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The Skinny

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GOING TO POT

The biggest surprise of the post-election vote-tallying has to be the remarkable comeback of Proposition 203, the initiative that will legalize marijuana for medicinal use.

The initiative was trailing when voters cast ballots on Nov. 2 and didn’t turn around until Friday, Nov. 12, when it took a lead of more than 4,000 votes.

With nearly all of the votes counted as of press time, the edge was more than 4,300 votes. Even though the proposition lost in Maricopa County, the edge of victory down here in Pima County—where 57 percent of voters said yes—provided the margin needed to get the prop across the finish line.

By April 2011, the Arizona Department of Health Services is supposed to be set up to begin processing applications for the 124 dispensaries that can now be opened in Arizona, along with a database that will include the names of eligible patients.

To get a recommendation from a doctor, patients must show that they suffer from a “debilitating medical condition” such as AIDS, cancer or a problem that causes “severe and chronic pain.” (That last part is the catch-all phrase that has law-enforcement types worried.) Migraine-sufferers, you may now have a right to your medicine of choice.

We’re sure our current Legislature will try to find some way to derail this, but lawmakers can expect a tough legal fight over any changes, given that the state Constitution says they can’t monkey with a voters’ initiative.


FINANCIAL BIND

The federal deficit is all the rage these days, with Republican members of Congress becoming born-again fiscal conservatives after spending their time in power over the last decade freely spending while cutting taxes.

It’s amusing to see Republicans say that they’re now deeply concerned about balancing the budget, especially given their opposition to returning to the Clinton-era tax rates for the top 2 percent of earners, which would bring in an additional $700 billion in revenue over the next decade from couples who earn more than $250,000 a year, or individuals who earn more than $200,000. And they’d have a lot more credibility on the subject if they hadn’t spent the last several months campaigning against the Democrats’ plan to reduce the costs of Medicare by $500 million over the next decade.

The Skinny was all wonked out last week with the release of a draft report from President Barack Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a lengthy document that lays out potential strategies for bringing the deficit under control and ensuring the long-term health of Social Security.

There’s a lot to digest in the report, and folks who are a lot smarter than us have been opining on it since its release. As you might guess, we’re a little skeptical about some of the proposed cuts in the report, but we’re not ready to toss the whole thing in the trash just yet.

A lot depends on the details of tax reform. To summarize, commissioners suggest that most of the deductions now available should be stripped from the tax code in exchange for lower overall rates.

What’s unclear at this point is whether that means that the wealthy are going to get a big tax break at the expense of middle-class Americans, or whether the rich will assume more of the tax burden, with the Average Joe coming out ahead for a change.

Our local Democratic members of Congress are split on whether the draft is a good first step.

Congressman Raúl Grijalva was quick to condemn the draft report in a press release, saying that the co-chairs of the committee appeared “dead set on gutting Social Security and Medicare.”

Grijalva added, “The path this plan would set is not good for the public. Congress should be having a realistic, productive conversation right now about how to reduce our budget deficit and maintain a secure retirement system for those who have earned it. Instead, we’re debating a proposal from a commission dedicated to cutting crucial social programs and reducing corporate and upper-income taxes at the same time. This is not a recipe for a healthier American economy.”

But Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was more supportive. Her spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, said she was still reviewing the report, which she considers “a starting point for a much-needed national discussion on a critical issue.”

Both Giffords and Grijalva have said they support reducing the deficit by repealing the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of earners.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, who originally opposed the Bush tax cuts because they were too heavily weighted toward the wealthiest Americans, now says they should all be extended, at least until the economy is back on track.

On last Sunday’s Meet the Press, McCain told host David Gregory that he hoped the draft was a “wake-up call to America. ... We’re going to have to challenge some of the very, very tough areas, such as entitlements, if we’re ever going to dig out of this hole.”


MATCH GAME

Here’s a bit of business that’s still unresolved: the question of matching funds for the Clean Elections program.

As political junkies may recall, the state’s Clean Elections Commission, which provides public dollars for statewide and legislative races, has a big problem. The federal courts have ruled that it’s unconstitutional to give publicly funded candidates additional funds to counter spending by privately funded candidates.

The court case is not over yet, but the U.S. Supreme Court has, thus far, upheld the ban on matching funds, which were designed to level the playing field for publicly funded candidates by discouraging candidates who could raise a lot of money—or wealthy candidates—from swamping Clean Elections candidates with big-ticket campaigns.

We’re not sure that the lack of matching funds really made a difference this year. Gov. Jan Brewer was worried that she might get outspent by Republican newcomer Buz Mills, who spent more than $2 million on his campaign, but she needn’t have been worried. Mills folded his tent before the primary even arrived after Brewer’s popularity exploded when she signed SB 1070.

We hear there’s now talk that lawmakers may again consider legislation that would simply increase the amount of money that candidates get in exchange for getting rid of matching funds.

While we understand that the campaign dollars come from surcharges on criminal and civil fines (and that Clean Elections has actually turned over surplus money to the general fund in recent years to help the state through its financial crisis), we still can’t help but think that it’s pretty tough for lawmakers to vote to increase the amount of money they get for themselves at the same time that they’re slashing budgets for everything from education to health care.


GETTING OUT THE VOTE

When the last vote was finally counted, we learned that nearly two-thirds of Pima County voters—some 65.5 percent—turned out on Election Day.

That’s a drop from the 80 percent turnout Pima County had in 2008 for the presidential election, but right in line with the 65.4 percent that showed up in 2006 for the last midterm election.

Statewide, about 56 percent of the voters turned out for the 2010 election.


Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel

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