Slash and Burn
Gov. Ducey and state lawmakers push through budget that hammers higher ed, safety net programs
Gov. Doug Ducey, Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker David Gowan did a remarkable thing last week: They drove a budget through the Legislature in just a few short days.
In fact, the speedy pace was one of the big accomplishments, according to Ducey, whose press operation sent out a bulletin highlighting that the passage was "the swiftest budget action in modern state history."
An all-night budget session like this is designed to do just one thing: Block any serious scrutiny of the budget and get it done before people can organize to protest the cuts.
"I've been through plenty middle-of-the-night budgets before, but I've never seen it come down this early and this strong and with this little input from anybody," State Sen. Steve Farley of Tucson said. "It was intentionally rushed. It wasn't about public input. It was about getting a conservative budget done and getting out of there quick."
We'll have more on the budget's winners and losers in next week's edition, but here are a few highlights of the losers:
• The three state universities—UA, ASU and NAU—were cut by $99 million. Arizona Board of Regents President Eileen Klein called the cuts "a big blow," noting in a prepared statement that 63 percent of the state's budget cuts will be absorbed by the universities.
• Pima Community College lost all its state funding, as did Maricopa Community College.
• Low-income Arizonans who qualify for the Temporary Aid for Needy Children now have a lifetime limit of just one year. That's the lowest limit in the nation.
• Expenses for corrections, administrative expenses and even next year's meaningless presidential primary were pushed down onto the counties. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry estimates Pima County picked up an extra $12 million in expenses, on top of the $82 million that the county already sends to the state to cover various expenses.
Assistant House Minority Leader Rep. Bruce Wheeler of Tucson said the fix was in on the budget process.
"Deals were made," Wheeler said. "Lawmakers were offered enough incentives to peel off enough opponents of the plan to where they got the number they needed and the consequences are devastating."
City Council looks for ways to end downtown homeless encampment as leaders get popped on drug charges
It was a rough week for the homeless encampment—or protest, if that's what you want to call it—on the edge of downtown's Viente de Agosto Park.
The number of people taking up residence in self-styled dreampods and tents along the wide sidewalks just around the corner from City Hall has been steadily increasing since federal Judge David Bury ruled that the city couldn't limit homeless activists to just a bedroll, a drink and one other item if they were sleeping on the sidewalk, as long as they gave at least five feet of space for pedestrians. Bury bought the argument that the homeless weren't camping; they were demonstrating against homelessness and had a First Amendment right to be there.
The Tucson City Council took up the question of what the city could do in light of the federal court ruling last Tuesday, March 3. The council chambers were packed with homeless advocates such as Brian Flagg and representatives from many of downtown's various business groups, including the Downtown Tucson Partnership, the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association and Visit Tucson.
City staff and council members stressed that they provide a lot of dollars to programs that attempt to help the homeless, but their frustration with this particular situation was clear. The council voted unanimously to try to revise the city's urban camping ordinance to prohibit camping on sidewalks, while at the same time asking staff to review the city's property holdings to find a piece of land somewhere in the city where the people now occupying the sidewalks around Viente de Agosto Park could park their dreampods.
The city has also appealed Bury's ruling that allowed the dreampods and tents to start popping up on the city's sidewalks in the first place. Lawyers were in due in court this week, after The Skinny's deadline.
Meanwhile, Pima County health officials have cited both the city and the county for health violations related to human poop, piss, needles and the like being scattered around the area. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry ordered a temporary fence built around a vent into the county's underground parking garage after he learned some of the pod people were using it as a toilet.
But the worst PR came on Thursday night, when Tucson police swept in and arrested a half-dozen of the pod people on various drug-dealing charges, including ringleader Jon McLane, who was apprehended on charges of selling and possessing weed.
Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who has been critical of McLane's tactics because he believes the encampment reduces public support for helping the homeless, said that the situation in downtown "should not be about Jon McLane. It should be about the people down there who have significant needs."
Kozachik said he thought the city needed to move cautiously even if Bury rules that the pod people can't keep building tiny houses on downtown sidewalks. He wants to work with the Primavera Foundation to send in social workers to try to help those with mental health issues, addictions or other problems before busting up the camp.
"We have to go in and survey people and find out where they are," Kozachik said. "I want to treat people's needs, not just roll their pod down the street and say, 'Find a place in a riverbed and we'll come and count you next year.' We have people down there with significant schizophrenia. We have people with significant mental disorders who are treatable. But to go in and grab someone with significant psychotic issues and start grabbing their goods, it's gonna set them off the deep end. And that's not fair to the person."
"Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel" airs Sunday at the special time of 9 a.m. on KGUN-9. This week's guests include Pima County Republican Party Chairman Bill Beard and Pima County Democratic Party Chairwoman Cheryl Cage.