The Skinny

TAX ATTACKS: The City Council is backing off a briefly held notion to accelerate its plan to hike the sales tax to fund transportation programs and projects. Rather than hold the election in November, the council is now back on track to ask voters next May for a half-cent hike. The money will likely be split three ways, with funding for widening major roads, repairing residential streets and improving mass transit.

Meanwhile, the morning daily recently did a poll with a number of leading questions (is it really necessary to choose between better roads and the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan?) that purported to determine that transportation is a hot-button issue.

In an article exploring the ramifications of the survey, Pima County Supervisor Ann Day floated the idea that the county could also put a half-cent question on the May ballot, with the money split between building roads and acquiring open space.

The Board of Supes might as well give up on that one right now. The county doesn't have legal authority to call an election for that purpose, so it would have to get a bill passed early in next year's legislative session--a slim likelihood. On the off chance it happens, county staff would then have to put together a plan they could sell to voters.

Given how much work Mayor Bob Walkup and his pals have already put into the city's effort for a May sales-tax proposition, they're probably not keen on ceding control to the county. And if the city goes ahead with the May election, the county will have to shelve any plans, because voters will either (a) reject the proposition, which means they still hate the idea of boosting the sales tax, or (b) pass the prop, which means they'll be in no mood to pass a second hike.

That said, if you're going to have a higher sales tax, a countywide levy probably makes more sense. If Tucson's sales tax is 2.5 percent higher than the county's, businesses within the city limits are at an increasing disadvantage. But a sales tax is a lousy vehicle for transportation funding in the first place. Road dollars should be raised through gas taxes, but those can only be hiked at the state level. (And get ready for that, because increases are coming.)

OUT OF BOUNDS: Sen. John McCain's longshot crusade to ban gambling on college sports is picking up steam in Washington. Coaches who earn six-figure salaries have descended on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to stop Las Vegas sportsbooks from taking action on college sports because it "takes away from the very innocence of our game," as Penn State basketball coach Jerry Dunn told the press.

Please--college athletics have all the innocence of an 87-year-old hooker. If you have any doubt, just look at Jerry Stitt, forced out as UA baseball coach last week despite a 33-23 season this year. Stitt didn't win enough games, so UA Athletic Director Jim Livengood gave him the hook.

Stitt follows Dick Tomey, who quit his job as UA football coach just ahead of the axe last year. Tomey, who will get $600,000 over the next three years just for leaving before his contract was up, had a 14-year record of 95-64-4 at the UA. Just three years ago, his team won 12 games. And, supposedly more important, his student athletes graduated at the highest rate in the PAC-10.

Remember at the start of the 2000 season, when UA Prez Peter Likins told the morning daily that Tomey's job was secure? "There's absolutely no jeopardy at all for Dick Tomey as our football coach," Likins told reporter Kristen Davis. "Only two people evaluate that matter, and that's Jim Livengood and Pete Likins, and we both believe we have one of the finest football coaches in the country."

What a load of feel-good crap. The ugly truth came out at the end of the season, when the doomed Tomey fell on his sword and the UA snatched up John Mackovic, who will earn $800,000 a year--about $300,000 more than Tomey was paid.

Meanwhile, the athletes get next to nothing besides a shot at the big leagues. Who can blame 'em for going pro at the earliest opportunity? Who can be surprised that a handful occasionally agree to shave points on behalf of gamblers?

Last week saw the release of the Knight Foundation report, which detailed the current sad state of affairs of college sports. Graduation rates are atrocious. Schools spend outrageous sums on programs and staff. Corporations such as Nike are using the profits from sweatshop labor to slap the swoosh on college players. College athletics have become a multi-billion-dollar entertainment industry, with school spirit just another marketing tool. Education is at the bottom of priority list.

If McCain is serious about cleaning up college sports, he's got bigger things to worry about than the action in Vegas sportsbooks. Besides, between the Internet, local bookmakers and gambling houses across the border in Mexico, a federal law isn't going to stop wagering anyhow.

PROMISES, PROMISES: When the great thinkers were establishing Pima Community College more than 30 years ago, they made a number of promises. Two of PCC's creators, Jack Fruchthendler and Marty Ginsberg, vowed that PCC would never require property taxes from Pima County residents. Right. Even though tuition and fees continue to rise, PCC property taxes will cost the average homeowner $155 this year. Hey, football teams are expensive.

FIDUCIARY TRUST: It was encouraging to see three of Pima County's former public fiduciaries back their successor, Anita Royal, following the criticism leveled at her and her staff by a biased inspector from the state Auditor General's Office.

Royal, one of only two high-ranking African Americans in county government, has done fine work in her 10 years on the job. No one will tolerate misuse of the money and assets of the wards that Royal's office manages. She herself has said she will always make whatever improvements are necessary.

What is most troubling is County Administrator (a.k.a. Prime Minister) Chuck Huckelberry's attitude toward Royal. Although he's her boss, he has refused to talk to her for two years. After Huckelberry eagerly released audit findings to the media, members of the Board of Supervisors shamelessly piled on Royal. Raúl Grijalva and Sharon Bronson both talked about the need to fire Royal if she doesn't snap to.

Both ignore other annual reports from the Auditor General's Office that are critical of county spending and operations. They don't call for firing anyone who spent restricted school district money on Kino Community Hospital, for example. Moreover, you haven't heard a peep out of Huckelberry, Grijalva or Bronson on the horrendous report Kino received from the Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation. Surveyors had to be coaxed to stay for the full review after they encountered so many deficiencies in their first half hour. In all, Kino, because of its continued mismanagement, sadly received more than a dozen Type 1 failures, enough to close a hospital.

Kino Administrator Scott Floden continues merrily along despite the JCOH review. Floden is busy stuffing Kino with jobs from his other failure, Tucson General, ignoring county civil service rules and personnel policies to do it. Some are calling him Scott Flowchart because he is constantly changing Kino's management structure.

OPEN ELECTIONS: County Elections Director Mitch Etter is heading back to Phoenix and the Maricopa County Elections Division. Etter did a good job here. He had good people in an office damaged during the Ed Moore-Paul Marsh-Mikey Boyd Republican reign of terror from 1993 to '96. To replace Etter, Larry Bahill, the former legislator and longtime county elections boss whom Moore targeted for the firing line, has thrown his hat into the ring. But Christopher Roads, a former lawyer in the civil division of the county attorney's office, is also being lured. Roads has another of Bahill's former jobs--voter registrar for County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez.

RED, WHITE & EMIL: It was a star spangled day in 1938 that radio raconteur, political soothsayer and social critic Emil Franzi popped out somewhere in the Boston area. From there he headed with the family to California--Glendale, specifically--before alighting in Tucson and the University of Arizona. Since then he's held boot camp for numerous politicians, some good, some awful, in Tucson, California and Chicago. He has served long and well as the Tucson Weekly's token tree-hugging conservative. And yes, Franzi's name did come up with those of other UA frat boys in the disappearance of a certain emu many years ago. Happy 63rd birthday to a great Tortolitan and great American.

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