SICK TRANSIT: For more than a decade, local politicians have complained about the high cost of providing bus service in sprawling Tucson. To try to limit the red ink in the early 1990s, then-City Manager Michael Brown unsuccessfully proposed drastically reducing the number of routes to only the most profitable ones. A few years later, the City Council talked about raising the sales tax to help pay for bus service, but did nothing.

Now the sales tax increase idea is back, sorta. But, as Chris Limberis points in "Taxed Patience" (page 8), support for sales taxes for transportation has always been weak in Tucson. In general, we think an increase in the sales tax tends to be regressive, so we're reluctant to support it ourselves, especially with the statewide tax soon climbing .6 of a cent for the education boost approved by voters last month. And the state may soon be asking for an increase of its own for transportation, depending on how the legislature reacts to recommendations from Gov. Jane Dee Hull's Vision 21 transportation task force.

We're not sure a sales tax increase for public transit would get much support from the business community, either. Our spies tell us the local heavy-hitters are getting ready to make another push for a freeway system. Given that the minimum cost would top $20 million a mile, such a plan would require dedicated funding--and the only local option would be a sales tax, since a gas tax isn't feasible unless it's enacted statewide. We don't imagine the Growth Lobby wants the competition for those sales tax dollars.

There's another reason the City Council doesn't want a sales tax proposal on the 2001 city ballot. Waiting until 2002 will cost city taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in election costs, but it will allow council incumbents Jerry Anderson, Steve Leal and Fred Ronstadt to sidestep taking a strong position on the issue when they stand for re-election in the coming year.

If the City Council doesn't even have the guts to call for a vote next year on the issue, the sales tax increase idea should be rejected simply because of the delay. It's time to put up or shut up; we can guess what the City Council will do.

LORD HAVE MERCY: We're so pleased that the Rev. Lee Norris May has seen the light and become a historic preservationist. The pastor of downtown's Prince Chapel A.M.E. Church, the Rev. May was one of the leaders in the failed drive to save West University's modernist First Congregational Church on North Second Avenue. In a twist on the usual preservation wars, two developers will tear down the sleek modernist structure and replace it with faux-historical houses that would match the neighborhood's California bungalow style. The city shamefully gave the demolition camp a green light the Friday before Christmas.

Rev. May and other preservationists argued that the 1959 church is an authentic part of the street's history that should be preserved. The minister wanted the empty sanctuary as a new home for his congregation, which has outgrown its postage-stamp church at 17th and Stone. We say amen to the reverend in this battle, which shaped up as Tucson's first skirmish in the interesting new nationwide debate over whether modernist architecture is worth keeping.

Time was when local preservationists weren't too confident of Rev. May's historical proclivities. A couple of years ago Barrio Historico residents were downright terrified that the minister intended to demolish two graceful Queen Anne houses his church owns on 17th Street. Rev. May didn't help matters by refusing to meet with neighbors or explain his intentions to the press. In the end, perhaps persuaded that the buildings had more value up than down, he didn't demolish them. That didn't keep him from evicting the two low-income families who had lived in the houses for years. Both families were impoverished and raising small children, but Rev. May kicked them out in late 1998 and put the houses on the market.

No takers so far, though, perhaps because the houses were kept in such poor repair by their churchly landlord. The houses have been empty ever since, a vacant blot on the neighborhood.

CLEAN SWEEP: A few weeks back, The Skinny reported how certain sore losers in last month's legislative election, namely Democrats Mark Osterloh and Ted Downing, filed complaints with the Citizens Clean Election Commission, claiming their Republican opponents and the Arizona Republican Party had conspired to violate campaign finance laws.

Earlier this month, the commission dismissed the last of the Democrats' complaints, finding no probable cause to further investigate the campaigns of Toni Hellon, who won a state Senate seat in District 12, and Jonathan Paton, who lost his bid for a House seat in District 13.

The commission heard more than a dozen complaints against candidates during this last election season and dismissed nearly every one of them. The long list of complaints has the commission considering enacting a new rule that would allow them to assess a maximum $500 fine against anyone who leaks word of a complaint against a candidate.

The commission's rationale is easy to understand: It's easy to lodge complaints without substance against candidates that result in bad press. It's a new twist on the old campaign ploy of filing a bogus lawsuit against your opponent.

But the proposed solution--creating a culture of secrecy and violating the spirit of Arizona's public records law--is a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease. The solution to problems arising from free speech is more free speech, not less. Formal complaints, whether they have merit or not, ought to remain public record. It's just a shame we can't count on the mainstream media to sort it out during the campaign season.

TRIPLE THREAT: In the upcoming Legislative session, we expect the trucking industry to propose a bill to allow haulers to pull monstrous triple-trailers. It's a lousy idea that risks the life of every man, woman and child driving on the highway. Although lawmakers assure us that the proposal won't pass, we wouldn't be surprised if our sleazebag legislature sells out to the truckers. The biggest opponent will be the railroad industry, which may not have the juice to stop this insane proposal from becoming law.

Can't you see hundreds of trucks from Mexico making themselves into triple trailers every day in Nogales? Makes you feel better and better about NAFTA, don't it?

If do-it-yourself convoys are in our future, we ought to suck as much gas as we can out of this tank to fuel our own schemes, right? Members of the Pima County legislative delegation need to put their heads together to press the trucking industry to allow the assembly of triples on Tucson's south side, rather than in Santa Cruz County. There should be enough votes between the Pima County Republicans and Democrats for them to swing it through the legislature.

If this works, then the City of Tucson might be able to realize its NAFTA redistribution center on the city's south end. Then the city planners could tell us, "See, that's the way we planned it!"

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