THE END IS NIGH: Just two weeks ago, we compared the state budget's Enronic collapse to a meteor on a collision course with this island earth.
Now, according to UA scientist Joseph N. Spitale and the gang at NASA, it appears a doomsday asteroid by the name of 1950 DA might bring an old-fashioned, fire-from-the-heavens Armageddon our way.
The bad news: Unless we can figure out a way to knock the asteroid off course, the end is coming in March 2880, less than nine centuries from now.
The good news: City officials will finish putting all their grade-separated intersections along Grant Road at least two decades before that happens.
At any rate, we think 1950 DA is a dull moniker for a planet-killer, so we're starting a name-the-doomsday-asteroid contest. Send your suggestions to email@example.com and we'll announce the winner in a few weeks. (That is, provided we don't end up selling the naming rights.)
NO JOE: Aw, shucks--Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced last week he won't be running for governor. Guess he figured out that an endless spew of anti-crime crap wouldn't cover for the fact that he doesn't know squat about heading up state government. And you just can't let your deputies stick uppity lawmakers into restraint chairs that leave them dead or crippled.
America's Toughest Sheriff loves the media attention--he put off his non-announcement for a week just to tease reporters--but he's better off in a position where he can pick on low-level criminals and make TV appearances at (Maricopa) taxpayer expense.
Arpaio was the leading candidate in the GOP primaries, according to recent polls, but that position now goes to former Congressman Matt Salmon, who has been considered the frontrunner because most political junkies knew Arpaio was full of crap.
Salmon's biggest Republican opponent remains Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, who is struggling to capture the attention of voters. We don't see Senate President Randall Gnant or state Treasurer Carol Springer picking up much momentum before the September primary.
TAXING LOGIC: Given the billion-dollar state budget deficit, state lawmakers could consider various revenue-raising schemes. They could increase the progressive income tax, for example, so that the tax burden is fairly distributed. They could look to crank the corporate taxes they slashed through the '90s. They could take a look at reform of the sales tax system, expanding to including some services that currently escape taxation, like pet grooming or prostitution.
There are a lot of possibilities, but it ought to be done in a matter that spreads the tax burden in some kind of logical and equitable manner (which, to us, means soaking the rich, of course).
Instead, Sen. Ruth Solomon of Tucson has another solution: taxing satellite TV subscriptions. Unlike cable TV service, which is taxed (because it uses public right-of-way to string those coaxial cables), mini-dish owners don't pay taxes on their service, so Solomon is asking her fellow lawmakers to grab a piece of the action. The money--which is estimated to amount to an measly $13 million annually--will actually flow to cities and counties, mainly because that legal wrinkle will allow lawmakers to create the tax with a simply majority vote rather than the two-thirds required for increasing state taxes.
But Solomon, who's leaving the state Senate to run for the state treasurer's office later this year, says the tax isn't really to raise revenue anyway. She's proposing it because the cable companies, feeling the heat of competition, want their adversaries to be taxed.
Now that's sound fiscal policy. With bright minds like that, you have to wonder how we ever got in such a financial jam in the first place.
SICK HOUSE: The Board of Supervisors, known more for bumbling paralysis, sprinted last week to bludgeon Pima County's 36-year-old Home Health Division. Only Ray Carroll, a Republican who frequently acts more like a Democrat than the Democrats on personnel issues, dissented on the quick vote to close down this necessary service but chronic money loser. Sugar Ray was appropriately concerned about the pace: Supervisors got the 30-page report that county Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry used to make his recommendation the night before or the day of the vote.
Nurses, aides and administration made up this staff of 22 and were charged with helping just 113 clients with home assistance ranging from delivery of meds to bathing. It's always preferable to keep people at home and far less expensive. Yet Home Health managed to lose $620,000 a year.
That's despite a dizzying variety of county organizational shifts and accounting maneuvers four years ago when then-County Health Czar (SWAT) Dr. Richard Carmona advocated the revolutionary idea of shutting it down and shifting the clients to private providers. An agency affiliated with Carondelet will take over for all but the 12 patients enrolled in the county outpost of Ajo.
Carmona was ripped to shreds for his plan. He was demonized by Democrat Sharon Bronson, now the chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Bronson fanned the flames so well that even the normally skeptical Weekly swallowed with a Big Cover Story that used the (prevented) demise of Home Health as a jumping off point to lambaste and lampoon Carmona. This was not among the plentiful cache of ammo against Carmona, who was eventually betrayed by his county sponsors and forced to step down in July 1999. Now that he has gained President Bush's appointment as U.S. surgeon general, Carmona sees that his critics, from Bronson in the county to the bigwigs at Tucson Medical Center, have gone limp. Indeed, they are quickly getting in line to suck up to the SWAT Doc.
Some of us go back even further. The late, great Sam Lena, the Democrat who presided over the southside as a supervisor and state legislator, once attended a special Saturday meeting (1987) of county Home Health workers, administrators and the personnel folks who were going to hand out the pink slips. Lena's mere presence put down the effort.
While Bronson dashed to do what Carmona recommended, her chief aide, Leslie Nixon, was apparently caught unaware. She, county staffers say, launched a tirade against health-care bosses. For those with tickets to each act of the county tragedy, it was a repeat performance. Nixon showed she's ready to emerge from understudy to Glenn Miller, the snarling chihuahua who served as chief aide to recently retired Supe Grijalva. (Grijalva gleefully perfected the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine with Miller.) So intense was Nixon's other recent blast--at Maeveen Behan over the aborted economic analysis of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan--that it induced tears. Bronson, we're told, was not happy, but had to be prodded to soothe Behan, the doyenne of the conservation plan.
ARBITER OF TASTE: A young law clerk for U.S. District Judge Frank Zapata, Michael Richter is evidently well acquainted with the Tucson Weekly's classified advertising.
A member of the Bar since 1995 and in his current job for a little more than a year, Richter sat down with a March 28 Weekly and had his sensitive sensibilities shocked by this ad that has been running on and off for a couple of years:
ASK A LAWYER: Roberta Jensen Attorney $1/minute CC 512-1093
Richter was so troubled that he fired off an e-mail to "All Chambers" in Tucson.
"I was sad to see the following ad on the back page of the Tucson Weekly. It was after the uncensored personals, but I still felt dirty after reading it."
God help us all if some smutty case ends up before Zapata.
Jensen, blind since birth and now crippled, isn't sure what offended Richter.
"I'm not sure if it's the penis enlargement ad below my ad, or if it's the 'ASK A LAWYER' or the $1 a minute or if I take credit cards," said Jensen, a 1987 graduate of the University of Arizona College of Law and practicing lawyer for 14 years. "What business is it of his?"
Richter says he thought well of Jensen from some cases she handled at the Court of Appeals, where he previously clerked. It was the meter running that pissed him off.
Charging by the minute "didn't fit my opinion" of tasteful lawyering.
"I think that went too far."
We're flattered. But what about wasting time contemplating the back page of the Weekly and then squandering more time chit-chatting via e-mail about an ad for a lawyer who was busy this past week defending--in Justice Court--a dog owner being prosecuted by County Attorney Barbara LaWall for illegally tethering his dog?
"I didn't feel it was a waste or outrageous use of time," Richter said.
Jensen fretted that the e-mail spilled to all courts. She perceived a little different treatment from a judge after Richter announced he "felt dirty."
Now it's her turn. She'll be writing the State Bar seeking an opinion on whether her little ad is indeed out of bounds or if it was Richter's e-mail campaign that was foul.
In the future, perhaps Judge Zapata can keep his staff busy making hats from cleaner editions of the Weekly.