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IMAGINARY NUMBERS

The Republican leadership is behind schedule on releasing a budget proposal, but we're sure they'll get around to it sooner or later. Evidently, all that fighting with Gov. Janet Napolitano over funding programs for English-language learners gummed up the works.

We hear most of the budget work is wrapped, except for figuring out how to deal with that $800 million surplus that's pouring in.

Lawmakers are fighting over how the extra money oughta be spent. Expanding all-day kindergarten? Income tax cuts? Property tax relief? More border security? Expanding state-subsidized health-care coverage? Eliminating the smoke-and-mirror tricks they've used to balance the budget in past years? With all the ideas floating around, the surplus has already been spent three or four times over.

Our favorite idea: Spend the money on highway construction. Granted, too much would probably end up expanding the freeways in Maricopa County, but we'd love extra money to widen Interstate 10 between here and Phoenix. It's no secret that there are plenty of developments popping up in Pinal County, which means that in the future, the highway will be jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive. And before long, we're going to have the same problem on I-10 between here and Benson, once all those little pink houses get built down there.

In a few years, when you're sitting in bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic, just keep repeating to yourself: Growth pays for itself! Growth pays for itself!


BATTLE OF THE BLOGGERS

Democrat Paula Aboud officially kicked off her state Senate campaign in front of the Democrats of Greater Tucson this week. Aboud, who was appointed to the District 28 Senate seat earlier this year by the Pima County Board of Supervisors when Gabrielle Giffords resigned to run for Congress, will face fellow Democrat Ted Downing, who's looking to move up from his District 28 House seat.

With Downing making his move for the Senate, there's a fight brewing for his vacant House seat. Leaping into the arena are two local bloggers, Steve Farley and Ted Prezelski.

A longtime local political junkie, Prezelski is frequently mixed up with his brother, Tom Prezelski, who already represents District 29 in the House. For a change, the confusion between the two should be beneficial rather than annoying, since it boosts Ted's name ID.

Ted writes insider political analysis at Rum, Romanism and Rebellion--check it out at rumromanismrebellion.blogspot.com--but he may have to hang it up, because the Clean Elections Commissars tell him it could be a violation of the rules to continue blogging on legislative issues. Can we just note how utterly stupid that sounds to us? And does this mean candidates have to give up their MySpace accounts?

Farley, a public artist who lost his bid for the Tucson City Council to Nina Trasoff last year in the Democratic primary, has been putting his political energy into working on the Regional Transportation Authority's plan, which voters will decide in May. These days, Farley and his daughters are starring in a TV ad urging voters to pass the upcoming propositions, which would raise the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for road, mass transit and pedestrian improvements. Better not let Clean Elections hear about those ads--they could be considered an in-kind contribution!

Farley transformed his City Council campaign Web site (www.friendsofarley.com) into something called the People's Policy Project last year, but it appears to be morphing back into a campaign site as he launches his legislative effort. Don't tell Clean Elections about that, either.

Farley still has a functioning political machine from his council race and has tapped Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias to chair his campaign.

UA med school resident Matt Heinz, a political newcomer, is also in the House race.


SCRAMBLEWATCH UPDATE

It's been a few weeks since we checked in with the Scramblewatch '06 desk to find out what's going on with the candidates seeking the seat of retiring Congressman Jim Kolbe.

Democrat Gabby Giffords, who gave up her state Senate seat to reach for that congressional brass ring, had her pal Robert Reich, the secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, come to town over the weekend for meet-and-greets in Tucson, Sierra Vista, Green Valley and even Phoenix. Nothing like a lefty superstar to help raise cash!

Speaking of raising cash: We hear that Democrat Patty Weiss is having a bit of a struggle in that department. Of course, that could be disinformation, but we'll find out for certain on April 15, when the next campaign-finance filings are due.

Weiss tells us fundraising is chewing up a lot of her time these days, which is one reason she's pushing for public financing for federal candidates. (Another reason is probably so Patty can subtly remind voters that Giffords never used the state's Clean Elections program when she was running for the Legislature--which, if you ask us, was a smart move on Gabby's part, since it allowed her to have a fundraising base when she shifted into congressional mode.)

Weiss isn't sure how much cheddar a congressional candidate should get for a campaign, but notes that it's not unusual for a campaign to cost $1 million or more these days. A publicly financed campaign program is sure to broaden the number of candidates running for Congress.

But is it really such a hot idea to give all those wannabes big, fat checks? We're sure Republican Randy Graf--who hadn't even passed the six-figure mark with his last filing--would be happy with a million bucks to fuel his congressional aspirations. There are plenty of consulting and ad firms who would be all over the idea, too. And don't even get us started on perennial candidate Joe Sweeney.

Weiss' push for public financing of elections has helped her secure the endorsement of Tom Volgy, the UA professor and former Tucson mayor who helped pioneer public financing in city elections way back in the 1980s. Volgy, who turned down PAC contributions and actually sent back contributions during his race against Kolbe in 1998, says public financing of federal elections would reduce the power of influence-peddlers on Capitol Hill.


GREET THE GOV

Want to meet Gov. Janet Napolitano? Or at least gather $5 contributions to help qualify her for Clean Elections? Jerry Anderson, the former city councilman who is heading up Napolitano's Southern Arizona campaign, tells us the Napster will be in town this Saturday, March 25, for a campaign rally. Head over to the Knights of Columbus hall, 601 N. Tucson Blvd., at 9 a.m. to get a glimpse of Her Majesty. For more info: 326-3716.

In other statewide campaign news: Dean Martin, the state senator who is no relation to the hard-drinkin' Rat Packer, announced last week he'd be seeking the office of state treasurer. The current state treasurer, David Petersen, isn't running for re-election, because he's busy defending himself from charges that he misused his office and influence to benefit a character-building outfit that was paying him on the side. Yes, that's right: His alleged graft is associated with a character-building organization. We hear he was a complete disaster in managing the Treasurer's Office, which oversees the investment of more than $9 billion in various accounts.

More by Jim Nintzel

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