WELL, THAT SETTLES THE WHOLE RTA THING ... DOESN'T IT?
After all the sound and fury over allegations that the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election was rigged, Attorney General Terry Goddard announced this week that a recount showed the sales-tax increase was, in fact, approved by voters.
This should put an end to all those allegations—based on what was, at best, flimsy evidence—that the county flipped the election. But it probably won't.
Maricopa County election workers spent the better part of two weeks counting all the RTA ballots. However, before the count even began, election-integrity activists complained that chain-of-custody procedures weren't followed when the ballots were taken to Maricopa County.
One final complaint, in a letter sent to Goddard by Pima County Democratic Party attorney Bill Risner, was that 19,000 ballots were possibly missing from the boxes. But earlier this week, activist John Brakey, after looking at six hours of video footage of the examination, determined the card stock used on the vote-by-mail ballots has a different thickness than that used on the regular ballots—throwing everyone off.
"I messed up," Brakey told The Skinny. "I'm willing to take a hit for it."
That's OK, John—by now, we're used to you jumping the gun, even if your heart is the right place.
Brakey did get some vindication last week, in the courtroom of Justice of the Peace Jose Luis Castillo, who threw out trespassing charges against Brakey stemming from his arrest during a ballot audit last September.
The county said Brakey was causing trouble by asking auditors to look at serial numbers on the precinct yellow sheets that came with each ballot bag, as well as the numbers on the bags, to make sure that they matched.
Pima County Elections Director Brad Nelson got fed up with Brakey and told him to stop talking with auditors. When he refused, Nelson asked a Pima County sheriff's deputy to escort Brakey out. When Brakey refused to leave, he was arrested.
Almost eight months later, on Thursday, April 16, Castillo acquitted Brakey on those trespassing charges.
Bill Risner, who represented Brakey in front of Castillo, tells us that the judge "found that Brad Nelson had 'overreached' in ordering Brakey arrested."
We'll have more about the press conference on our daily dispatch, The Range, at blog.tucsonweekly.com. You'll also find a video of Castillo's comments on Nelson and Brakey, as well as other bonus material related to the election-integrity battles. Do come visit!
EVEN WORSE THAN THE GARBAGE TAX
The city's money troubles are getting even more dire: Our new city manager, Mike Letcher, gave the Tucson City Council a rough outline of a budget last week that included $18 million in new taxes. When Mike Hein—the guy who four Democratic members of the council fired a few weeks back—had last presented his budget, he was projecting that the council would need to raise $5 million.
That's a $13 million jump, but we wouldn't lay all the blame at Letcher's feet. Even if Hein were still at the helm, he might have recommended some of these additional taxes, given the worsening budget forecast.
Letcher has proposed a number of "revenue enhancements," as the politicians like to call 'em these days. There's a tricky new quasi-property tax on Tucson Water that's supposed to raise $1.6 million, an increase in the hotel bed tax that's supposed to generate $1.8 million and an advertising tax that's supposed to raise $964,000.
But the money shot is charging landlords a 2 percent tax on their rent payments, which would bring in an estimated $12 million a year.
The rental tax is used in many other communities. Our sources tell us that it used to be charged in Tucson, but it was repealed as a sort of trade-off when state lawmakers started making landlords pay more in property taxes. Those lawmakers, a few years later, changed their minds and gave landlords a property-tax break, but the city never went back to charging landlords their 2 percent tax.
Even if it's fairly standard tax, council members are still facing a major political fight. When the previous council toyed with this idea, the Arizona Multihousing Association dropped fliers all over town explaining that the council wanted to hike residents' taxes. They offered box lunches and bus rides to City Hall for a cantankerous budget hearing that made it clear that supporting a rental tax would generate political headaches.
This is a bigger problem for our current crop of elected leaders, because council members Karin Uhlich and Nina Trasoff attacked their Republican opponents, Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar, for "springing" the garbage fee on Tucson residents a few years back without a proper discussion. Regina Romero and Rodney Glassman have also been critical of that process.
Now the council members have to decide whether they want a long, drawn-out process of listening to residents talk about how much they hate the rental tax before approving it anyway; whether they just want to rip the Band-Aid off in one swift stroke and approve it; or whether they'll shoot it down and leave a gaping hole in the budget. Decisions, decisions!
The fun is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 28, when the Tucson City Council has a big ol' public meeting at the Tucson Convention Center. And we hear the housing lobbyists are already trying to figure out where to park their buses.
SPEAKING OF CITY BUDGET PROBLEMS ...
Last week, the Tucson Association of Realtors revealed their summer project: Funding an initiative campaign to ask city voters to approve a proposition this November that would force the city to hire more cops and firefighters.
TAR is providing the money behind the newly formed Public Safety First Committee, which wants the city to adopt the standards of the National Fire Protection Association 1710, which requires a faster response time and a better medical-emergency service.
It would also force the city to staff 2.4 police officers per 1,000 residents. The city now has 1.9 cops per 1,000 residents, according to Tucson Police Officers Association president Larry Lopez, so the city would have to hire several hundred new cops over the next few years. If you figure that each one costs the city roughly $100,000 in salary, equipment and related expenses, the final cost would increase the city's budget by, oh, maybe, $40 million a year?
That's a big chunk of money for council members who are already trying to figure out how to save funding for outside agencies and put money away into an affordable-housing trust fund.
Still, it will be hard to find someone who's going to oppose the initiative, which means it will probably pass.
Some folks are hoping that the proposition could be considered an unfunded mandate and therefore get knocked off the ballot, but City Attorney Mike Rankin tells The Skinny that the city of Peoria faced a similar question in 1997. The Arizona Court of Appeals said that it could go on the ballot, although it was ultimately rejected by voters.
We're still trying to figure out the reason the real-estate gang wants to spend their money on this. Is it just to give Republicans a reason to go to the polls in November?
By Mari Herreras and Jim Nintzel
Find early and late-breaking Skinny—and so much more!—at The Range, our all-new daily dispatch at blog.tucsonweekly.com.
See Jim Nintzel raise your taxes at 6:30 p.m., Friday, on KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Illustrated. This week's guest: Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll. Nintzel also talks politics with radio ringmaster John C. Scott between 4:30 and 5 p.m., Thursday, on KJLL AM 1330.