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The Skinny

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SHELL GAME

After Ward 1 Councilman José Ibarra once again played the mischief maker and put developer Allan Norville's half-baked plan for a public-private downtown arena on the council agenda this week, City Manager Mike Hein and his Rio Nuevo crew decided to present their stylish tortoise-shell arena proposal a few weeks early.

City Hall wants to spend $130 million on the new 12,300-seat arena and $64 million on a remodel of the current TCC arena in convention space. They also want to tie in a hotel with some sorta public/private partnership, but the details remain sketchy on that point. A big chunk of the money is coming from Rio Nuevo funds, with another $30K or so in state money that's available from another pot.

At first blush, we like the arena plan, though we're a wee bit skeptical about whether the numbers will pencil out, especially if they're counting on a hockey and/or an arena rules football team to help anchor the new facility. City Hall gives us the ol' build-it-and-they-will-come razzle-dazzle when we ask why a hockey franchise will succeed now when it hasn't in the past. Yeah, just like a championship Triple-A baseball team brought 'em out to TEP last summer. It's not that we wouldn't like to go to a hockey game now and then; it's just that this town hasn't shown much enthusiasm for supporting anything outside of UA basketball.

We smell at least three solid votes for the arena plan: Mayor Bob Walkup and council members Carol West and Nina Trasoff. We hear Shirley Scott and Karin Uhlich are leaning toward supporting it. Steve Leal was against it the last time we talked to him, and who the hell knows what Ibarra thinks these days?

Meanwhile, nobody seems to have the guts to come out in support of the Big Hat, retired adman Earl Wettstein's idea of a 10-story Stetson housing a Wild West museum. Where's the vision?


SCRAMBLEWATCH '07: THE COUNT-YOUR-CHANGE EDITION

Democrat Daniel Patterson says he'll decide by Friday, April 13, whether he's running for mayor against Republican incumbent Bob Walkup. But he's also talking about running for the Arizona Legislature in '08 to replace the termed-out Linda Lopez, which leaves us increasingly pessimistic that we'll have much of a City Hall brawl this year.

Patterson has set up a Web page, danielpatterson.net, if you want to know more about his proto-platform. In a nutshell: The city needs real leadership and big ideas.

One Patterson vision-thing: Reducing the city sales tax to give shoppers a break. On his blog, Patterson notes that the overall sales tax within the city limits is approaching 10 percent (it's actually 8.1 percent), which is "too high. It adds up to hundreds and thousands of dollars in taxes from each Tucsonan every year, especially costing families and people of lower income."

Patterson spitballs that the sales tax should drop down to about 6 percent. To get there, he'd have to dump the 2 percent city sales, since the state ain't cutting its 5.6 percent rate and the Regional Transportation Authority isn't all that likely to give up the half-cent it finally won from voters last year.

That would blow a pretty sizable hole in the city's budget, given that the sales tax is the biggest contributor to the city's general fund, the inviting pool of money that council members can spend on everything from cop salaries to fixing potholes. In the current fiscal year, sales taxes are expected to account for 43 percent of the fund, or nearly $200 million.

Patterson admits it would be a challenge to replace the sales tax revenue and he says he's just running ideas up the flagpole when he suggests a new fee on people who move to Tucson or higher impact fees on new construction. Not sure if the first idea is all that legal, or that the second one is feasible, given that impact fees are one-time charges that have to go for infrastructure in the areas where they are collected. But who wants legality to be an impediment to Big Ideas?


TAX WACKS

New Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen took a shot at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords for voting in support of the Democratic budget plan last week.

In a press release, Pullen clichéd that Giffords was supporting "the largest tax increase in U.S. history" and "She seems to think that we can tax and spend our way to prosperity. That's never worked in the past, it doesn't work now, and it won't work in the future." Yeah, that tax increase back in '93 really sent the economy into the tank for the next seven years.

Pullen then delivered this whopper: "Because of Gabrielle Giffords, the average Arizonan will see their taxes increase by $2,701.86 next year." We're especially impressed by how Pullen calculated the hit down to the last 86 cents.

How do you come up with such a precise figure about a tax hike that will vary so much depending on your paycheck? Basically, you make it up with a bogus calculation, which is the next best thing to thin air.

GOP spokesman Brett Mecum says he got the number from Americans for Tax Reform, the anti-tax outfit run by Grover Norquist, best known for his desire to cut government to the point that it can be "drowned in a bathtub."

But we're still scratching our heads because the tax changes in the Democratic plan don't kick in until 2011, which is the expiration date on the Bush tax cuts--which, you might recall, were weighted heavily in favor the wealthiest people in the country. Unless we really overslept last Sunday, that's not next year.

Mecum dubiously offers the suggestion that Pullen's comment is still true because the Democratic plan doesn't provide a fix for the alternative minimum tax next year, but even a Republican press release blasting the Demo plan concedes that the door is still open to AMT relief, as long as there are other budget cuts to compensate for it. And while more households are getting caught up in the AMT, it still isn't hitting the average Arizona taxpayer.

Bottom line: Pullen's flat wrong on the "next year" stuff. He's also wrong about the amount the "average Arizonan" will pay in taxes.

That $2,701.86 figure appears to be a rough calculation derived by figuring out how much the overall federal tax burden for Arizonans would increase if the Bush tax cuts were not extended and then dividing by the number of taxpayers in the state of Arizona.

But that kind of "averaging" is utterly useless when it comes to giving people an accurate assessment of what the average Arizonan ends up owing the IRS because the federal tax system is progressive, which means that the wealthiest taxpayers shell out a much higher percentage than the average taxpayer. The GOP calculation is kinda like figuring the average salary for five people by saying that four of them make $25,000 a year and the fifth makes $2 million. The average salary is $420,000, but four of those guys don't need to go shopping for a yacht just yet.

But, hey, it's only the federal budget. Why shouldn't Pullen be able to make up--or mindlessly parrot--whatever numbers he wants?

The Democrats argue that their budget blueprint isn't a tax increase at all because they're following the same budget plan that the GOP and the White House already had in place to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire in 2011.

Mecum says it's not fair to call the Democratic plan a continuation of the Republican plan because had the GOP remained in power, they surely would have extended those tax cuts. Such a shame they never got around to doing that in the six years they were running the country. Guess they had more important stuff to do.

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