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SMELLS LIKE B.S.

Evidently, there's still some stink coming from the Roger Road Wastewater Treatment Plant--or maybe, just maybe, it's just some good old-fashioned Pima County campaigning. Donna Branch-Gilby is challenging District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson in the Sept. 2 Democratic primary. (Shameless plug: Learn more about the race at our new campaign Web site, ScrambleWatch.com!)

Branch-Gilby sent out a press release right after the supes approved the county's 2008-2009 budget on June 17, wagging a finger at the supes regarding what she sees as a lack of attention to infrastructure, such as the Roger Road plant.

Branch-Gilby contends in her press release that residents who live downwind of the aging facility told her they continue to smell odor du sewage. She told The Skinny that people living near the facility have been assured something would be done for the last five years.

"(T)hey are still holding their noses from the stench coming from the plant," Branch-Gilby wrote in her release. "They're still waiting for the county to provide up-to-date sewer services. I find it astounding that in these days of shrinking county revenues, the board majority saw fit to adopt a budget that includes money to organize volleyball and softball teams at Sports Park, but not enough to complete the upgrade of our sewer system here in Pima County."

Branch-Gilby says she sent the release particularly to call attention to the dollars spent on the money going to outside agencies rather than going toward things like fixing the sewer plant--especially with the county anticipating a $28 million deficit.

But according to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, there are plans to fix the 50-year-old plant: The county plans to completely demolish the facility and start over. A study the county did several years ago demonstrated the plant, built in the 1950s, needed more than a retrofit and a screw-tightening--so a completely new facility is in order.

The funding for the project, to be completed by 2014, will (presuming the voters say yes) come from a 2009 bond proposal yet to make its way to the supes for final approval. The bond committee earmarked $565 million for sewer improvements, with a majority of the funds going toward the Roger Road project, according to Huckelberry.

Bronson, who running for her fourth term, says she wonders if Branch-Gilby knows enough about government finance, as well as the history of the Roger Road facility, to serve as a county supervisor.

Bronson says her office has yet to receive calls from nearby residents complaining about the smell. She feels that's because the county has worked to address those issues while developing the plans for a new treatment center.

"The process is moving forward," Bronson says.

The sewer fees collected from residents in the area go toward operations and maintenance, and can't go toward capital improvements, which is why the plant is earmarked in the upcoming bond package. Bronson says she invites Branch-Gilby and anyone else interested to call the Roger Road plant and request a tour to learn about the challenges facing the facility.

It doesn't sound like much fun, but Branch-Gilby might want to consider it before she fires off another press release.

Branch-Gilby says that with the $28 million deficit looming, and a complicated budget process that includes millions given to outside social-service and economic-development agencies, the county should have reinstated the citizens' budget oversight committee to provide taxpayer input on the final budget.


THE DREADED DEADLINE DOOM!

So here are we, just days from the end of the fiscal year, and unless things have changed drastically between our press deadline and now, we still don't have a state budget.

As of our deadline, the House Republican leadership had finally unveiled a budget that borrows, cuts and swipes from various state funds. Can it even pass out of the House? We'll see, but from what we hear, it's gonna be a tough sell.

Nice work, GOP leadership! You waited until the last week to unveil the traditional veto-bait budget!

Speaker Jim Weiers should be facing charges of political malpractice. Good luck holding onto the gavel next session, Mr. Speaker.

We're also told that Senate President Tim Bee may be ready to unveil a budget of his own. Can that budget pass the Senate? If it does, we bet it won't be with too many Republican votes.

What happens next is anyone's guess, but all that talk of a government shutdown if they can't get something together by the end of the month is promising to turn this into the most disastrous legislative session since the alt-fuels fiasco. And we don't imagine shutting down the state government--or getting into a legal fight with the governor over whether she has the authority to keep government operating without a budget--will help Republicans at the ballot box this year.

And speaking of that upcoming election: A lot of lawmakers are eager to wrap up this fustercluck and get moving on the campaign trail.

As the big crunch arrives this weekend, stay tuned to the TW Blog for breaking developments.


STUPID TAX TRICKS

In the midst of the state-budget meltdown, Republicans are still trying to find ways to cut taxes. The most recent proposal: They want to ask voters to permanently repeal the state's property tax.

The property tax--which costs most homeowners peanuts--raises an estimated $250 million a year. Still, Republicans managed to pass a bill repealing it earlier this year, only to have it vetoed by Gov. Janet Napolitano, who rightly noted that it was fiscally nuts. (Our words, not hers.)

So now Republicans want to bypass Napolitano and offer the property-tax repeal directly to voters, who have shown little interest in turning down sweets in the past, even if they should know better than to accept candy from a stranger.

Given that the current budget shortfall has left lawmakers utterly befuddled as it has slipped past the $2 billion threshold, maybe it doesn't make much sense to cut taxes.

But the GOP caucus continues to simultaneously support tax cuts and complain that the state shouldn't have to borrow money to build schools. Hey, geniuses: If you get rid of the property tax, you're essentially borrowing money to pay for a tax cut.

Not to be outdone on the stupid tax ideas, Democratic Sen. Jorge Luis Garcia of Tucson floated the idea of a summer gas-tax rebate that would be available to drivers who keep their receipts for gas all summer long. Yeah, that's just what we need: to be keeping track of all those scraps of paper every time we fill up so we can burn another hole into the budget.

Can we please stop pandering and actually run a functional government?

One more crazy bit of finance news up at the Legislature: There's a last-minute "stimulus package" proposal that includes solar-energy and research-and-development tax breaks.

The big angle for Pima County: a proposal to ask voters to approve a 3/4-cent on rental cars, hotel rooms and restaurant/bar bills to fund improvements for spring training baseball.

We're all for a tourist tax that helps fix up Hi Corbett Field and lures another team from Florida. But when you extend it to every plate of eggs and toast we have for breakfast, and every drink we swallow at our favorite dives, you start to lose us.

And if you're talking about abandoning Hi Corbett Field for a whole new stadium in Marana, then you can just take us out of the ball game.

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