A NIP HERE, A TUCK THERE...Great news! Republican legislative leaders say they've figured out how to bridge about $2.5 billion of the state's $3 billion shortfall without raising any taxes.
They're now looking for a few new ideas. You can submit yours by joining the Legislature's new Facebook group, Keep Arizona Simple. (OK, we're joking about the Facebook page; we felt the need to make that clear, given that we live in a time when Sen. John McCain has a Twitter account.)
We're sure the GOP plan will make for great reading, once lawmakers decide it's safe to release it to the public. How much do you want to bet that they're eyeing those Rio Nuevo dollars?
While that fiscal makeover is underway, there's more money trouble brewing. Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services brought us the news this week that the state isn't eligible for $1.7 billion in stimulus dollars, because lawmakers messed around with the eligibility rules for its health-care program last year, passing a new requirement that people who want to be on AHCCCS qualify every six months instead of once a year. It's a good way of clearing the welfare rolls of people who screw up their paperwork.
Gov. Jan Brewer is making a variety of arguments to the feds--ranging from, "We didn't really change the rules," to, "We beat the deadline to change the rules"--but we have a feeling that lawmakers may need to do some tinkering before we get that money.
The other big budget news from last week: Democrats managed to thwart a GOP plan to give school districts more time before they sent out letters informing teachers that they wouldn't have jobs next year.
Republicans had hoped to extend the deadline to June 15, but the Democrats blocked the legislation, so the notices will have to go out by April 15. Since districts will have no idea what kind of money they can expect from the state, a lot of pink slips will be in the mail in the next few weeks. That'll translate into a lot of pissed-off teachers, who will be complaining to all their friends about skinflint Republicans.
By the way, we continue to be amazed that Senate President Bob Burns is sticking to his pledge to hold up any non-budget legislation until a budget is signed by Brewer. Unless a miraculous budget breakthrough happens within the next few weeks, this might be one of the least-productive legislative sessions on record.
BUT AT LEAST WE'LL BE ABLE TO ENJOY THE GOLDEN BASEBALL LEAGUENow that the Chicago White Sox are soaking in the luxury of their new stadium in Glendale, we have a hard time figuring out how we're going to manage to keep the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks here in Tucson, much less lure a third team to town.
The ballclubs are in full-on extortion mode, and we just don't see Pima County managing to do much more than foul a few more off before making one last hopeless swing at a fastball that blazes right past us.
Sure, state Rep. Vic Williams' bill that would allow Pima County residents to approve a new sales tax to pay for a new stadium is still alive--which is something of a minor miracle, seeing as Ways and Means chair Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, had the bill in a serious death grip.
But seriously: Does anyone really think local voters are going to agree to tax themselves to build new ballparks for millionaire baseball players and team owners? Especially in this economy? Especially while we're cutting back spending on everything from nurseries to nursing homes? Especially when we're still paying off the last stadium we built a little more than a decade ago?
Hell, we love spring training. (Don't tell the boss, but we've enjoyed a few sunny afternoons at the ballpark in recent weeks.) We think it's tragic that after six decades, the birthplace of the Cactus League is going to be without a team.
But we still have to agree with political gadfly John Kromko on this one: If we're raising taxes, it's going to be for something a lot more important than sports welfare.
Our only chance of keeping spring training rests on the slim hope that the sports bubble pops, and the teams fail to sucker someone in Maricopa County or Pinal County to build them a stadium.
Otherwise, you'd better get out to enjoy a game while you can.
SPEAKING OF GETTING SHOT DOWN BY VOTERS...Pima County's bond committee wisely decided against going forward with a bond election this year. The group had all kinds of ideas for spending tax money on parks, roads and whatnot, but the members recognized that voters aren't in the mood to approve much of anything these days.
We can't say the decision comes as a surprise, given that County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and the supervisors we had talked to were indicating that it wasn't the right time for a bond package.
THIS SHOULD MAKE YOU FEEL BETTERThe folks at Gallup are working with some health-insurance outfits to create what they're calling the "Dow Jones of Health." The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is a broad survey of various health-related metrics designed to figure out just how healthy and happy we Americans are.
Overall, Arizona ranks 1Oth in the nation, which suggests that meth might not be that bad for you after all. We're trailing a number of other Western states, including Utah (first in the nation!), California, Washington, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
Our Southern Arizona congressional districts have very different rankings in the index. Congressional District 8, a GOP-leaning district that is now represented by Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, is 74th in the nation, putting it in the top 20 percent. CD 7, represented by Congressman Raúl Grijalva, comes in at 282nd place out of the 435 congressional districts.
Folks in CD 8 are far more likely to have a good job, access to health care and enough money to escape poverty. But on the bright side, the districts are almost even when it comes to being physically healthy.
Check the data yourself online.
EASY RIDERCome on: Tell us you don't want to be the proud owner of a one-of-a-kind Tucson Weekly 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition SYM Fiddle II scooter! You will look just too hot and sexy aboard this fine motorbike, which comes to you from the folks at Scoot Over Fun in Motion.
And it's yours free, provided you win the upcoming raffle benefiting the Community Food Bank. Each raffle ticket--and we encourage you to buy at least one for all your friends--costs a mere $5 or 10 cans of food.
Drop off your contributions at Weekly World Central, 3280 E. Hemisphere Loop, or at Scoot Over, 4534 E. Broadway Blvd.