SO LONG, JANET!Prez-elect Barack Obama made it official earlier this week: Gov. Janet Napolitano is off to Washington, D.C., passing control of the state to Secretary of State Jan Brewer and a GOP-controlled Arizona Legislature.
Napolitano released a lengthy statement which included this noble sentiment: "I believe that when called upon to serve--particularly at such a critical time in the history of our country--it is our duty to step forward and say, 'Yes.'"
Sure--because no one else in the nation could possibly run the Department of Homeland Security. And it's not like Napolitano already had a duty to Arizonans. This is certainly about service to America, and not Napolitano's own vaulting ambition.
Napolitano and Brewer are promising a smooth transition, after which it should take about six days to reverse most of everything that Napolitano accomplished in six years. But, hey: Duty calls, so sacrifices must be made.
Napolitano isn't out the door yet; she'll stick around until she's confirmed, which means she'll have the chance to deliver a state-of-the-state address wherein she can lay out her agenda for the two or three weeks she'll still be in office. And she'll provide lawmakers with a budget. We're sure they'll help the environment by tossing it straight into the recycle bin.
Napolitano will also be around for a special session later this month, should she come to an agreement with lame-duck lawmakers to cut some state spending.
The latest budget numbers, released last week, continue to paint a grim picture. The $599.6 million in tax collections in October were $120 million below the forecast and represented a 12 percent drop from October 2007. In the first four months of the fiscal year, the primary tax collections were down 9.4 percent from last year; overall, the shortfall in projected revenue was $443 million, with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee now estimating that this year's budget deficit will hit $1.2 billion.
More bad news: The state lost 2.6 percent of its jobs in October, the worst drop since August 1975. Meanwhile, the increase in unemployment claims was the largest since January 1971.
Sales taxes on construction dropped 17.9 percent compared to last October, thanks to a sluggish homebuilding market. Consumers remain reluctant to buy cars, with sales-tax collections on auto purchases down 27 percent.
But one thing is picking up: lottery-ticket sales, which were 6 percent higher than October of last year. Feeling lucky, punk?
SO LONG, WESTCORThe economic woes are being felt at the local level, too. City Manager Mike Hein is expected to release revised budget figures this week that will give us some idea of how deeply the City Council will have to cut to balance the budget.
In other local economic news: The fancy-shmancy mall developers at Westcor have given up the idea--at least for now--of developing a New Tucson on 12,000 acres of state-trust land out on the southeast side, near the UA's Science and Technology Park. Westcor, which built the dreamy La Encantada on Campbell Avenue and Skyline Drive, had dropped a couple million bucks to start the planning process, but last week, they told state officials they were holding back.
Maybe they're waiting for the economy to turn around--or maybe they're just waiting for the State Land Department to sweeten the deal. At any rate, we don't see any other developers stepping up in this climate.
This is good news if you're one of those folks who hate growth. It's bad news if you're one of those folks who wanted to see what happens when an entire area is designed to look like La Encantada. Would that have included fake snow on Christmas Eve?
MEDIATION DETERIORATIONThe Coronado National Forest's attempt to farm out its analytical legwork--and deflect a bit of political heat--surrounding a proposed mine in the Santa Rita Mountains has crashed and burned.
Coronado mandarins had hired Tucson's U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution to help sift through public comments on the Rosemont Valley project, which will eventually be melded into a draft environmental statement. In turn, the institute hired an Oregon mediator to convene a citizens' group, with the apparent aim of providing an independent assessment of those roughly 11,000 comments.
But there were formidable problems from the get-go, such as nagging questions over the transparency of a "public" process where meetings were to be held behind closed doors. Then came concerns about what actually could be accomplished; after all, digging half a mine was never much of a compromise.
These hefty hurdles eventually led mediator Carie Fox to pull the plug, after conducting a flurry of late October bull sessions in Tucson. Fox says that both sides in the matter--would-be mining company Augusta Resource Corp. and its fierce opponents--were simply angling for advantage.
"If people are having to think about strategies when they're in my meetings, you know what ends up happening?" Fox says. "Nothing."
Many observers considered the mediation effort doomed from the start. Much of that failure emanates from the simple, irreversible destructiveness of an open-pit mine. Blame also lies with mistrust sewn by Augusta's PR hacks, who haven't missed many chances to twist the truth.
But a big chunk of culpability lands on the doorstep of the Coronado National Forest, which fanned discordant flames with its ham-handed approach to public meetings. Rather than hosting hearings where folks could speak up, Coronado opted for much tamer "open houses," which provided no platform for public give-and-take.
Frustration with that approach exploded at an open house in Patagonia on March 20, when the Forest Service called in Santa Cruz County sheriff's deputies and the U.S. Border Patrol after a local senior citizen got out of hand.
In their defense, Coronado officials argue that they've obeyed the letter of the law. Perhaps that's true. But throughout this long and bitter process, they've repeatedly proven to be tone deaf when it comes to politics and public sentiment. The demise of this ill-advised mediation process is only the latest evidence of a poisoned process.
Still, mine opponents have reason for hope: Crashing copper prices may achieve what angry citizens could not. As Augusta's dreams of huge profits take a tumble, there's buzz that the company could be a bit more motivated to do the right thing--and could sell the embattled Rosemont Valley to Pima County for a decent price.
GET SNAPPED ON THE STREETA few weeks ago, we told you about the Tucson Portrait Project being done by local artists Gary Patch and Darren Clark, who are snapping 7,000 photos of Tucsonans that will be transferred to tiles on giant panels at the entrances of the new Fourth Avenue underpass.
If you want to be immortalized, stop by the tailgate parties on the UA mall before the UA-Arizona State football game, where Patch and Clark will have their portable photo pod set up between 2 and 5 p.m.
If you can't make it, they'll also be at the Fourth Avenue Street Fair between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 12, through Sunday, Dec. 14.
For more info, visit the Project Web site.