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JUGGLING THE BOOKS

The Arizona Legislature and Gov. Janet Napolitano managed to put together a budget plan to resolve the current fiscal year's $1.2 billion shortfall, which takes care of the immediate problem--the fact that otherwise, the state would have ran out of money before the fiscal year concludes on June 30.

The plan draws $487 million out of the state's rainy-day fund, leaving about $200 million in the state's savings account. It trims $311 million from state agencies--essentially pushing the bills onto the counties in many cases--and asks the universities to trim more than $14 million of their spending in the 10 weeks remaining in the fiscal year.

The deal also sweeps a number of state funds. What does that mean? Some state programs get funded by user fees or other revenues instead of taxes. Sometimes, those funds are managed well enough that they have money in the bank. When state officials get in a financial bind, they can come along and "sweep" those dollars right into the general fund.

Napolitano and the lawmakers swept $20 million out of the Clean Elections Commission, for example. And they lifted $5 million from the Department of Environmental Quality's Clean Air Fund, leading Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club to note: "You will be happy to know that they protected the abstinence-only program while sweeping dollars for clean air."

But the budget deal solves less than half the problem: The upcoming fiscal year has an even bigger shortfall--estimates run between $1.6 billion and $2 billion--and lawmakers have plucked all the low-hanging fruit to perform this year's balancing act. That means, ultimately, that lawmakers and the governor will have to craft a plan that involves borrowing to build schools and cuts to government programs--which will dominate the conversation between now and the end of the session.


WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PHOTO?

Gov. Janet Napolitano made a big show to kick off Crime Victims' Rights Week last week, delivering a richly deserved "Triumph Over Tragedy" award to Gail Leland of Pima County's Homicide Survivors. Leland has dedicated herself to helping families cope with the nightmare of losing someone they love in a moment of violence.

The Napster sure sounded serious when she thundered: "There will be no justice for any of us if we don't seek greater fairness for victims of crime. I encourage our state to stand behind and support those who have been harmed by crime."

She certainly seemed to be helping out when she presented the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission with a big check for $72,028.69 made out to Az Victim Compensation. And when we say big check, we mean it: Napolitano posed in front of one of those oversized checks.

Napolitano noted that the money--like all of the cash in the Arizona Crime Victim Compensation Fund--came from fines and fees paid by lawbreakers.

There was no similar photo-op just a few days later, when Napolitano and state lawmakers swiped $2 million out of the Crime Victim Compensation Fund in one of those sweeps as part of the budget deal.

What, nobody could get a big withdrawal slip printed up?


SO MUCH FOR THAT IDEA

As we predicted last week, Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed a GOP plan to permanently repeal the state's property tax. The tax, which brings in about $250 million a year to help schools, costs the owner of a $250,000 house less than $100 a year.

Republicans argue that the property tax is coming back next year just as Arizonans are struggling in a collapsing economy. Let's see if we have this straight: If there's a lot of money in the budget, we have to cut taxes rather than invest in, say, highways, because it's the people's money, and they deserve to have it back. And if there's a budget shortfall, we need to cut taxes, because it will hurt the economy if we raise them.

So when can we raise taxes? Just ask GOP state chair Randy Pullen, who recently explained on his blog: "There is never a reason or time to raise taxes."

Well, thanks for clearing that up, Randy. See you in our next traffic jam on Interstate 10.


NEIGHBORLY EXCHANGE

The Pima County Republican Party has been stocking up on cash to boost Senate President Tim Bee's campaign against Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, mostly because the national GOP doesn't want to put any money into the amateur operation that state GOP chair Randy Pullen is running up in Phoenix. (Remember when Karl Rove did a Pima County GOP fundraiser instead of helping out the state party?)

Looks like the Pima GOP has so much money sitting around that they maxed out with a pair of $5,000 contributions to Darren White, a Republican candidate running a tight race for Congress over in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District. FEC records show the mighty generous $10K was delivered on March 20.

Coincidentally enough, the Republican Campaign Committee of New Mexico appears just as generous when it comes to Bee. Just six days after Pima County invested in White's candidacy, the RCCNM sent two $5,000 checks to Bee's campaign.

The parties would never collude to get around that pesky $10K limit, would they?


THE ROBUCK STARTS HERE

Political newcomer Robert Robuck of Sahuarita has completed the trifecta of candidates readying to run against incumbents on the Pima County Board of Supervisors in this year's Democratic primary.

Robuck announced his candidacy this week to run against Ramón Valadez of District 2. He joins former Pima County Democratic Party Chair Donna Branch-Gilby, who announced her intention to run against Supervisor Sharon Bronson in January (as is Republican Barney Brenner, who lost to Bronson in 2000), and former two-term Tucson City Councilman Bruce Wheeler, who announced in March that he was seriously considering a run against Supervisor Richard Elias.

While Branch-Gilby and Wheeler say their platforms focus on election-integrity issues and county spending, Robuck says his platform hits closer to home.

He's been a Sahuarita resident since 2003 and has become an active opponent of the proposed Rosemont Mine, especially after he and several neighbors discovered their water wells were temporarily depleted after the proposed mine's parent company, Augusta Resource Corporation, began drilling for water on nearby property.

Robuck says he's upset Pima County requested that Augusta do a hydrology study on the mine property--but requested no hydrology study at any of the residential properties where Augusta will drill for water.

Instead, Augusta received a 6,000-acre-foot water permit for 20 years from the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

"One of the wells they have off Santa Rita Road is 1,300 feet deep," Robuck says, adding that when that well was pumped, the water table went down more than 22 feet. "Most people have wells here that are only 200 feet deep."

Robuck says he understands what he's up against in running against the South Tucson political machine controlled by former District 2 Supervisor Dan Eckstrom, who is Valadez's political patron.

"I realize I'm the underdog, but I still want to run," Robuck says. "Someone has to run against him. ... (The supervisors) are asleep at the wheel."

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