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Hearing Problem

Team Ducey hosts a public budget presentation in Tucson, but doesn't do much outreach to let folks know it's happening

Members of Gov. Doug Ducey's budget staff popped into Tucson last week for what was billed as a hearing to let Southern Arizona residents weigh in on Ducey's proposed $9.6 billion spending plan.

The problem: Ducey's office only let Tucsonans know this would be their big chance to hear about the budget on Tuesday morning and the meeting was on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.

So the meeting wasn't really designed to get a lot of input from anyone during the 45 minutes set aside for questions and comments. As former newspaper reporter A.J. Flick told the governor's staff during the public-comment period, people had less than a day to find a way to attend the meeting. "It shows how little the governor cares about average Arizonans who can't take time off from work or find transportation, daycare or babysitting on such short notice," Flick said.

Still, about four dozen folks turned out—and most of those who spoke following a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation were largely critical of the proposal.

Frank Bergen, who has frequently campaigned on behalf of local Democratic candidates, complained that Ducey's proposal once again sweeps money from funds that are designed to pay for road maintenance, calling it "a rip-off, when the state is awash in potholes and we have transportation needs that reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars."

Pima Community College Board member Mark Hanna welcomed the governor's staffers to the PCC meeting room where the presentation took place but wondered why community colleges in Pima and Maricopa counties wouldn't be seeing any state support under Ducey's proposal.

And many speakers expressed concern about K-12 education funding. While Ducey talked a lot about raises for teachers, signing bonuses for agreeing to work in distressed schools and other education initiatives in his State of the State address, his actual budget doesn't do much to move the needle on education spending.

Tucson Education Association President Jason Freed told the Ducey team that while he appreciated the baby steps toward more school spending, the actual numbers fell short of making a difference.

"It's a considerable improvement over the previous leadership, but the reality is what the reality is," Freed said after the presentation. "We have drastically underfunded our educational system and when we look at this budget, we say, 'OK, there's hope because it's not a cut, and there's hope because there's Prop 123 money, and there's hope because there's an increase.' But it's not the game-changer that we need, and we need a game-changer when it comes to funding education."

Freed said that teacher salaries still lag behind neighboring states. The bad pay is leading to a teacher shortage, which means some teachers pick up extra work, which leads to faster burnout. And that's exacerbated by the lack of support staff like counselors and librarians.

"Schools are being expected to do a great deal more than they ever were and educators don't really mind accepting that extra responsibility, but we need the financial support to make those things happen," Freed said.

Three for Three

A candidate drops out of the Democratic primary for Tucson's Ward 3

This year's race for Tucson's Ward 3 Tucson City Council seat got a little less crowded when Democrat Morgan Abraham dropped out a few weeks after filing his paperwork to run for the seat.

There are still three Democrats in the running for the northside council seat, which is now held by the retiring Democrat Karin Uhlich.

All are making their first run for local office: attorney Paul Durham, who worked as a chief of staff for former council member Nina Trasoff in her first year in office; local business owner Tom Tronsdal; and middle school teacher Felicia Chew.

Abraham, who helped lead the opposition to Gov. Doug Ducey's Prop 123 last year because he believed the measure raided the state land trust too deeply, told The Skinny he realized as he was assembling his campaign he didn't have the fire in his belly for the job.

"We formed the campaign team and we were working on our message and putting together our platform and it became very clear to me that while I thought the things I was talking about were very important and I did want to help the city of Tucson, the level of passion I had for some of these issues just wasn't there, compared to some of the campaigns I've worked on in the past," Abraham said. "I was really struggling with that and once I came to that realization, I knew it wasn't the right office."

Full Court Press

County attorney candidate launches online mag for local criminal justice news

Attorney Joel Feinman, who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall in last year's Democratic primary, has launched an online news site dedicated to criminal justice issues.

The Pima Liberator, at pimaliberator.com, went live a few weeks ago and features articles examining how the county's forfeiture funds are managed and other articles are generally critical of LaWall.

Feinman said he started the website "to further the issues of my campaign and to cover the crime and justice stories that the other papers in town, despite their best efforts, sometimes let fall through cracks." He hopes the articles will "expose some of the problems in the criminal justice arena and keep the pressure on Ms. LaWall so she lives up to her promises on the campaign trail to meaningfully attempt to reduce mass incarceration in Pima County."

Feinman recently opened his own law firm and is teaching two class at the UA James E. Rogers College of Law.

He's also staying active in Pima County Democratic Party politics and hopes the Pima Liberator "will keep the flame stirring until I can run for Pima County Attorney in 2020."

Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs at 5 p.m. Sundays on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM.

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