IN GROVER, WE TRUST
Yet another effort to pass a now-overdue state budget collapsed earlier this week, when Republican senators couldn't find a 16th vote. The Legislature has now missed an extended deadline to get a referendum on the ballot to ask voters to pass a temporary sales tax to get Arizona through its tough times.
We were certainly hoping the budget package wouldn't pass. There's a lot wrong with this budget, but the biggest long-term problem has to be the tax cuts, which would primarily benefit the wealthiest people in the state.
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee has estimated that the tax cuts would ensure that Arizona would have budget shortfalls for years into the future, even if voters were to approve the temporary one-cent-per-dollar sales tax that Gov. Jan Brewer wants. It's perplexing that Brewer would recognize the need for additional revenue from a sales-tax increase, but then agree to massive cuts to corporate and income taxes that would cripple the state's ability to fund the social services that she purports to be concerned about. A property-tax cut that will primarily benefit business interests is also included.
If the sales tax is approved, JLBC estimates that the state would have a $892 million shortfall in fiscal year 2011, which lawmakers will have to address when they start writing a budget five months from now. The numbers get worse from there: the shortfalls are estimated to be $2.2 billion in fiscal year 2012, and $2.7 billion in fiscal year 2013.
If the sales tax isn't approved, the numbers are even more frightening: A shortfall of $1.9 billion in 2011, $3 billion in 2012 and $3.1 billion in 2013.
Is this what it means to be a fiscally responsible Republican these days? Wouldn't it make more sense to wait until it's time to write those budgets before concluding whether we can afford the tax cuts?
There's one reason for the tax cuts to be in the package: to give Republicans who have pledged to never increase any tax some cover to justify asking voters to approve a sales tax. But given the long-term consequences, it strikes us as a lousy trade-off.
Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services wrote a piece last week that neatly illustrated the absurdity of the tax-cut fever at the Capitol, as "principles" have overtaken any semblance of common sense.
Fischer reported that to try to find a 16th vote on the budget package, Senate President Bob Burns wanted to split a key proposal into two bills: One would ask voters to increase the sales tax, while the other would provide the income-tax cuts. Burns reasoned that he could get Sen. Pamela Gorman, who has opposed the package because of the tax increase, to support the tax-cut portion, while also getting Sen. Carolyn Allen, who opposes the tax cuts, to support the referral.
OK, that's pretty wacky right off the bat, given that the end result would be the passage of a package that includes elements that both women oppose. (And judging from the press reports we've seen, it's unlikely that Allen—who is perhaps the last fiscally responsible Republican left in the Arizona Senate—is willing to go along with the charade, although we're ready for just about anything to happen in this political environment.)
But Howie's report got even weirder when he talked to Carl Seel, a member of the House of Representatives, which would have to vote on the package again because of the changes made by the Senate.
Seel had already voted in favor of the budget deal, but said he might have to vote against it if the tax increase and the tax cuts were not in the same bill. Sure, the end result would be the same, but if he voted for a tax increase in a bill that didn't include a tax cut, Seel reckoned he'd be violating his pledge to Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.
The whole thing reminds us of a game of "Simon Says" that's gone very, very wrong.
To help Seel get past this hurdle, Norquist himself announced last week that in this case, it was OK with him to let voters have a say in a sales-tax boost as long as income-tax cuts remained part of the package.
While it's nice of Grover to grant dispensation, it's downright pathetic that the quality of our lawmakers has degenerated to this level.
Following the news that the City Council had approved a deal to acquire the Steinfeld warehouse and three other buildings in downtown's historic Warehouse District, there's more good news for warehouse fans: Longtime tenants won't have to move out of several structures along Toole and Stone avenues.
Two months ago, the Tucson Fire Department issued an "order of abatement" for six buildings owned by the Arizona Department of Transportation which, in five cases, are leaded to artists and others users. The order mandated that "repairs to the structural components of the buildings shall be completed within 60 days or the occupants shall be evacuated."
In an Aug. 6 report, a Fire Department official said that engineering studies have been done on five of the six buildings, and repairs to four of them should be completed by deadline. The tenant of the fifth building, one of those on Stone Avenue, "may not be able to afford repairs of building."
The one major exemption to this generally good news is the former Baffert and Leon grocery warehouse at the corner of Stone and Toole.
For many years, this historic building was home to Zee's Mineral Gallery. Zee Haag tried to buy the warehouse some time ago, and had plans to rehabilitate it. But he ran into a wall of legal issues thrown up by ADOT, so he abandoned the idea and vacated the building.
The structure now sits empty and is in need of repairs. Let's hope someone can figure out a way to save it before the wrecking ball comes down.
SCRAMBLEWATCH '09: GREAT DEBATE EDITION
You probably haven't noticed, but there's a Republican primary underway in southside Ward 5, where Democrat Steve Leal is stepping down after two decades in office.
Political rookies Judith Gomez and Shawn McClusky are squaring off in the Sept. 1 primary. The winner will face Democrat Richard Fimbres in the November general election.
There are roughly 3,800 registered Republicans in Ward 5, according to the Pima County Recorder's Web site, so the candidates don't have many voters to contact. As of Aug. 9, 1,049 of the GOP voters had requested early ballots. Of those, 292 had already sent their ballots back in.
Gomez and McClusky had what's likely to be their only televised debate earlier this week on KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Illustrated, with anchor Bill Buckmaster and Skinny scribe Jim Nintzel. If you missed it, you can catch it online in the "on demand" section at azpm.org or embedded at The Range.
Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch.