On the Road AgainVrrrooommm! Gov. Janet Napolitano zipped into town earlier this week to pretend to sign the bill that soups up the Pima Association of Governments. The new law, passed and signed for real earlier in the legislative session, was pushed by a coalition of local governments hungry for more transportation dollars and hopeful that a regional plan will find prove more successful with voters.
PAG officials have long toiled in the shadows, periodically emerging into the media spotlight to inform us that our latest transportation plans are a couple billion dollars short in funding. But the new law allows PAG officials to present a new transportation plan to the voters in the hope that they will finally approve a half-cent sales tax to fund road and transit improvements. A county-wide tax is expected to raise roughly $55 million in its first year. The bad news: Our transportation system is such a wreck that the money will barely make a dent in our needs.
In the wake of last week's successful $732 million bond election, the lambs are again lying down with the lions--county and city officials are promising they'll get a whole bunch of public input before forging a proposal that treats all local governments fairly and equitably. But plenty of potholes remain on the path to putting together a plan that will find support from finicky voters, who have rejected two transportation sales-tax proposals in the last two years. The first one was too hard; the second was too soft. Will the third prove just right? Or just another fractured fairy tale?
A House DividedThe conservative leadership in the Arizona House of Representatives got rolled last week when GOP moderates teamed with Democrats to pass a $7.35 billion spending plan. House Speaker Jake Flake had been expected to work with his cavemen to hold the line on spending and whittle down the $7.3 billion plan sent over from the Senate. Instead, Flake surrendered to a revolt within his caucus and allowed a vote on a more generous package, which includes a phase-in of all-day kindergarten, raises for state employees, more money for universities and all sorts of pork sliced up by savvy lawmakers who saw their opportunity with Flake's big dive.
The Senate voted to approve the House version earlier this week, setting the stage for wrapping up the lengthy legislative session. Critics of the plan pointed out that the budget spends $284 million more than the state anticipates collecting in taxes.
Still possible: A special session next month to decide whether to put a reform of state trust land before voters in November.
Bush WhackedWhile conservative Republicans in Arizona are bemoaning out-of-control state spending, GOP leaders in Washington are complaining that several moderate Republicans, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, are refusing to go along with Bush Administration tax cuts that are driving the federal deficit to record levels. The New York Times brings us the news that McCain, along with Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, have blocked approval of a $2.4 trillion federal spending plan, forcing the Senate to postpone a vote until next month.
After McCain complained that cutting taxes for wealthy Americans and running up an enormous debt while trying to fight a war seemed like an odd fiscal policy, House Speaker Dennis Hastert accused the Vietnam veteran of failing to appreciate the sacrifices being made by soldiers in Iraq. Asked by reporters about McCain's comments, Hastert pretended to not know who McCain was. "Where's he from?" Hastert asked. "He's a Republican?"
McCain, according to the Times, responded that he could "fondly remember a time when real Republicans stood for fiscal responsibility. Apparently, those days are long gone for some of those in our party."
Swings and MissesThe Pima Community College women's softball team pitched four shutouts in one day to win the national junior college title on Saturday, May 22. Props to the players and coach Stacy Iveson, a former UA star and Catalina High grad. And unlike some of the stormy men's programs at PCC, the Aztecs did it with local talent.
Meanwhile, The UA softball team lost to Louisiana-Lafayette 5-0 on Saturday, May 22, thwarting the Cats' effort to reach a 17th consecutive Women's College World Series. The Cats went 55-6 this season and were the overall No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
"This is a let down," said Arizona Coach Larry Ray. "It breaks my heart to see the best team not play in Oklahoma City."