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The Skinny

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WE JUST OBJECT TO THE PROCESS

Unfortunately, our deadline required us to write this column before the Tucson City Council had its big budget meeting at the Tucson Convention Center, but we think it's safe to predict that council members got their asses chewed by an unhappy public.

We also suspect that the Democrats on the council just aren't going to be able to say no to most of the new taxes proposed by City Manager Mike Letcher, who evidently figures that as long as he's asking them to raise a few taxes, he might as well ask them to raise a lot of them. Why settle for one bite of the apple when there's a fruit salad to enjoy?

We're not sure that we object to all of the taxes themselves, but we don't think the city is going about it in the right way. It just doesn't seem like a very transparent process—first, they fire a city manager after meeting behind closed doors, and then they spring all these new taxes on us. It's just a terrible way of doing business. How are we supposed to have trust and confidence?

Or at least that's the sort of criticism we used to hear from Karin Uhlich and Nina Trasoff back when they were on the campaign trail attacking their GOP predecessors as heartless fiends who raised taxes in an entirely inappropriate manner.

Will we now learn the right way to raise taxes—like, say, on renters in the midst of an economic collapse?

Here's one option that Trasoff hinted at in her last bulletin to constituents: Raise the proposed housing rental tax, which is estimated to be worth about $12 million to the city, by 1 percent instead of 2 percent. The upside: The Democrats can say they whittled down the staff's increase request. The downside: The amount of the increase isn't going to matter in most voters' minds, and the City Council members get half as much money to fund all of their favorite causes.

We'll have photos and a report from the budget meeting at the all-new Range, our daily dispatch at a blog.tucsonweekly.com.

DEAD END

It's the end of the road for the Regional Transportation Authority election conspiracy.

As Mari Herreras reports on this page, Attorney General Terry Goddard last week released the results of his investigation into the RTA ballots, informing us that a hand count shows that the election count was right on Election Day way back in May 2006.

This whole saga has certainly had its moments. Remember the mysterious keystrokes that showed when the files were altered? Or the affidavit from Zbig Osmolski, who claimed that he'd heard—while perched at the bar at the Boondocks Lounge—the county's software man himself confess that the election had been rigged? Remember the 19,000 ballots that went missing during the hand count?

You couldn't make this stuff up! Wait—now that we think about it, we guess somebody did make it up.

It was a grand, grand plot: The election fixers grew from a small cabal within the Elections Division to a massive conspiracy that included, at various times, the Democrats on the Board of Supervisors, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, County Attorney Barbara LaWall and the stooges on her staff, Pima County Treasurer Beth Ford, political consultant Pete Zimmerman and various other "big guys," to use political gadfly John Kromko's words.

We think Goddard himself was in on it. And we may have been, too!

We've seen seasons of 24 that made more sense. (And were less torturous.)

Attorney Bill Risner's conspiracy theory just grew too big to be believed, especially once guys like Kromko started running with it.

We'll give Risner this much: He made us much more aware of the security flaws in the election-counting software. But the hysteria over the RTA results was often based on bullshit, to put it kindly, and all of this CSI talk of forensic examinations to discover whether Goddard counted the real ballots is the last gasp of dead-enders.

The Scooby gang needs to give it a rest. We know that dreams die hard, but at no point is Chuck Huckelberry going to say: "And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddlesome kids!"

POLITICAL PROSECUTION

Just days after AG Terry Goddard announced the results of the RTA investigation, the morning daily broke the news that noted conspiracy theorist and political gadfly John Kromko was facing charges that he fabricated signatures on his petitions for his ill-fated 2008 House of Representatives campaign.

Kromko got clobbered in District 27 by incumbent Democrats Phil Lopes and Olivia Cajero Bedford.

During the campaign, a strange story percolated up: A few dead people had evidently signed Kromko's petitions—which is a pretty big red flag that something is not on the up-and-up.

Evidently, that was enough to persuade investigators to dig into those petitions. Earlier this month, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall hit Kromko with a 19-count indictment accusing him of fraud, identity theft and fraudulent schemes. While he didn't call us back, Kromko has told the dailies that the charges are bogus.

We've had our doubts about Kromko's credibility in the past, and wouldn't be at all surprised to find out he took some shortcuts on the petitions. Most of his recent campaign efforts have been half-assed, at best.

But socking him with identity-theft charges appears to be serious overkill. Kromko is a pain in the ass, but he doesn't belong behind bars—and he doesn't deserve to have the book thrown at him like he is some crook committing credit-card fraud and ripping people off.

Even if he beats the charges, this episode is going to cost Kromko, who appears to be on the hook for his own attorney. The court file notes that he planned to hire his own lawyer, but requested a public defender because he didn't want to permanently surrender his right to one.

We predict Bill Risner is going to have a grand time with all of this.

THE BIG SWIPE

With April drawing to a close, GOP leaders finally unveiled their budget proposal this week—and it's hardly gimmick-free.

We don't have much space, but one Big Reveal stands out: a plan to swipe hundreds of millions of dollars in impact fees that are in the bank accounts of local governments.

We're not sure that's even legal, given that the money was collected as part of an agreement with developers to provide wider roads and other infrastructure near their homes, offices and shops.

We hear legislative leaders may try to buy off developers by introducing a moratorium on impact fees for a few years. Hey, why not? It's not like anybody's building anything anyway.

There's also a plan to lift $330 million from school districts. We're not sure how that squares with the demand that education funding is maintained at a certain level for the state to qualify for federal stimulus dollars.

This sausage is gonna have to spend a lot more time on the grill before it's cooked.

Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our new daily dispatch, at blog.tucsonweekly.com.

See Jim Nintzel share his conspiracy theories at 6:30 p.m., Friday, on KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Illustrated. This week's guests: Republican Vic Williams and Democrat Daniel Patterson of the Arizona House of Representatives. Nintzel also talks politics with radio ringmaster John C. Scott between 4:30 and 5 p.m., Thursday, on KJLL AM 1330.

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