The Skinny

BEST OF TIMES, WORST OF TIMES: The City Council got a series of briefings last Monday from various department heads who came, hat in hand, to tell council members that they were in a deep hole.

The Parks and Rec Department needs more parks, more playgrounds, more ramadas and more ballfields, at a cost of $361 million. The libraries need another $103 million to build 11 new libaries and properly fill 'em with books. Police, fire, human services and others showed up to beg.

The council discussed various solutions, such as cutting all library funding and dumping the responsibility into the hands of the county--which will surely make the community a more attractive place to live.

Earlier in the day, the council heard a presentation about how they could build a new arena for just $25-$30 million. Such a facility that could result in a regular sell-outs of hockey games and more rock-and-roll shows. Oddly, despite our grim economic picture, the council majority of Mayor Bob Walkup and council members Fred Ronstadt, Carol West and Kathleen Dunbar voted to go ahead with a request for proposals for the stately pleasure dome.

Hey, we may not be able to give the kids a place to read, but we can provide them with action on ice!

It's pretty clear that department heads are painting the absolute worst picture possible. We don't disagree that the city needs to spruce up and expand many of its facilities. But the real game here is building support for a monthly fee for garbage collection, to free up general funds for all manner of spending.

Most amusing was Ronstadt, who continues to blame the whole mess on "past councils" that spent the city's reserve funds more than a decade ago.

Gee, Fred, you've been on the council for six years. We've been hearing you talk about how you and the new majority of council members have been moving the community forward for at least the last four years. At what point do you take responsibility for the problems of the community? Or are you just sore that the reserve funds aren't there for you to dip into so that you can avoid the hard decision of how to raise more revenue?

One thing Ronstadt never acknowledges when he plays his blame game: our community's grow-at-any-cost mentality. It's no wonder you have pressure on libraries, police, fire departments and the rest when you're adding people to the community at the rate we are.

It's called paying your growth bill. Guess what? It's come due.

STEAMROLLING: The bill to boost the powers of the Pima Association of Governments into a regional transportation authority is roaring through the Legislature. After getting its first read in the House Monday morning, it cleared the House Transportation Committee that afternoon.

During testimony, state Rep. Tom Prezelski, a Downtown Democrat, took umbrage at the notion that the recent rejection of the light-rail initiative was similar to the rejection of the city's road-heavy 2002 ballot prop.

"The difference is, the citizens' initiative won in 39 precincts," Prezelski explained.

Of course, it lost in 119 precincts, with more than 62 percent of the overall vote going against it.

Rep. Steve Huffman, a Foothills Republican, who is sponsoring the PAG bill, pimp-slapped Prezelski with this zinger: "If I ever lose an election, Tom, I'm going to call you to make me feel better."

MO' MONEY: More good news for the state: The latest report from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee shows that revenues are more than $120 million higher than the projections for the first six months of the fiscal year. December was a particularly good month, with sales, income and corporate income taxes all way above projections. In all, the state pulled in $96 million more than it did in December 2002.

Now, if only education, health care, prisons and social services like Child Protective Services didn't need all that and more ...

RIGHT HOOK: Rumors abound that the conservative freaks in Legislative District 30 are getting restless about Congressman Jim Kolbe, who's just a bit too moderate--not to mention gay--for their tastes. They're burning the midnight oil searching for a ideologically pure member to take on the 10-term Republican congressman.

Whether they can find someone delusional enough to believe he can knock off Kolbe remains to be seen. We know one thing: We wouldn't give up our day job, even if it was a just a crappy part-time gig making $24,000.

TEST RUN: Supporters of Democrat Howard Dean love his straight-talkin' style. They say he's willing to tell you where he stands, even if it's going to make people angry.

But Dean is among the Democrats who have refused to reveal where they stand on a whole mess of issues.

Project Vote Smart, the national political clearinghouse available on the Web at, tried to quiz all the Democrats with their National Political Awareness Test, an in-depth survey of positions on just about every issue on the agenda in Washington.

Guess what? Dean turned down the opportunity to take the test, as did Sen. John Kerry.

Actually taking the time to answer the questionnaire were Wesley Clark, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton. Other candidates who replied included Mike Bay of the National Barking Spider Resurgence Party (we are not making this up), Earl F. Dodge of the Prohibition Party and Jackson Kirk Grimes of the United Fascist Union.

Project Vote Smart, which got its start right here in the Old Pueblo more than a decade ago, is having increasing difficulty getting candidates from the major parties to lay out their positions. Political strategists are warning candidates that revealing their positions means that their political foes can do one-stop shopping for their opposition research.

Yes, that's how bad the American political system has become: Candidates are afraid to reveal where they stand on issues because it will make it easier to run a negative ad against them.

BOOB TUBE: City Councilman Fred Ronstadt was well out of his midtown Ward 6 in the last week. The second-term Republican jumped at the opportunity to represent Tucson on the Oprah Winfrey Show, as the doyenne of talk-show hosts went ahead with the exploration of good counselors gone bad. That would be the mistake that Nonie Reynolds, a former Tucson High School drop-out prevention specialist, made by stripping for OVER 50 magazine.

Freddy boy apparently forgot that we are not Chicago or New York or any other city that puts education under City Hall. Republican Mayor Bob Walkup knew that and wisely declined Queen Oprah's invitation.

Why didn't Oprah's people simply call TUSD Board member Joel T. Ireland? After all, Rev. Ireland represented Nonie while both were players in the Tucson Unified School District--Ireland as a member of the district's governing board and Nonie as an employee.

Ronstadt boasted to radio talk shows and the Tucson Citizen how he got the royal treatment in Chicago. Limo rides, dinner with his wife.

"They wanted a recognized leader of the community," Ronstadt immodestly told the Citizen.

One day, Freddy told the afternoon rag, "I was sitting with friends having a glass of wine and then I'm off on the place to do the Oprah show."


But Ronstadt's public appearances didn't stop there. We damn near ran off Congress Street Saturday night, as a (John) Dillinger Day bash got going at Hotel Congress. A thick figure filled our view. It's Ronstadt dressed fancy in a tux and handling a cigar. Apparently, Hobbit wear is so last year.

Some advice to Fred: Do as even P.J. O'Rourke says and take the label off the stick. No need to show off. No one smokes the label.

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