon between March 18, 2004 and the end of last May," according to AAA. "If a similar increase were to happen this year, the Arizona average retail price would rise to approximately $2.34 cents per gallon. " Yikes!

On With the Show

The Tucson City Council was poised to lend the Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation $5.6 million to complete renovations at the historic movie palace. Herb Stratford, the local artist who has spearheaded the effort to restore the Fox, has secured Rio Nuevo downtown revitalization dollars and other grants, but he's been unable to raise enough private dollars to complete the effort. Inflation is increasing the rehab costs by about a half-million dollars a year.

City officials, saying the Fox is a vital element to downtown revitalization, now hope the theater will be able to repay the loan over the next two decades.

Elsewhere downtown, city officials are once again postponing the relocation of the Greyhound Bus station, which has to move as part of the construction of a new Fourth Avenue underpass. But Transportation Department Director Jim Glock says the delay won't significantly slow the project down because a lot of work can be done while they prepare Greyhound's new, albeit temporary, home, which will be ready by the end of July.

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