EXPERIMENT GOES AWRYThe Tucson Weekly mentioned last week that state lawmakers, in their efforts to close a $1.6 billion budget hole in the current fiscal year, had stripped $22.5 million in funding from the 21st Century Fund. (See "The Bucks Stop Here," Feb. 5.)
Instrumental in blocking the funding--which goes to Science Foundation Arizona, an outfit that provides matching funds for companies that do medical and science research--were three Southern Arizona Republicans in the House of Representatives: Frank Antenori (R-A Tiny Bit of Tucson But Only the Eastside and Certainly Not the Area Where the Loony Lefty Democrats Live, Plus Sierra Vista, Green Valley and Many Points In Between), David Gowan (R-Same District as Antenori) and David Stevens (R-A Huge Chunk of Southern Arizona Stretching From Marana to Sierra Vista).
The three freshman Republicans teamed up with Sam Crump and Carl Seel of Anthem to demand that the 21st Century Fund be drained because, they argued, it's a form of corporate welfare.
We suppose you could see it that way--or you could see it as a form of economic development, in that it provides matching funds to encourage companies to do high-tech research in Arizona, which creates opportunities for high-tech jobs so we don't have an entire economy based on the collapsing housing industry.
But the Crump Bunch, as they've been dubbed, is not buying that argument. Hey, so what if the money is going to medical research to treat diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's? These guys are walking proof that you don't need all your marbles to succeed, at least in state politics.
Nor does our Southern Arizona team appear to be particularly concerned that Science Foundation Arizona has existing contracts with various companies that agreed to come to Southern Arizona because they could get funding.
Yanking funds that have already been promised to people--is that a sure-fire way to encourage economic development, or what? Nice work, guys. It's good to know that your principled opposition to corporate pork outweighs the principle that businesses that sign contracts with the state ought to be able to trust the state to follow through.
The fight over Science Foundation Arizona ain't over yet. We hear that Senate leaders will be asking Attorney General Terry Goddard whether it's legal to pull funding once contracts have been signed.
When we asked Goddard about it last week, he declined to give a "horseback opinion," because his office would probably be involved in any legal fight that comes up over the funds. But he said that the state probably does have some wiggle room to get out of its contracts, because "state contracts necessarily have out clauses. You can't commit the state for more than the term of the Legislature, under law."
The bigger problem, says Goddard, is that eliminating the fund sends the wrong message to other companies that might be considering a move to Arizona. He said he has already heard from William Harris, the president and CEO of Science Foundation Arizona.
"What Dr. Harris said--and I think it's a really poignant cry--is, 'How can I ever stand up before a group and recommend investment in Arizona, research in Arizona, when the Legislature pulled the rug out from under me this precipitously?'" Goddard says. "Not only does he have contracts going three and four years into the future for research operations to other nonprofits and educational institutions that are coming to Arizona with their valuable research, which means jobs in the future. He also had raised, already, $35 million of private money this year to leverage that ... state money. What are those funders going to think ... now that the match is gone?"
ABORTED COUP?We also noted last week that after Rep. Sam Crump led his gang in the revolt against funding for Science Foundation Arizona, he had a heated exchange with House Speaker Kirk Adams, who ended up stripping Crump of his chairmanship of the House Government Committee.
Later in the week, Crump and Adams managed to hug it out, and Crump got his chairmanship back.
"I certainly have a better understanding of the significance the speaker places on the role of committee chairmen," Crump press-released by way of apology.
We hear there may have been a bigger reason why Adams was pissed off at Crump: Rumblings at the Capitol suggest that Crump had been quietly meeting with Democrats to try to force a coup against Adams and install himself as speaker with Democratic support.
We also hear that Democrats, realizing that they wouldn't be any better off with a speaker who was more conservative than Crump, instead snitched him out to Adams, which lead to the blowup.
REVIEW-O NUEVOThe Senate Finance Committee was set to review Tucson's Rio Nuevo spending this week, which is the first step toward eliminating it altogether.
The Finance Committee doesn't have a specific bill to review; instead, they'll be examining Tucson's progress with downtown revitalization and making a recommendation to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has the job of drawing up a fix for a 2010 budget shortfall that's been estimated at $3 billion.
We're going to press before the meeting, but we think it's safe to predict that Rio Nuevo was not going to be an easy sell to the Senate Finance Committee, which includes Sen. Ron Gould, a fiscal hawk from Lake Havasu, and Sen. Barbara Leff, who has had it in for Rio Nuevo for years. As we recall, Republican Kathleen Dunbar, a close pal of Leff from her days as a state lawmaker, went up there to badmouth the city of Tucson after voters kicked her off the Tucson City Council back in 2005.
The panel also includes Sen. Ken Cheuvront, a Democrat who has frequently railed against special taxing districts.
The future of Rio Nuevo isn't helped by the fact that some Southern Arizona lawmakers--we're looking your way, Frank Antenori--consider the project a massive boondoggle.
CLOWNING AROUNDRio Nuevo may not only be facing the threat of having its funding source yanked by state lawmakers. We hear that political gadfly John Kromko, who still has too much time on his hands, is considering some sort of initiative on the November ballot that would ask Tucson voters to shut down Rio Nuevo.
Yes, that's right: Kromko wants to ask the citizens of Tucson to give up hundreds of millions of dollars so it can be spent in Phoenix. Sadly enough, we might just say yes.
THAT WAS QUICKAttorney Paul Eckerstrom called it quits after just two weeks of being chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.
Eckerstrom, the former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party, says he discovered the workload was going to be too heavy, especially since he didn't want to move to Phoenix to be closer to the Big Moneybags.
Eckerstrom, who had previously downplayed any interest in the state job, made an impulsive decision to run on the morning that the state party was going to elect its new officers. He was probably as surprised as anyone that his impassioned speech led to a coup that deposed Don Bivens, the well-connected attorney who had been serving as chairman.
Can Bivens win the seat back? Does he even want the job anymore? Wait and see.