The Skinny

POST-HOLIDAY DEPRESSION: Remember a couple of years ago, when the brilliant minds at the Arizona Legislature decided to create a two-year budget cycle so that they'd only have to talk about it every other year?

Then why are we talking about the budget every other minute these days?

More bad news arrived last week, when the Joint Legislative Budget Committee reported that December tax revenues fell $85 million short of projections, pushing the current year's budget shortfall to an estimated $360 million. Muy malo--and that's not even counting the billion-buck shortfall that awaits the fiscal year starting July 1.

The GOP top dogs, stung by criticism of what's now legally known as the Draconian Republican Budget, are complaining that Gov. Janet Napolitano's economic outlook is waaayyy too optimistic. Napolitano's response: "I'm using Bush administration numbers!" Funny, but that doesn't raise our faith in them.

If Napolitano's forecast is a little too bright, the GOP's projection of zero-growth strikes us as a little cloudy. What do these guys know that we don't? Sure, the Bush budget plan stinks, but will it really cripple the economy?

Senate President Ken Bennett, a Republican from Prescott, is repeating a seven-word mantra: "You get what you got last year." But that's no solution, because voters have locked in automatic increases for population growth and inflation in areas such as education and healthcare.

To avoid the ax, state workers get to spend the next few months taking time away from running their agencies to grovel before legislative committees, hat in hand, to justify their existence.

Meanwhile, the GOP caucus shifted its attention last week to the really important issue out there: Should a kid be able to get a driver's license if he hasn't registered for the draft?

What was that about patriotism being the last refuge of a scoundrel?

TORT REFORM: New Attorney General Terry Goddard has laid off more than 50 lawyers since taking office last month. We hear Goddard has brought in a hatchet man--known in the hallways as the Angel of Death--to clear deadwood out of the overstaffed office. So what do you call that many laid-off attorneys? A good start.

DRINKS ON FRED: City Councilman Fred Ronstadt, a midtown Ward 6 Republican, needs some lovin'. In his crusade to back Sam Hughes residents who want to deny wings joint Long Wong's a liquor license, Ronstadt ventured to a state Liquor Licenses and Control board meeting, where he was promptly asked why he failed to gain full support from the City Council.

Because, Ronstadt wept, "Jose Ibarra and Shirley Scott don't like me."

But the chairman of the liquor board couldn't help but notice all the 7-0 votes on license recommendations from the City Council. Why, Ronstadt was asked, did Ibarra and Scott join him on so many other votes?

Fred fell silent.

He failed to block approval for Long Wong's, which soon will be serving a cold brew.

IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH: If the Tucson Unified School District is serious about telling Pima County to save Kino Community Hospital, then it will fill the hospitals and its clinics with TUSD teachers and staff.

Pima Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry increased the pressure on TUSD board freshman Adelita Grijalva with this note, in response to the Grijalva-led resolution from TUSD telling Pima County to maintain Kino rather than convert it to a purely psychiatric hospital.

"I would appreciate your assistance in placing an item on the TUSD board meeting agenda to terminate all existing medical service contracts of TUSD and to use Kino Community Hospital as the sole source provider of these services," Huckelberry said in a follow-up letter to Grijalva.

Kino is now the object of affection for the management of University Physicians Inc. and a vote on the future of the 212-bed hospital that replaced the old county hospital in 1977 has been delayed until mid-March.

That should give Grijalva, a regular Mustang Sally, plenty of time (between court appearances and defensive driving class) to get TUSD medical services and health plan options on the TUSD agenda with help from her new best friend, TUSD President Joel T. Ireland. The real fun will begin when Ireland's chief TUSD ally, board Counsel Jane Butler, has to get involved. Butler latched onto her TUSD job after a stint at Pima County personnel, where, trust us, she is not missed.

ROBIN HUCK: The Pima Prime Minister also is having fun with his buildings full of lawyers. Lawyers for the indigent, it seems, are weary of being indigent themselves, or so say their bosses Public Defender Susan Kettlewell and Legal Defender Isabel Garcia. They have petitioned the Board of Supervisors for more cash--up to $400,000 in raises for their beleaguered little cogs in the assembly line of justice.

There is no hope for such an appropriation, particularly when contract lawyers, er suits for hire, will run over budget by $1.25 million this year.

Huckelberry has come up with a novel idea. He wants to tap into the funds built through attrition by County Attorney Barbara LaWall, a Democrat in her second term. Attrition in LaWall's Tower of Power is between 10 percent and 15 percent of the budget for personnel while only 5 percent of personnel in indigent defense.

"I would appreciate your recommendation as to allocating any of these additional attrition savings to attorneys' raises in all three department," Huckelberry said in a note to LaWall.

What's good for Santa Barbara should be good for Santa Isabel.

RIO SIN HUEVO: Members of the City Council were vexed and perplexed to learn from radio talkaholic John C. Scott, who learned from Steve Delgado of Inside Tucson Business (our sister publication), who learned from the state Department of Revenue, that the state won't be shipping any (sales) tax increment financing loot to Tucson for seriously lagging Rio Nuevo until the end of the fiscal year, June 30. The piss-broke city hoped to cash in at least by mid-December.

The story--a big one missed by the dailies--touched off widespread CYA memos including a dandy one from the increasingly out-of-touch City Manager James Keene.

Jay Gonzales, who perfected the Art of the Puff as a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, was hired by Keene at $80K a year specifically to "handle" this type of story.

"Jay Gonzales indicated it was on oversight on his part that the Mayor and Council was not notified that the publication was working on the story," Keene said in an utter waste of time and money. "He reported to me today that he received an e-mail from (Rio Nuevo Honcho) John Jones that he had discussed the issue with reporter. The item was not included in the next day summary of news media contacts that you have been receiving from Jay."

Keene noted that "Jay apologized for the oversight."

Thank God!

"At the same time," Keene said, "I think has Jay has been doing a really good job at anticipating stories and keeping council and staff alerted. He is chagrined over this matter."

Chagrined? He got his clock cleaned.

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