The Skinny

TAG VS. TEG: There's quite a war over early voting underway in south-central Ward 5, where Jesse Lugo is seeking to knock off Councilman Steve Leal in the September 11 Democratic primary.

As of Monday, August 13, 841 voters had requested early ballots for the Democratic primary in Ward 5. That's a steep increase compared to the 331 voters who cast early ballots two years ago in the hard-fought Democratic mayoral primary--and there's still more than three weeks left for voters to request ballots. In that race, 14 percent of roughly 2,400 voters cast early ballots. We're willing to bet that'll top 40 percent in this year's contest.

The winner of the primary will face no opponent in the general election, so both Leal and Lugo are both free to blow up to $60,000 on campaigns aimed at a relatively small number of high-propensity voters.

Adding to the aggressive vote-by-mail push are early ballot programs run by TAG and TEG, the two independent campaign committees operating in Ward 5. Lugo is picking up support from Tucsonans for Alert Government, which is fueled by Growth Lobby dollars, while Leal is getting a boost from Tucsonans for Excellence in Government, a front for labor interests.

Another 154 voters have requested early ballots for the Republican primary in Ward 5, even though there's no candidate. They'll get the opportunity to write in the candidate of their choice.

The fight is off to a slower start over in Ward 3, where Democrats Vicki Hart and Paula Aboud are stumbling along in the race to replace retiring Councilman Jerry Anderson. Only 214 voters had requested early ballots in the Democratic primary as of last Monday. A total of 530 Ward 3 Democrats and Independents voted early in 1999.

Meanwhile, 21 Ward 3 Republicans have also requested early ballots for their primary, even though GOP candidate Kathleen Dunbar isn't facing a primary. The Republican Party has sent a mailer on Dunbar's behalf, hoping to get people into the habit of voting for Dunbar.

Libertarian Jonathan Hoffman and Green Ted O'Neill will also appear on the November 6 general election ballot in Ward 3.

To request your early ballot for the primary, call the City Clerk's Office at 791-5784 before August 31.

LET THEM EAT CRAYONS: One of the most contemptuous acts a politician can perform is levying a tax that he will not have to pay, one that permits him to skate while others are burdened.

Add the pleasure and power of patronage and pork for friends and family, ensuring his own son will have a job in the very government for which he increases taxes.

Now meet Joel Tracy Ireland, also known as Rev. Ireland, or as one of the abundant C-squad lawyers in Tucson.

Ireland, the so-often self-described "senior member" of the Tucson Unified School District Board of Governors, has a special present for the owners of 50,000 pieces of property coming just after Labor Day. Enclosed will be a nearly 14-percent increase in property taxes to keep the doors open at TUSD, a district that under Ireland's watch since 1989 has 17 failing schools, chronically low test scores (particularly among minorities), and continued high drop-out rates at the same time it has boosted spending by 61 percent and taxes by a full 50 percent.

Yet Ireland can merrily plot and whittle at his West University home, 532 E. First St. He is exempt from the tax increase. In his ultimate show of demagoguery, Ireland preached from the dais June 26 that he would not rip the crayons from the hands of young TUSD students just to vote against what he called a "fantasy tax increase."

Ireland knows embarrassingly little about property taxes. But he is clever enough to parrot that the decade-long high taxes in TUSD exempt him and the owners of the 107,133 homes in TUSD from any additional property taxes used for daily school operations.

High taxes in TUSD are the result of the addiction Ireland and three of his colleagues have to the desegregation fund, now up 15 percent to $62.4 million. It is a fund that allows TUSD to skip state spending limits. It pays to be worse than Alabama under Wallace.

Ireland's trick will dupe most taxpayers. Homeowners will think that their TUSD taxes went down. That's because TUSD, with dwindling bonds and lower payments, is cutting the secondary tax rate used to pay off voter-approved debt by 22 cents per $100 of assessed value, or $22 for the owner of a home that is on the tax rolls for $100,000.

The increase Ireland pushed through is one of manipulation. Homeowners benefit from state law capping the combined primary rates for TUSD, Pima County, the state, the city and Pima Community College at $10 per $100 of assessed value, or $1,000 for a $100,000 home. Homeowners also rightfully get a break via state law that trims school primary taxes by 35 percent. Take away the $10 tax rate limit and the owner of the $100,000 home would be paying $1,113--$525 for daily TUSD operations, $407 to Pima County, $53 to the state, $14 to the city and $114 to PCC. The extra $113 is paid through the state's general fund.

Call it a form of tax equity. But there are far better uses for the money taken from Mesa and Sun City than for the roughly $30,000 in annual salary and benefits it costs to have Ireland's son, Aaron, a Cal-Berkeley drop-out, serve as an "exceptional education instructional specialist."

The TUSD tax increase is worse than advertised. It has soared from $337 for a small business on the tax rolls for $250,000 to $494, so that business will now pay $6,130 in TUSD taxes.

TUSD has company from six of the county's 15 other school districts in property tax increases.

Amphi, where tax crusader Mary Schuh took her seat after the successful recall last year, is jacking up taxes by more than 10 percent. And unlike TUSD's, Amphi's taxes, combined with the county, city, state and PCC, are not high enough to reach the cap. For a $100,000 home, the Amphi bill will jump $53 to $561. Unlike Ireland, Schuh is not shirking her district's increase.

The sticker shock will be greater for Amphi residents who live in the Northwest Fire District, which over two years has boosted property taxes by 30 percent.

Amphi officials complain they need the higher taxes to pay construction bonds for the new "Pygmy Owl" High and to pay for new operations. But other growth districts, including Vail and Catalina Foothills, have cut tax rates, if slightly.

Taxpayers have no hope of reductions in county taxes--the highest of the state's 15 counties--when the Board of Supervisors adopts rates August 20. Supes, like Ireland, are addicts who love swimming in the cash stashed in the county's nearly $1 billion budget for 2001-02. We do hope a backbone will emerge to just say no to TUSD, which, in addition to its major increase, is whining for $1.6 million to pay a court judgment and legal fees for a case it should have heeded years ago.

Hey, Joel, that's 401,002 boxes of 64 Crayolas.

REFERENDUM REJECTION: The members of Citizens of Open Government are prepared to turn in their petition to reverse an Oro Valley Town Council vote that took the first step toward cutting a deal with Vistoso Partners to allow development of luxury homes in areas now reserved as open space.

But Oro Valley Town Attorney Dan L. Dudley has already informed the group that the town will reject the petitions, because the council voted to reconsider the item after the petition drive was launched. In Dudley's legal opinion, "although there is not a clear line of precedent, the council's action -- has now mooted the referendum petition for Rancho Vistoso." If the council tries to cut a new deal with the developer, says Dudley, "a new referendum petition will be necessary."

So, after a lot of hard work in the hot sun, the Oro Valley activists are once again getting screwed by their own government. The group has limited options, outside of taking expensive legal action.

STRIP TEASE: The Arizona Daily Star offered us a treasure hunt of sorts last Sunday, hiding the comics section in an auto-parts insert. Sure, it's just the funny pages--insert your own joke about the Star's general content here--but it makes us wonder what's next. Perhaps the metro news could be inside a Jim Click auto flyer, or Greg Hansen's column could be buried inside the Sports Authority insert.

The Tucson Citizen, in the meantime, is exhibiting its own sign of desperation by peddling banner ads on the front page, resembling some of the shabbier crap you find online.

What's next? Pop-ups in the center of the inside pages?

LOTTA FLUFF AND PUFF: The Star's hard-hitting Tiffany Kjos profiled Gadabout Salon & Spa owner Pamela J. McNair-Wingate recently. The breathless puffile made it seem that Gadabout was the only salon and spa on the planet. In the little sidebar box, McNair-Wingate declined to provide her age. We're here to help. She'll celebrate her 60th on October 9.

REGRETS, WE HAVE A FEW: We slapped around Tucson City Council candidates Steve Leal, Jesse Lugo and Vicki Hart last week for putting up campaign signs earlier than 30 days before the election. Well, surprise, surprise--turns out the city deleted that limitation from the sign code last year, at the same time it voted to limit signs in public right-of-way. So don't let us catch candidates doing that!

We also complimented KOLD news director Bob Smith on the size of his cajones. Our Spanish-speaking friends have alerted us that, translated, we said we liked the size of his boxes. We had meant to express how impressed we were by the size of his testicles. ¡Chingado!

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