The Skinny

COUNTY CASH CRUNCH: The Pima County Board of Supervisors, or at least its temporary working majority, is rightfully catching hell for ignoring the county's worst-ever fiscal crisis and jacking up property tax rates to record levels.

And the hell being loosed upon the Board is coming from a lot more people than the usual watchdogs like Mary and Jim Schuh, Merrill Lemnah, Harriett Surinak, Ken Marcus and Samuel Winchester Morey. The necessary work they have done for years is being backed up for the first time by a diverse group of taxpayers ranging from business owners to senior citizens.

All were appalled that the inept Board on July 13 was incapable of cutting spending, although second-term Republican Mike Boyd and second-year Republican Ray Carroll tried to limit the spending for the 1999-2000 fiscal year that began 12 days earlier to $781 million -- $34 million more than the previous budget of $747 million.

The problem with Boyd's move was far from a new one. He again failed to provide adequate detail on what would be cut from the lavish $808 million budget proposed by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and embraced by the Democratic majority, including Sharon Bronson, Raul Grijalva and Dan Eckstrom.

Bronson, who campaigned as a fiscal conservative against Ed Moore and Vicki Cox-Golder in 1996, has now supported three straight tax increases that bring the three-year increase to 23 percent, or 80 cents per $100 of assessed value. That means the owner of a $100,000 has faced an $80 increase, while the owner of a business property worth $100,000 will have a tax bill $200 higher than three years ago. Bronson's inability to kick the tax-and-spend addiction this year is based on her reconciliation with Grijalva, the mentor from whom she was temporarily estranged.

Despite a wild $60 million deficit, fueled by $14 million in health and medical care system losses in the last year, Democrats increased spending by an extra $7 million.

We're confident that Eckstrom will provide leadership to cut spending when the Board votes on final adoption on August 3. He's done it before, even when Republicans, led by the mercurial Moore, held power.

More appalling perhaps, was the Board's utter failure to deal with the crisis it fomented in the health system. Instead, Grijalva, Boyd, Bronson and Eckstrom voted to force Health Czar Dr. Richard Carmona to resign.

It was clear that while Carmona was busy fighting Health Commission Chair Sylvia Campoy, the real powers, including Dorothy Finley and others, had decided he had to go. Dietician Karen Fields was immediately named to take over on an interim basis. Fields claims credit for reversing losses in the county's indigent health plans, but her rÉsumÉ neglects to say why she was able to build up reserves: the health plans she oversees didn't bother to pay Kino or other county facilities for patient services.

CLASS STRUGGLE: After wasting two years in an expensive legal fight to build a high school next door to the nest of an endangered cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, the Amphi School District has finally realized that maybe the prudent course of action is to find an alternative site.

Amphi has quite a quandry on its hands as the district attempts to choose between two parcels for a new high school: a site near students, at First Avenue and Tangerine Road in Oro Valley, or a site miles from students in Catalina.

While the Oro Valley site is more expensive, the Oro Valley Town Council has offered to chip in $1.5 million to help the district afford the site, which is favored by Board members Nancy Young Wright and Ken Smith.

The Board majority of Gary Woodard, Richard Scott and Virginia Houston is being heavily lobbied by former Amphi Board member Vicki Cox-Golder, the Catalina real-estate queen who is pushing the remote site in hopes of raising land values in her neighborhood. Cox-Golder has inexplicably characterized Oro Valley's offer to work with Amphi as a "bribe," which shows how desperate she is to see Amphi pick up the cost of extending infrastructure out to her neck of the woods.

TRANSPLANT REJECTION: University Medical Center is trying to portray itself as a responsible, compassionate employer in its most recent round of lay-offs by promoting its own corporate version of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration. The idea of nurses and social workers slinging hash or working in medical records at their former salaries strikes us as just plain dumb.

Excuse us, but the purpose of UMC, a non-profit and largely publicly funded hospital, is to take care of patients, not to invent embarrassing make-work projects for employees. We fail to see how this program will reduce expenses, unless professional staff are so embarrassed by the positions UMC forces them to assume that they slink quietly away with their tails between their legs, having forfeited their severance packages.

And speaking of embarrassing, what's with this tie-less, shirt-sleeved "man of the people" role CEOgre Greg Pivirotto performed for the TV hacks? He looked more ridiculous than Michael Dukakis posing in an army helmet and tank. Is he trying to compete with Mayor George for hayseed of the year? The man should stick to his Armanis.

BEE HIVE: Former District 9 state Rep. Keith Bee served a couple of terms in the House before his election to the state Senate in 1992. After eight years, Bee has also run into a term-limit problem. His solution: run once again for the state House.

We're told Bee is planning to enlist his brother Tim Bee as a candidate so the two can run as a team for the District 9 seats, both of which will be open, since incumbents Lou-Ann Preble and Bill McGibbon have also reached their term limits.

The Brothers Bee could face Jonathan Paton, who was defeated in the 1998 GOP primary for a District 12 House seat. A former staffer at the Legislature, Paton is planning another run in 2000.

DISTRICT 12 STEPS: With state Sen. Ann Day being forced out by term limits (and hungrily eyeing Pima County Supervisor Mike Boyd's District 1 seat), a fight appears to be brewing in District 12, which stretches through Oro Valley and parts northwest.

Last week, we reported GOP heavy hitter Toni Hellon, currently an aide to Boyd, is putting together a campaign for the Senate seat. Now it appears she may have competition, from former state Sen. Scott Alexander, who is exploring a candidacy of his own.

Alexander, who served six years in the House and four in the Senate between 1964 and 1974, says his experience at the Legislature could prove vital as term limits force out veteran lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the race for the District 12 House seat being vacated by Dan Schottel has drawn a legacy candidate, Pete Hershberger. Both of Hershberger's parents previously represented the district. His father Pete Hershberger served in the '70s and '80s before losing to Reid Ewing in 1984; his mother Winifred "Freddie" Hershberger served three terms from 1992 to 1998.

Hershberger is scheduled to address the Pima County Republican Club on August 3. We may be in for one of the shortest political speeches on record, as the "legacy" of his parents' combined service produced absolutely nothing of note that we can recall. In fact, neither ever got a major piece of legislation passed -- hard to do when both served in the majority -- and many think that both had trouble even getting a clue.