The Skinny

IT'S A GO: As expected, the Tucson City Council voted unanimously on Monday night to ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax dedicated to transportation improvements, with about 82 percent of the money paying for street improvements and 18 percent directed toward mass transit.

So will this tax hike succeed where past ones have failed miserably?

Depends on whether voters like the plan and whether any organized opposition hammers it with a negative campaign. City leaders are clearly counting on frustrated drivers being willing to vote for just about anything--and this time, they may be right.

Members of the citizen committee that drew up the initial proposal say the plan was designed to reflect the priorities of residents contacted through the Let's Go, Tucson process (which cost, incidentally, about $400,000, or quite a bit more than the $250,000 the city could barely spare to keep Level 1 trauma units in our local emergency rooms).

A look at how the money is being spent shows that's simply not the case. The biggest priority among residents--besides better traffic enforcement--is the repair of their residential streets. But this plan sets only 37 percent aside for that work. The biggest slice, 45 percent, is going to "congestion management," which will widen a few roads in the city. (The original plan directed 43 percent for "deferred maintenance," but that was trimmed to increase the transit slice, which couldn't have come from the congestion-relief fund.)

The most costly element of congestion management is major roadwork on Houghton Road and the major streets leading to it, which will cost $86.2 million (with $51.1 million coming from new sales-tax dollars.) This one is a gift to the development community that is building and building on the booming southeast side.

The congestion-relief fund is also loaded down with three expensive grade-separated intersections that allow traffic on one street to pass unimpeded beneath another. Those three intersections alone will cost at least $50 million (and we suspect considerably more), or more than 12 percent of the $400 million raised over the next decade.

To facilitate the construction of these continuous-flow intersections, the city will exempt their construction from the city charter's Neighborhood Protection Act, passed by voters in 1986 specifically to require the design of GSIs to be approved by the electorate. The new mayor and city manager figure they can piss all over that pesky provision.

The architects of the sales-tax proposal can say all they want about addressing the desires of voters, but their own poll asking voters to rank 10 priorities showed GSIs came in at the bottom, just ahead of bike paths and light rail. That's no surprise--the intersections cost a fortune that could be better used widening elsewhere.

The Houghton work and the GSIs will suck up at least one-fourth of all the money raised over the next decade, leaving little for road widening projects elsewhere in town.

Meanwhile, mass transit improvements will be off the radar screen for the next decade because the additional 18 percent will raise barely enough to keep current service levels viable.

Will it matter to voters? We'll find out in May.

SMILE--YOU'RE BEING OBSERVED BY AN ENFORCEMENT CAMERA: Here's another part of the sales-tax proposal that hasn't gotten any ink outside of the Tucson Weekly: The transportation department is setting aside a half-million bucks for a pilot program to catch traffic offenders by using cameras at stoplights. This sort of photo-enforcement program has been plenty controversial in other cities, with people complaining that it's nothing more than a revenue generator for a police state. Let's see how voters like that one.

WAR AND PEACE: We all know war is a nasty business that's bad for children and other living things. But we believe it's sometimes necessary, as when a country needs to defend itself against crazed fanatics willing to pilot planes into tall buildings, pursue nuclear materials for hideous attacks designed to cause massive civilian casualties, and develop chemical and biological weapons.

Local peaceniks who disagree with that notion purchased another full-page ad in last Sunday's morning paper, claiming the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan "has created a humanitarian crisis of epic proportion" and calls for the cessation of military hostilities and the delivery of food aid.

Sorry, but we think the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan was underway long before U.S. bombs started falling. Pulling the U.S. troops out now would only allow the despicable agents of the Taliban and al-Qaeda to regroup for a counter-offensive that would do far more damage to the long-suffering Afghans and make food and other aid shipments far more treacherous.

The ad urged supporters to turn out for a march in honor of International Human Rights Day, which drew somewhere around 150 people. (Organizers said more folks would have shown up if it hadn't been for cold weather and the fact that many students were studying for finals.)

A woman holding a banner in support of women's rights told us she was horrified by the military campaign, which she said had driven women into refugee camps, where they would be mistreated. When we asked if they would have been better off left to the not-so-tender mercies of the Taliban (which, you may recall, thought it was all right to beat women for laughing in public and deny them medical care), she said she didn't much care for that gang either, but she believed force was never an appropriate response. Evidently, Mullah Omar just needed a good consciousness-raising session to change his ways.

Then she fell back on the argument that Osama bin Laden might not have had anything to do with the September 11 attacks--an argument that was pretty well settled for us after he appeared on al-Jazerra TV back in October and vowed that the storm of planes would continue. But this peace-loving co-ed conceded that she had been busy studying for finals, so she hadn't really paid much attention to the recent news. Hey, why bother learning about what's happening when you know from the start that the U.S. is wrong? Guess that's what passes for left-wing campus intellectualism these days.

The anti-war crowd, which in this case is essentially made up of those who would never approve of the use of force under any circumstances, does a disservice to International Human Rights Day by linking it to the war in Afghanistan. The Taliban was the most repressive government on the face of the earth--kids couldn't even fly kites--and putting them out of business was a big step in the right direction for human rights.

But then, maybe all those Afghans cheering American forces and digging up their TVs were just CIA plants.

GO FIGURE: Intrepid KGUN-9 reporter Sal Quijada has been around for a long time, so he ought to have figured out how to read a campaign finance report. But his recap of spending on November city council elections was so far off the mark that he's now eligible for a job forecasting budget revenues for the state of Arizona.

Quijada threw numbers around like a Web-addled day trader, coming up with a total of $293,000 spent on independent campaigns supporting GOP candidates Fred Ronstadt, who defeated Democrat Gayle Hartmann, and Kathleen Dunbar, who beat Democrat Paula Aboud.

How did Sal come up with his figures, which were more than twice the actual money spent by independent campaigns on behalf of the GOP slate? It appears he started with the actual independent campaign dollars spent by two committees--the Growth Lobby front group Citizens for a Better Tomorrow ($84,000) and the Arizona Republican Party front Good Government for Arizona ($40,000).

But Sal didn't stop there, even though he should have. He said SAHBA's political issues fund spent $118,000 campaigning for the candidates. (The fund is actually used for lobbying efforts, paying for polls and other non-candidate-related political activity.) Then he added another $19,000 from SAHBA's candidate fund, even though SAHBA's contribution from that fund went to the aforementioned Citizens for a Better Tomorrow, which properly reported the contribution. (So that figure was counted twice.)

Sal topped those blunders off by reporting that another independent committee, Citizens for Tucson's Future, spent $31,000. The committee did spend that money, but it had nothing to do with the Republican candidates. That was spent on the little-noticed general plan that passed on election day.

Maybe it's better that TV news crews stay away from reporting on campaigns after all.

While KGUN-9 may have botched the campaign finance coverage, the Tucson Citizen's Michael Lafleur, whom we beat up a few weeks back for his campaign coverage, did a nice wrap on candidate spending, even touching on how independent campaigns were corrupting the city's publicly funded campaign-finance program and examining potential charter amendments to decrease their influence. (Sure, the Weekly did the same thing a month ago, but we're flattered to see the plucky Lafleur following our lead.)

So how much was finally spent on the campaigns? Well, Ronstadt, Dunbar, Hartmann and Aboud all pretty much maxed out their campaign credit cards at $80,000. The aforementioned independent campaign committees supporting the GOP slate spent an additional $125,000. A union-backed independent campaign committee, Citizens for Excellence in Government, spent roughly $7,400 to support the Democratic slate in the general election.

So the GOP side spent about $285,000, while the Democrats blew about $167,400. We could do the obligatory math figuring out the cost-per-vote ratio, but that's rarely an insightful figure, so let's just skip it this time, OK?

BRAINS TWO SIZES TOO SMALL: The Tucson Citizen chose to give front-page coverage to what is clearly a bullshit cheap shot at newly elected Tucson City Councilmember Kathleen Dunbar. The Southern Arizona Justice Alliance, a combination of labor and religious looking suspiciously like the Pima Interfaith Council with major overlays into the Aboud for Council campaign, picked Dunbar "Grinch of the Year"--which is quite an accomplishment, considering she was just sworn in when they took the vote and wasn't holding any office during "the year," which we would point out to them is 2001.

The group determined that Dunbar alone was worthy of this "award" based on her pro-business stand and opposition to the "living wage" proposal through her support of state law that would've pre-empted the city's ability to pass one. In the process, they neglected all the other GOP office-holders with similar views who actually held office during the past 12 months--which validates that this is nothing more than a group of losers still whining about losing to Dunbar with the turkey they supported.

Given that the year in which events actually take place has no relevance to the group's "annual" award, perhaps organizers should consider giving a similar "heartless grinch" title to the voters of the City of Tucson for having chosen Dunbar, as well as overwhelmingly defeating a city minimum-wage proposal a few years back.

Grow up, dorks. You lost. Deal with it.

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