IT KEEPS GOING ... AND GOING ...As we enter the month of June, the budget battle continues to drag up at the loony Legislature. (New motto: "Home of the never-ending session!") Hope nobody was planning on getting away for summer vacation any time soon. And that everyone has been spending their weekends gathering signatures to get on the ballot, because those petitions are due in just a couple of weeks.
As of press time, Republican moderates were fighting with Republican conservatives. The Republican leadership was fighting with Gov. Janet Napolitano. And Democrats in the House and Senate--well, they're pretty much irrelevant to the process. Sorry, but it's the sad truth of the matter, gang.
Napolitano, who remains hell-bent on seeing an expansion of all-day kindergarten, has given a lot on the question of tax cuts, upping her original bid of $100 million in cuts in sales and auto taxes to more than $300 million in a mix of income-tax cuts and one-time rebates--basically, everyone would get $100 back on their taxes, as long as they owed at least that much.
Napolitano, the Democrats (not that they matter much) and even some Republicans are reluctant to cut income taxes more drastically for the simple reason that once those taxes are cut, it's impossible to increase them again. And the progressive nature of Arizona's income-tax system means that the 10 percent cut that Republicans are pushing would mean the bulk of the cuts are going to Arizona's wealthiest residents.
Oh, we forgot: It's class warfare to point that sort of detail out.
GOP leaders, all hopped up on the state's billion-buck surplus, are determined to lock in deeper income-tax cuts. And they've come up with a new strategy in case Napolitano vetoes their plan: Put it on the ballot for voters to decide.
Frankly, we still can't understand why it makes more sense to give the average taxpayer a couple of extra bucks rather than spend that surplus money on, say, widening Interstate 10 between here and Phoenix--and we wouldn't mind a little cheddar for the stretch between here and Benson, which is gonna be a real mess before long. But nobody ever listens to us.
And besides: We're sure the private sector can handle that sort of project.
By the way, the tax cut isn't the only issue Republicans are considering taking to the ballot: There's also the omnibus illegal-immigration package Napolitano is expected to veto.
And lawmakers are also considering asking voters to approve a bill that Napolitano vetoed earlier in the session that would prevent law-enforcement officials from seizing guns during a natural disaster. That one was triggered by stories in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that revealed law-enforcement types were grabbing guns while evacuating residents.
If all three of those proposals ended up on the ballot, Napolitano would have to spend a lot of time defending her decision to veto them. And while a savvy campaign might beat the tax-cut issue--we can see a smart ad showing all the money pouring into the pockets of Arizona's wealthiest citizens--the other two would probably pass, which means she'd be running on the wrong side of them.
We don't imagine that means Napolitano would lose the election, but it would sure make her life uncomfortable for the next few months.
DOG AND PONY SHOWWhile the budget talks grind on, there is other action at the Legislature. For example, last week, Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a bill making bestiality a crime. That's gonna put a dent in our Uncensored biz.
In other animal news at the Capitol, the battle between Maricopa's Turf Paradise horse-racing track and Tucson Greyhound Park continues.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow Turf Paradise to cut Tucson Greyhound Park out of the off-track betting biz. Right now, Turf Paradise has entered a marriage of convenience with Tucson Greyhound Park. The dog track can't run off-track betting on horse racing, but it can partner up with Turf Paradise to do it. And Turf Paradise can't run an OTB operation in Pima County without Greyhound Park's permission.
So Turf Paradise agreed to enter a partnership with Greyhound Park to share the gambling pie. Greyhound Park gets about $850,000, while Turf Paradise gets about $2.5 million a year. But the new legislation eliminates Greyhound Park's veto power, which would allow Turf Paradise to run its own operation down here without sharing a piece of the action.
The legislation--which was headed to the Senate as of press time--was amended to a bill that had something to do with life insurance. So it has sidestepped the entire committee process, where it probably would have died.
The end result? Tucson Greyhound Park stands to lose several hundred thousand dollars after expenses--and given that Native American casinos have already sucked a lot of the gambling business away, that kind of financial blow could prove fatal to the track, which remains the largest private employer in South Tucson.
BALLOT BUSTINGThe battle for an Oro Valley Town Council seat got a lot more interesting last week. When we last checked in, a mere three votes separated incumbent Councilwoman Paula Abbott from challenger Don Cox.
Since that was close enough to trigger an automatic recount, local attorney Bill Risner, representing Abbott, sent a letter to Brad Nelson, Pima County's director of elections, inquiring what sort of program he'd be using to recount the votes. State law requires that "the programs used in the recount of votes pursuant to this section shall differ from the programs ... used in the initial tabulation of the votes."
Nelson told Risner that the recount program would differ because only the Oro Valley votes would be tabulated and reported.
That wasn't enough for Risner, who was in court late last week and earlier this week, asking a judge to order that different software be used to count the ballots. As of press time, Judge Michael Miller had not yet made a ruling.
The entire incident points to the lack of clarity in Arizona election statutes--which suddenly starts to matter a bunch in close races like this.
And given the other problems in the election--like, as we noted last week, the fact that several Oro Valley residents didn't get a chance to cast a ballot in OV races because of a mix-up in the ballots they were given--it's clear that we've got some problems to iron out.
One other footnote: Turnout in the Oro Valley election was slightly less than 34 percent--which was significantly less than the 53 percent in the March primary. The big difference: The March election, like the last several contests in Oro Valley, was an all-mail affair. In the May election, because it was combined with the countywide RTA ballot, voters had to request early ballots or go to the polls. Hey, that wouldn't have led to any confusion, would it?