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Double Standard

'The Star' doesn't walk its talk when it comes to taxes.

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The Arizona Daily Star greets readers of its didactic editorial pages with a reminder from Joseph Pulitzer that "a newspaper that is true to its purpose concerns itself not only with the way things are but with the way they ought to be."

Indeed.

It helps the Star to talk this way: 1) condemn Republican governors and the GOP-dominated Legislature for cutting taxes, 2) condemn current lawmakers on both sides for refusing to consider tax increases as a way to solve the state's billion-dollar budget mess, 3) push for new taxes and resurrect ones like a statewide general property tax, 4) cut assessment ratios for business and eliminate the tax on business equipment (like presses and computers) without saying how to replace that revenue and, on a local level, 5) condemn City Councilman Jose Ibarra for one of his few bright moves in opposing the City Manager James Keene's 73 percent increase in primary taxes.

Meanwhile the Star walks this way:

1) With its Gannett-owned, weak-sister partner, the Tucson Citizen, the Star is seeking to lower is property tax bill by 33 percent. The Star and Citizen say their Tucson Newspapers Inc. property at 4850 S. Park Ave. is worth only $6 million, while the Pima County assessor puts the value at more than $8.9 million for the next tax year.

If Keene's tax increase passes--it will need the support of Republican Mayor Bob Walkup or someone on his team--and tax rates remain the same for Pima County, the Tucson Unified School District, Pima Community College and the three other government units to which the Star and Citizen pay, Pulitzer and Gannett could save $169,639 from a $514,058 property tax bill.

The papers, which are permitted to bypass federal antitrust laws under a Joint Operating Agreement that has Department of Justice approval, have walked this path before.

2) Despite steady building and equipment upgrades, the Star and Citizen consistently poor-mouth to County Assessor Rick Lyons, pleading for less value to lower the tax bill. This year, Tucson's media conglomerate is paying $398,742 in property taxes. But it sought to chop that by nearly 20 percent by claiming the property was worth $6 million, not the $6.5 million value listed by the assessor. The Star and Citizen settled for a 12.3 percent cut in value and taxes.

3) In 2001, the papers rebounded from sticker shock when the assessor tagged them with a $7.4 million value. The consultants were hauled in for an appeal that sought to lower the value by $2 million. The two sides met halfway, so to speak, and the papers paid $410,346 in property taxes, gaining a nearly 17 percent cut, about half of what they initially sought.

4) In 2000, the Star and Citizen tried to cut the $6.48 million value determined by the assessor to $4.63 million. The bottom line? $404,770 in property taxes that represented just a fraction of the savings--8.5 percent of the 28.6 percent--the papers were gunning for.

5) And in 1999, the Star and Citizen received a property value of $5.74 million, which they promptly appealed with documents that said showed the value to be a mere $4 million. They lost. The value was put at $5.65 million. Taxes at $406,630 could have been nearly 40 percent lower under the claim by the Star and Citizen, a $145,980 savings from the papers' full share.

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