The Skinny

SEE YOU IN COURT: Just as we predicted earlier in these pages, officials from the State Compensation Fund filed suit against the state last week to block the effort to force the fund to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to help Arizona through its ongoing financial crunch.

By filing suit, comp fund officials have sidetracked efforts by state officials to snatch $50 million in fund assets to balance the books for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The Napolitano Administration figures it can find enough quarters underneath the sofa cushions to make up for the $50 million, but the lawsuit could throw some serious kinks in future balancing acts.

The fight stems from an ongoing debate about the comp fund, which was formed back in the '20s with some seed money from the state. The idea was to create a cooperative of sorts that would allow employers to purchase insurance to cover workers injured on the job. It has proved wildly successful; fund managers were able to quickly pay back the state's money and have since accumulated more than a billion dollars in assets through careful management. The fund now covers more than 60 percent of the state's employers and is particularly attractive to small businesses because it offers lower rates than most private carriers. It even offers a rebate to companies that have solid safety records.

So, naturally, Republicans want to mess with this communist operation. Originally, they hoped to sell off the fund to a private insurer who wanted to snag all the business, although company officials admitted that they'd pocket profits instead of offering rebates.

When that plan sparked outrage from the GOP's business base, both Napolitano and the lawmakers started talking about forcing the comp fund to purchase state assets in exchange for cash. Comp fund officials were reluctant to go along with the deal, but agreed to do so if lawmakers would pass a bill assuring them that this was their last bite at the apple.

Lawmakers lifted $50 million to balance the current fiscal year (offering to exchange such gems as the state's mental hospital) and were looking to grab as much as $250 million for the coming year, but the second raid was made unnecessary when the federal government delivered a fat check as part of the giganto tax cut. Once lawmakers were no longer interested in borrowing the larger amount, they failed to act on the comp fund's no-future-raids bill before the session ended.

For Republicans, the issue is ideological; the fund competes with private insurers. Sen. Bob Burns recently remarked that the fund's assets clearly belong to the state and that businesses would be "better served" if there was more competition in the compensation insurance arena--which is true, if by better served, he means businesses were forced to pay higher rates to a private carrier.

All of the legal action could have been avoided if the Legislature had passed that bill protecting the fund from future raids--and comp fund officials would have even granted the state a $250 million credit line. Instead, the whole matter is now headed for litigation.

NUTCRACKER SUITE: There's fresh meat atop City Hall. Jeff Sales, a former honcho at KOLD-TV, is now one of Republican Mayor Bob Walkup's yes men. Or is it the other way around? Whatever. Sales was in Walkup's ear last week when the mayor and other officials made an appearance, complete with tepid remarks, at the site of a new road necessary for Vail's Cienega High School. Andrew Greenhill, once the mayor's top dog, was at the other end of the lineup. But if Walkup's bosses on the hill wanted an upgrade--someone with political brains, heft and cunning--this was a poor purchase at $52,335 a year.

TUCSON WATER WELSH: One of the most despicable recent acts by a local government has to be the Tucson City Council's complete failure to force Tucson Water to pay up on the monumental damage that Central Arizona Project water did to thousands of Tucson homes during the disastrous delivery in the early 1990s. Despite corroded pipes, burst water heaters, dead fish and destroyed homes, the city still is stiffing those who have nearly 8,000 claims pending even after 10 years.

Members of the City Council attempted to hide from this shame by blaming their lawyers (sorry, for whom do they work?), the court (just settle then!) and even some goofy settlement panel that frighteningly includes political puppeteer Tom Chandler and defrocked Judge Lawrence Fleischman.

Normally, suspicion would arise that the mayor and the council are playing more games, waiting to hand out the cash to these people--if they're still alive--just before the fall election. But these bozos aren't that clever.

Tucson Water is busy downplaying another crisis it created when it failed to remove a mercury-holding seal from an eastside pump. Citizens were none too pleased, but Tucson Water says there's nothing to worry about. They had backup from the Pima County Health Department. Gee, wasn't it a Pima County Health Director, Dr. Pat Nolan, who said some 20 years ago that it was the diets of the southside Mexican Americans and not trichloroethylen that caused those horrendously high numbers of leukemia, lupus and cancer?

Councilwoman Carol West, a Democrat who represents the "mercury" neighborhood, was a disappointment at a recent meeting, snickering and scoffing at the questions and concerns from citizens.

Remember the next time that government destroys your home: Government is forever. Lawsuits and lawyers don't frighten government, which can just roll on and on and on and on and --

ANOTHER KINO COMMITTEE: After parceling out portions of Kino Community Hospital and agreeing to heavy subsidies, the Board of Supervisors was proud to set up yet another committee to help guide the county's ruinous management and oversight of the 26-year-old hospital.

This was the brainchild of Democrat Richard Elias and will include two members of the statutorily required Kino Community Advisory Committee, two members from the county Board of Health (which will allow Elias to keep Carolyn Trowbridge, a Tucson Medical Center nurse/administrator and wife of Elias aide Keith Bagwell, active on Kino), two members from the Kino employee union (that would be the whole roster) and five other Kino employees. Ten more will come from the two appointments allotted to each supervisor and one each from Gov. Janet Napolitano's office, Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva.

The real tragedy is that neither Elias nor any other supervisor took a step to guarantee that the people Kino serves--its patients--have seats on this new committee. That's par for the course.

WHAT IF THEY HELD AN ELECTION AND NOBODY RAN? There will be a primary election in the city of Tucson this September, but unless you happen to be a Ward 2 Democrat, there's no reason to show up. That's because everybody else--the mayoral, Ward 1 and Ward 4 candidates--are running unopposed.

And that Ward 2 primary will decide the race, because the GOP leadership decided to leave incumbent Councilwoman Carol West alone. Other than being a stooge for big developers and organizationally supporting the GOP members on the council, she is a liberal Democrat--which should tell you what really matters to the current GOP hierarchy. RINOS get along fine with DINOS.

We wonder if the geniuses who report politics for the dailies will figure out that this will depress turnout immensely, as few voters have a reason to show up--or if the reporters will act astonished by how few voters participate.

That any member of this City Council can dodge a primary or general is an indictment of a local media that is simply incapable of reporting anything but the most superficial acts of the bozos who are up for re-election.

Even the two "major" minor parties, the Greens and the Libertarians, have declined participation. The Greens are still on a self-imposed guilt trip for actually running candidates against Democrats and are apparently into self-destruction as a party. (We're sure some Green leader will write in to bitch about that, but when you don't run candidates, why do you bother to call yourself a political party?)

The Libertarians seem to have a different problem, since they've never given a rat's ass about who their candidates might screw up. In fact, they're usually proud of it when they do. Unlike the Greens, they do understand their role.

Or at least they used to. They hadn't missed a mayor's race in almost 20 years, and usually found at least one council candidate. But not this year. Tired? Bored? Lazy? Inept leadership? Or is this just part of the "nobody wants to run for stuff any more" malaise that seems to be flowing through the Old Pueblo?

THAT'S BIDNESS: Much was made last week by the dailies about the departure of Mark Zupan, dean of the Eller College of Business and Public Administration at the UA. Marky Mark, who picked up his doctorate from MIT in 1987, is headed to the greener pastures of the University of Rochester.

He is a youthful brainiac who energized some and began to include others. His escape was hardly a surprise. He may have finally been too embarrassed to lead a college named for a man who desecrated Arizona with billboards and convenience stores.

Zupan's roots in Tucson are so shallow that he never registered to vote in Pima County. That's an inconsequential detail to Supervisor Ann Day, a Republican, who praised every syllable that dribbled out of Zupan's mouth. He was going to help her re-style county government and the county budget.

We're still waiting.

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