NUMBERS RACKETThe plot thickened last week at the Legislature when the GOP budget proposal that's getting all the headlines--you know, the one cooked up by Sen. Russell Pearce and Rep. John Kavanagh that slashes education by somewhere around a billion bucks and takes more than $300 million from the universities--got held up in the House Appropriations Committee.
Evidently, a few rogue Republicans, including freshman Rep. Vic Williams of Legislative District 26, felt like the GOP options went a wee bit too far and agreed with the handful of Democrats on the committee that maybe a few other options might be considered. Sounds like Vic was channeling more Pete Hershberger and less Al Melvin with that vote.
The House Democrats followed up that monkey wrench with the release of an alternative budget plan earlier this week that involves putting hundreds of millions of dollars under a shell, then sliding it around on a table with two other shells and asking Republicans to guess which one the money is under.
Just kidding. The Democratic plan involves putting off a few more bills, raising some healthcare premiums for state employees and counting on a big check from rich ol' Uncle Sam to help us through the rough patch. We won't bore you with the details, for two reasons: (1), The parts are moving so swiftly that by the time this edition hits the streets, the House budget will have a whole new form; and (2), If their initial reaction is any indication, Republicans probably aren't going to take too many of the Democratic suggestions under advisement. (If you're so wonky that you want the details, a quick Google search will help you find the Democratic press release. Just type in "ignored Arizona Democratic budget proposal.")
With Republican leaders dismissing their proposals, the Democrats on the House approps committee are taking their show on the road, with hearings set in cities across the state over the next two weeks.
The fight over the cuts in this fiscal year could be over by the time the Democrats wrap those meetings up. Senate President Bob Burns and his allies are pushing hard to send a budget that deals with the $1.6 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year to Gov. Jan Brewer by Feb. 1. We're told a less draconian budget is getting hammered out in the House, but the rush is on to get a budget fix done quickly.
Hey, we appreciate the urgency, but might it make sense to at least consider what the federal government is going to send our way as part of that stimulus package?
Brewer has yet to produce a budget plan of her own, although she's pressuring lawmakers to get something to her desk by next week. What does she want in it? We hear the details coming out of the Ninth Floor remain sketchy.
Brewer did make a smart pick last week when she announced that Tim Bee would be heading up her Southern Arizona office. Bee, who served as Senate president last year before making an unsuccessful run at unseating Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last November, knows the budget inside and out. If Brewer is smart--and if she wants to build support in Southern Arizona for a 2010 campaign--she'll ask for Bee's help in sorting out this budget mess.
POISON PILLMaricopa County Republicans once again are trying to close down the UA's Poison Control Center, which operates a hot line to help hikers who have get stung by scorpions or parents who discover their kid swallowed a handful of grandma's pills.
The center costs the state about a million bucks a year, which ain't much more than chicken feed in the state budget. But some lawmakers north of the Gila have been pushing for years to shut down the UA operation and give more money to a poison control center up in Maricopa County.
With the state facing that gigantic budget crunch, the center--which handles calls for all of the state except for Maricopa County--is back on the chopping block this year. Most of the Southern Arizona delegation is fighting to save the center; Sen. Jonathan Paton, for example, says he won't vote for a budget that eliminates it.
But his seatmate, freshman Rep. Frank Antenori, agrees with the Maricopa leadership that it's a waste of money.
Antenori says he was persuaded by Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills that the Maricopa County operation can handle the caseload as long as they get an extra $300,000 a year, which will save the state about $700K when all is said and done.
SO YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION?With the deadline fast approaching to file bills, Republican Randy Graf, the former state representative who left the Legislature to make a couple of unsuccessful bids for Congress, has a challenge on his hands: finding someone to help him amend state law so he can push his plan to get Green Valley to secede from Pima County.
Graf wants to see Green Valley become part of Santa Cruz County, which would make it a lot easier for him to win a seat on the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors.
But here's the problem: There's no provision in state law to allow a community to switch to a new county. So Graf will have to work with sympathetic lawmakers--like, say, Rep. Frank Antenori or Sen. Russell Pearce--to change the law to make it possible.
PARTY POOPThe Arizona Republican Party and the Arizona Democratic Party both had elections for leadership last weekend.
The Republicans decided to stick with Randy Pullen as their state party chairman. Pullen is the darling of the conservative grassroots, but he's not well liked by the country-club business types, which explains why the Arizona GOP has struggled to raise money during his tenure. Maybe he can patch things up and fatten those campaign coffers.
The Democrats, on the other hand, ousted party chairman Don Bivens, a well-connected attorney who did a great job raising money for the 2008 elections--and then blew it all on a lame statewide campaign that saw Democrats actually lose ground at the Arizona Legislature. Given the amount of money that was thrown into the race and the national mood, that's quite an accomplishment.
Replacing Bivens is Pima County's Paul Eckerstrom, who told us a few weeks back that he wasn't really interested in the job. Eckerstrom, who did a great job getting the Pima County Democratic Party energized during his tenure a few years back, didn't announce he'd seek the chairmanship until the morning of the election, but there was evidently enough frustration with Bivens that an alternative was welcomed by the Democratic rank and file.