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The Skinny

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TAX WHACKS: This year's budget dance entered a new phase last week. After months of laying out the dire consequences of cuts needed to meet a projected budget shortfall, Tucson City Manager James Keene went ahead and proposed many of the tax proposals the council rejected last year when he delivered his $382.4 million budget for the city's general purpose funds.

A fee for trash pickup, for example, has been repackaged as a $2-a-month charge for the brush-and-bulky cleanup the city does twice a year. And to bring in extra cash, Keene has recommended increasing primary property taxes by 15 cents per $100 of assessed value.

That tax increase won't affect the homeowners in the city limits who live within the Tucson Unified School District, because the state picks up the tab for the increase. But businesses, which already pay 2 1/2 times as much as homeowners, will feel the full impact of a whopping 72 percent increase in the city's admittedly low property tax bill.

On top of that, unlike last year, the city's secondary property tax rate--used to pay off voter-approved debt--will increase by 4 percent or about $3.67 a year on a $100,000 home.

So how will the City Council deal with Keene's budget proposal? We see council members swapping their traditional roles. Keene's supporters on the council--Mayor Bob Walkup, fellow Republicans Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar and Democrat Carol West--may end up supporting tax and fee increases, while leftist Democrats José Ibarra and Steve Leal, along with born-again Democrat Shirley Scott, will want to hold the line against higher taxes, although they're less candid about what they're willing to cut to balance the budget.

Ibarra, who will be seeking re-election later this year in westside Ward 1, has been the loudest voice in opposition. It's proof positive that you needn't be too bright to outwit Keene and Walkup on the populist bandwagon.

Will Ibarra and the Democrats move to oust Keene? Nah. He's too great a liability. For Republicans.

One final note on Keene's budget machinations. When he asked city departments to prepare budgets with recommended or even possible cuts, Keene guarded the information like a pissed-off rattler. The Star had to threaten to sue to get what were clearly public documents. Good for the morning paper.

Across Presidio Park last week, County Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry prepared a similar report compiling possible department cuts in the more diffuse county government. How long did it take to retrieve that report? Less than a minute, including the time to ride the elevator to Huckelberry's 10th floor office that, compared with Keene's den, is an atrium.

No threats from indignant reporters or their yapping dog editors and publishers were necessary.


FAIR PLAY: Why would José Ibarra, a two-term councilman desperate for relevance (and a third term), snub the biggest single gathering in his ward--just down the street from his office?

Ibarra and his crew stayed away from the successful Fiesta Grande, a celebration by Barrio Hollywood to mark the neighborhood's recovery from getting, well, shit on by the county and city when that huge sewer line broke last fall. The county did its part in helping Barrio Hollywood's bash. But Jose and his staff reneged on promises to help with equipment, material and to defray fees.

A stage was provided, not by the city, but by Marana. Even Mayor Bob Walkup prayed aloud as he took to that stage: "Please tell me the city gave something."

It did. Ibarra unleashed a Chihuahua aide named Peter Rico to insult the Fiesta Grande committee and westside constituents with petulant and poorly written e-mails in which he made excuse after excuse why there was a lotta talk and no action.

The family of Ibarra's mentor, Congressman Raúl Grijalva, took advantage of the Fiesta Grande crowd. Not politically. Financially. Ramona Grijalva, the congressman's wife, and one of her sisters had brisk sales at the space they rented to peddle roasted corn.


A LESSON IN DEMOCRACY: The best thing about our democracy is our right to be heard, to petition our government and to testify before our elected officials so that they might hear our concerns.

So last week, Greg Hart, director of Pima County's Adult Education program--which is slated for elimination by Republicans--loaded up a couple of vans to bring some of his students to speak out on behalf of the program, which would eliminate the $5.5 million the state spends on adult ed.

They showed up just after lunch, filled out little cards so they could speak and waited for the House Appropriations Committee to get around to their bill. And waited. And waited.

Five hours later, at 6 p.m., committee chair Russell Pearce--the budget hawk who helped himself to an alt-fuel car courtesy of taxpayers a few years back--announced they were done hearing testimony for the day. When Hart stood to protest, Pearce said the only apologies he had were for the family members of lawmakers who had already stayed later than 5 p.m.

The really sad thing: This sort of thing happens all the time at the Capitol.


TAKE THAT: The takings bill sponsored by Marian McClure, the Republican who represents eastside Tucson and Green Valley, suffered an unexpected defeat in the House of Representatives earlier this week. The bill, which would have forced cities and counties to compensate land owners if planning regs reduced the "market value" by more than 25 percent (see "Give and Take, March 6), went down on a 36-21 vote.

We don't imagine that the Republicans who voted against it were concerned that the bill might monkeywrench the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. More likely, the GOP opponents didn't think McClure's bill went far enough in protecting property rights.


TAXES SCHMAXES: Carolyn A. Campbell, the queen of Sonoran Desert conservation, works so hard for so little that she failed to pay her property taxes on her Feldman's Neighborhood home. Campbell is the de facto leader and clearest speaker for Pima County's ambitious Sonoran Desert Conversation Plan, a species-protecting environmental plan that will require more than $200 million--chiefly from property taxes--to perfect. And don't let anyone inside or outside county government to tell you that new taxes won't be needed to buy up the necessary property, be they small parcels or huge ranches.

Campbell, an utterly friendly and focused conservationist, is not some rich deadbeat. She should have pinched more pennies to come up with the $300 in back taxes. That amount, with interest and a redemption fee, has grown to $378, according to records from the county Treasurer's Office. Her taxes were sold at last month's tax auction to one of those sharks who will reap the interest.

The delinquent amount is roughly half the annual tax bill Campbell pays on her $90,000 home.

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