HEIR HEADS: That billion-dollar state budget shortfall just grows and grows. So what are state lawmakers doing about it? Cutting income taxes for the wealthy once again.

Last week, Tucson Sen. Ramon Valadez tried to preserve Arizona's inheritance tax, which is set to expire alongside the repeal of the federal estate tax. (And don't get us started on Washington's big break for the rich, which will accelerate the federal government's plunge back into deficit spending.)

The plan was knocked down 15-13 on a Senate floor vote. Sen. Scott Bungaard took the standard GOP stance that the dead shouldn't have to pay taxes.

First of all, the dead can't be taxed--because they're DEAD. Estate taxes, which don't even kick in until the inheritance tops $675,000, are paid by heirs, who have often done nothing to earn the money. Valadez says his plan to retain the tax would hit about 3,700 of the wealthiest estates in Arizona. Meanwhile, he estimates the tax break will cost the state $18 million next year.

But we're sure the GOP has a plan to plug that hole, even if it means higher tuition for students or cuts in programs for sick people who need medical help. They know all about doing the right thing.

THORNY DEBATE: The Joseph Wood Krutch cactus garden on the UA mall is like so much that's vanishing in this town--an old reminder of days past, before everything was corporatized and every decision made by bigwigs in big cities who know so much more about the way things oughta be than the stupid natives.

So it's only natural that the UA Alumni Association would hire an out-of-town consultant to design a $2.5 million alumni plaza that would get rid of an eyesore like that little scrubby patch of desert on campus, which includes three rare boojum trees that have been alive for more than seven decades. After all, Krutch, a longtime Sonoran Desert environmental type, didn't write a big fat check to the UA's bazillion-dollar fundraising campaign, so why should anything be named after him?

The only surprise came when some UA alum and students banded together, pestering UA Prez Peter Likins with a demand that the garden be saved. Last week, Likins announced the garden would remain--although the consultant may recommend that all the cactus be torn out so only the boojum trees remain.

Likins has expressed disbelief that anyone could have thought he wasn't listening as the protest grew. "Unfortunately, protest movements take a life of their own, lighting fires of dissent that are difficult to extinguish," Likins wrote in a recent e-mail. "Despite my repeated assurances that we have heard the objections to transplanting the boojums and are looking for alternatives, the campaign continued to build momentum."

So Pete was on the right side all along! Where did the protestors ever get the idea that Prez Likins wasn't going to back down on plans to relocated the cactus garden? It couldn't have been Likins' own e-mail on December 5, which read: " I will stand behind the plan to relocate the cactus garden ... There will be protests of this plan, so we must be ready to accept criticism and prove the critics wrong by creating a better cactus garden."

LIFE OF THE PARTY: Democrats took such a clock-cleaning in last year's City Council races that some leaders, including former Mayor Tom Volgy, Councilman Steve Leal and outgoing Supervisor Raúl Grijalva, vow to reverse the trend. They signed up new precinct captains en masse, but their liberal glut also contained some moderate and conservative Democrats enlisted by Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez.

In all, the Board of Supervisors ratified the appointments of 121 precinct committee chairs last week. Many are activists you thought should already be in office and most are in the inner city.

No doubt Democrats need this kind of help to avoid a repeat, but more appealing candidates than Paula Aboud are necessary. And you have to love Volgy's line to the Arizona Daily Star: "We can't afford to have a one-party system in this town." He didn't seem to complain when the City Council was a Democratic monopoly from 1989 until 1997, when Fred Ronstadt became the first Republican since Roy Laos to hold a seat. Until Leal punted him in 1989, Laos was the lone Republican on the council for the two previous years.

CLONING RAUL: Exiting the Board of Supervisors after 13 years in District 5, Raúl Grijalva has sworn that he will stay out of the fight to name his replacement. No anointing, he promised. The last time that was done, without complaint, was 1988, when Sam Lena selected Dan Eckstrom as his successor.

But Grijalva, who now wants to be in Congress, has canned the humility in his pretentious, presumptuous and pompous resignation letter in which he states: "I have heard people say why should I resign and leave a safe seat and risk this political security for the unknown. But as you know, I am not one to avoid traveling the path least traveled. The personal risk is well worth the community reward."

He has listed seven criteria with which to evaluate the wanna-be Rauls. They include support for the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, ability to "understand and support a long-range growth policy that promotes racial and economic integration as well as support of neighborhoods and the environment," and "protect and enhance our public health and medical system and brings (sic) meaning to the concept of healthy communities." Grijalva also says he wants applicants to comment and state positions on "the status and support of Chuck Huckelberry as County Administrator."

Good luck.

ROMANCING THE CARMONA: SWAT Doc Rich Carmona, aka The Shootist, has been interviewed by White House staff for possible appointment as Surgeon General. And although Dubya's top choice appears to be his personal physician, Carmona has backing from Sen. Jon Kyl and Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republicans who are Carmona fans.

There is no bigger fan, however, than Edmunch Krasinski, the D.O., who is president of the Pima County Medical Society. "Dr. Carmona's personal courage is legend," Krasinski wrote in a Jan. 30 letter to Andrew Card, White House chief of staff. "Whether rappelling out of a rescue helicopter to reach an air evac survivor in rugged mountains or facing down a murderer in a Tucson street battle, the people of Tucson have seen it (Carmona's exploits) all -- his personal story -- is like a morality play." Krasinski also calls Carmona a "prophet without an audience" for his work in terrorist response preparation and, finally (he had to be out of breath by now) says Carmona is "a rugged gem from the streets of New York who found his way to the Arizona desert."

Krasinski skipped the time Carmona shot himself in the 1) foot, 2) leg, 3) butt on some SWAT operation. But who cares?

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