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MarÍa Inés Taracena

Back on the Bus

Our long mass transit nightmare is finally over—or is it?

The local Teamsters union and Sun Tran management finally came to an agreement that ended the six-week strike that had crippled bus service across the community.

We don't really know the terms of the deal just yet—although we're assuming that sooner or later, a member of the Tucson City Council will figure out a way to get hold of the new contract (which really should be a public record, anyhow, given the number of taxpayer dollars involved) and we'll find out just how the money was divvied up.

Why is the contract not a public record? Well, technically, Sun Tran is a private manager of the bus system and not subject to Arizona public records law. As to why they just don't go ahead and release the contract, we can only speculate, but we're guessing that either the union didn't get that much out of the deal or whatever they got is going to upset the unions that represent city workers, who haven't got much of anything ever since the economy collapsed about seven years ago.

But while we wait for the contract details to emerge, there's plenty of chatter these days about revamping the management of the bus system so they don't have to worry about a future work stoppage that totally hoses people who depend on the bus to get around town. Or, as Councilman Steve Kozachik put it in a statement released after the strike: "Too many of our constituents and too many budget decisions depend on how we address those issues for us to allow a simple return to the status quo."

Among the options we heard: Find a new management company to take over for Professional Transit Management; persuade voters to pass a sales tax to fund transit; turn the whole thing over to the Regional Transportation Authority to run the buses; or create some kind of new agency to take over the service.

There are challenges with all of those options. There aren't that many businesses that manage transit systems, so a new company might not be any better than the current operator. Voters aren't likely to support a new tax dedicated to the buses, although they might support something that was part of a package that extends the life of the Regional Transportation Authority's current half-cent-per-dollar tax that expires in 2026. Turning the whole thing over to the RTA means the city will be surrendering control of a system that they pour at least $30 million into (and we're already hearing concerns from some council members that the RTA would need to give Tucson more influence over the RTA if the city hands over the transit system, which only complicates things further). And creating a new agency isn't likely to be cheaper than what you have now.

So whatever happens is likely to take a long time to resolve—and we hope in the meantime, City Council members don't use the idea of revamping the whole system to continue to kick the question of fare increases and route changes down the road.

But if past history is any indication, they probably will.

Clinic Controversy

McSally joins GOP colleagues in U.S. House in voting to defund Planned Parenthood

The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to cut off all funding to Planned Parenthood for one year, unless the clinics agree to stop performing abortions.

The "Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015" passed on a 241-187 vote, largely along party lines with Republicans supporting the bill and Democrats opposed. (Three Republicans voted against the legislation, while two Democrats supported it.)

Among Southern Arizona lawmakers, Democrats Raul Grijalva and Ann Kirkpatrick opposed it, while Republican Martha McSally voted in favor.

While federal funding of abortion is prohibited by federal law, Planned Parenthood clinics receive funding for other healthcare services, such as cancer screenings, birth-control prescriptions and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

But Republican members of the House of Representatives, spurred by undercover "sting" videos produced by an anti-abortion group that purport to show that some Planned Parenthood clinics were engaging in the sale of fetal tissue and organs for medical research, are now seeking to shut down any funding for Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country.

Planned Parenthood officials have denied engaging in the sale of fetal tissue and organs, saying that they only accepted payments for the storage and transportation of the tissue samples, which is allowed by federal law.

Fetal tissue is used by researchers who are seeking cures to diseases such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other crippling medical conditions.

"It's no wonder that solid majorities of the public disapprove of the job Congress is doing and overwhelmingly support Planned Parenthood," said Planned Parenthood Action Fund spokesman Eric Ferrero in a prepared statement. "Millions of Americans rely on Planned Parenthood for birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, and other critical preventive care, and nothing that politicians in Congress did today will change the fact that our doors remain open to everyone, in every part of this country, who needs high-quality, compassionate reproductive health care."

The legislation faces a likely filibuster in the U.S. Senate or a veto from President Barack Obama, but it also sets up a possible showdown over government funding that could lead to a government shutdown at the end of September.

McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak said that McSally pushed to have "a provision in the bill diverting and increasing funds for rural health centers, like El Rio in our community. These centers often provide all the non-abortion preventative services Planned Parenthood offers, and some services, like mammograms, that they don't."

Even though the state of Arizona has completed an investigation that determined that Planned Parenthood Arizona did not participate in any tissue-donation programs, McSally—who opposes abortion rights except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother is threatened—supported cutting off funding from the Arizona Planned Parenthood affiliates. Ptak said the additional funding for other health-care clinics would "ensure low-income men and women have access to preventative care while allowing time for full investigations into Planned Parenthood's practices of harvesting baby organs."

State lawmaker Victoria Steele, who is one of the Democrats seeking to challenge McSally next year, criticized her vote.

"It is a shame that Republican Rep. McSally voted to defund Planned Parenthood today," Steele said in a prepared statement. "She should be standing up for women and protecting their right to make their own healthcare decisions."

Former state lawmaker Matt Heinz, a Democrat who is also seeking to unseat McSally, was also critical of the vote.

"Planned Parenthood provides lifesaving medical services to women all across Arizona and the country," Heinz said in an email. "To attempt to defund it to prove a political point is just wrong."

Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs at 8 a.m. Sunday on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast systems and Channel 58 on broadcast, Dish and DirecTV. This week's guests include Citizens Clean Elections Commission Executive Director Tom Collins and Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation Executive Director Demion Clinco. The show also airs at 5 p.m. on KXCI, 91.3 FM.

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