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DON'T COUNT HER OUT: Word out of Washington is that Education Secretary Rod Paige may be on the outs with the Bush Administration.

If that's the case, it's no wonder former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan has taken a job with a Washington think tank. The higher profile may suit her well should Paige depart Dubya's cabinet and the position opens up.


HUNG UP: Qwest Communications is once more pushing its special service to block telemarketers. You've probably seen the TV commercial: The happy family enjoys serenity in their home while the bothersome telemarketer throws down his headset in frustration because a recording tells him to hang up.

And how is Qwest selling this service? Through telemarketing, of course. We got a phone call asking if we'd like to sign up for the service. When we pointed out that the only telemarketers that call us are phone companies, the voice on the other end didn't seem to appreciate the irony. The $72 a year the service would cost sounds like protection money to us.

And speaking of annoying phone companies: AT&T continues to call The Skinny at home, even though we've told the company's telemarketing lackeys at least four times to remove us from their list. When we asked why they continued to call despite our instructions to knock it off, the voice on the other end of the line told us AT&T was much too big a company to keep track of such things. We told them they seemed a little too big to handle our business and asked to speak to a manager. After a minute on hold, the line went dead.

We still think the best way to deal with telemarketers is to start engaging in phone sex. That usually gets rid of 'em in a hurry. And when they don't hang up, it can make for a lively evening.


CONGRESSIONAL METAL: There was plenty of exaggeration and distortion in the debate over proposed City Charter amendments that won't make it to the November 6 ballot. But the winner came from Stanley P. Abrams, a millionaire sometime developer (The Stanley Group) and most-of-the-time front man. Abrams, 69, is one of the little big shots of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, which pitched the charter changes. He also fancies himself as a big-time political player, a Democrat who can call himself an adviser to Republican Mayor Bob Walkup. And he last owned a councilman in 1997, the final year of Michael Crawford's benchwarming in Ward 3. The highlight of his career, for us, came in 1989 when then Gov. Rose Mofford, that nifty Globe Democrat, didn't do what little Stanley had boasted she would do: appoint him to the Board of Regents.

Lecturing the City Council on the charter amendments--which included the proposal to add two council seats--Abrams said no one complains when population increases prompt additional congressional seats. That's right, Stan. But the growth counted in the latest census and the two congressional seats it will spawn do not mean an increase in that governing body. The last time we checked, the U.S. House of Representatives still had 435 members, the Senate 100. The governing body does not expand, Stan, with Sunbelt population growth. We gain. Another state loses.


JUDY BURNS THE TAXPAYERS: We cheered Judy Burns in her numerous runs for the Tucson Unified School District board and believed she was due the seat she acquired with no opposition last year.

We especially cheered when Burns, as a citizen, TUSD parent and activist on TUSD committees, would rise to bash the board and its out-of-control spending. She looked right at the woodshop twins Joel T. Ireland and James Noel Christ at one budget session and told them they should be ashamed of themselves. Burns, in those years, spoke against TUSD's insatiable appetite for spending and its addiction to the unregulated desegregation budget. She promised action to shrink it and make TUSD more responsible and responsive.

Sadly, after fewer than six month in office, Burns on Monday night joined with Ireland, Carolyn Kemmeries and Mary Bell McCorkle in inflating the deseg budget by more than $9 million to $55 million--a 20 percent increase. Business property taxes, under this deceptive scheme, are going up 8 percent.


TICKETS PUNCHED: City voters, under a surprise move by the City Council that will need ratification, will be asked on the November ballot to cough up another half-cent (per $1) in sales taxes for buses and roads.

It will surely be the third loss for transportation sales taxes here in 15 years. Here's the not so gentle reminder: County voters rejected a half-cent sales tax for transportation in 1986 by 57-43; they killed another sales tax for transportation in 1990 by 61-39. This is one tax that will probably always get sent to the back of the bus.


TUCSON ELECTRIC'S POWER: TEP has a public relations army beginning with Steve Lynn, Jay Gonzales (now at the solar subsidiary), Larry Lucero, Wendy Erica Werden and Betsy Bolding, and you might as well include Bertram Zenner Lee, the 74-year-old radioman known as Bert, and Alan D. Fischer, who works where Gonzales used to put in time, the business section of the Arizona Daily Star. Both Fischer and Lee can't get enough of Jim Pignatelli, the 47-year-old CEO of TEP's daddy, UniSource Energy Corp.

Fischer gave readers a new puff piece on TEP's 10-year turnaround last week. He glossed over the Alamito spinoff, the real estate ventures and the hotels, and didn't mention the whores, er, dancers on whom some former TEP execs showered ratepayer money. How could it not improve from $2 billion in debt and a stock price at about $3 a share? Things were so bad that TEP affected the mayoral race in 1991: Republican Katie Dusenberry, a former member of the Board of Supervisors, aborted a campaign partly because of the trashing she would have received for her role on the TEP board. And George Miller, the eventual Democratic winner and two-term mayor, toyed with the idea of city acquisition of the utility. That woulda been great, given the city's super performance delivering CAP water beginning the next year.

By 1999, TEP had improved its image so much that Bolding, who actually has done good things at TEP, sought to succeed Miller. She lost the Democratic primary but was not laughed or chased off the ballot because of TEP.

Things are so great at TEP, if you read Fischer and listen to ol' Bert, that the company doesn't care about the $16 million lost to deadbeat power buyers. How can that not affect stockholders? And real estate: how about UniSource's lovely new building, One South Church?

The glowing coverage also failed to note one more, unwitting, participant in the TEP turnaround: the Arizona taxpayer. TEP and other utilities were able, in the last 20 years, to cut their property tax bills, by virtue of cuts in the assessment ratios, in half. The last drop two years ago cut the assessment ratio from 30 percent to 25 percent, the same ratio applied to mom and pop businesses. Homeowners pay taxes based on a 10 percent ratio, but the huge cut for TEP and other utilities has shifted more of the overall tax burden--the amount paid into the pot for the county, state and schools--to homeowners.


FEAR FACTOR: Pima County administrators and the Board of Supervisors should appear on that trash NBC show not while hanging from a cliff or swimming with sharks, but having to sit in front of a sign that reads "$1 Billion." Departing from accepted budgeting, the county peeled off (on paper) some $44 million in sewer system construction spending in the 2001-02 budget to keep it from reaching $999 million. It's still there, it just isn't being included in the total. Instead, supervisors passed and the county beat reporters swallowed a budget that County Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry said was $955.8 million.

Huckelberry didn't need to shuffle, sidestep or obfuscate at all. Reporters covering the county for the dailies believed and wrote that spending was cut. Ha. Even at $955 million, spending by the county would increase by more than $115 million. An editorial in the out-of-touch Tucson Citizen proclaimed, "City, county hold the line on spending." But spending is up. Taxes, for daily operations, are at record levels in the county. And, we'll say it again, Pima County has the highest property taxes in the state.

But then the Citizen has shown throughout this budget season that it doesn't know much. City officials considered jacking up the city's low property tax rate--$1.12 per $100, or $112 on a $100,000 home--to patch an $11 million hole in the budget. The Citizen then whined in an editorial, "But the city is nearing the state cap on its property tax rate."

Huh? State cap? The property tax cap of $1.75 per $100 is one that city voters chose to impose. Voters in 1969 approved a measure to double the sales tax to 2 percent and when it is imposed--it's never been lifted--the property tax cannot exceed $1.75. The Citizen actually has a couple of editorial writers, Mark Kimble and Jill Blondin, who if for no other reason than the length of their service, should know better.


HISPANIC PANDER: On June 22, the Arizona Daily Star carried a Page One top-left story about a postage stamp's release. The stamp is the first to recognize a Hispanic woman, the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and features her 1933 self-portrait.

We have no quarrel with the story. What we question is its placement and the motivation behind it.

It is not news, it's a feature. The news happened when the U.S. Postal Service decided some time back to release the stamp in the first place. A follow-up news story occurred when the postal service chose the art work and design. Neither were mentioned prominently in the Star if at all, so why now and why on Page One?

The Gannettizing of the Star under the rule of publisher "Iron" Jane Amari and assorted overpaid consultants and bean counters has squandered more and more front-page space in an attempt to lure back its declining circulation and penetration numbers. Part of that phony attempt to appeal to nonreaders of the paper is to run articles aimed at certain demographic segments of the community that they hope will make members of the targeted group feel warm and fuzzy so they'll get a positive response when the phone bank calls in (probably from out of state) to hustle a subscription.

This is not only pandering, but incompetent pandering at that. Most minorities want what everybody else wants--real news about whoever caused it.

Jane, baby--a hint. Running non-news stories about Hispanics in the news section or featuring third-string columnists with Spanish surnames and other assorted shallow showcase moves will not help increase your circulation with Hispanics or anybody else. Do not pass Go, do not collect 200 pesos. Want more readers? Try having a real newspaper. Considering all the real journalists you've purged or who've quit, we seriously doubt if you can handle that any more.

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