Saturday, May 29, 2010

Congratulations are in order.

I should have posted this a couple of weeks ago: Desert Lamp co-founder Evan Lisull and Daily Wildcat writer/editor and independent 'blogger Laura Donovan took their bachelors' degrees at the University of Arizona and will be moving on to bigger things.

Evan started what has come to be the best-written and most interesting 'blog in the state, and got a healthy "blogosphere" conversation going for about a year. He's headed off to the law school at George Mason; something makes me think we'll be seeing his name attached to very interesting things in a few years. Connor Mendenhall will stick around for at least another semester, and both Vishal Ganeshan and some "Storm Bird" guy have been brought on to the Lamp 'blog to keep things going.

Laura Donovan was one of the most capable people I've encountered on Wildcat staff in my seven years in town. No word on her future "plans" other than that the plan for now is no plan, aside from ending up in Washington DC in the fall. It should be interesting.

Best wishes to both of them in their future endeavors!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Petty Irregularities

It seems that every time I cast a vote at a consolidated polling place--not Tucson Precinct 69, but a single polling district at the "Fine Arts Auditorium" covering much of mid-town--I encounter irregularities, stemming more from poll-worker incompetence than from outright malice or Chicago-style corruption.

We vote on paper ballots which are in turn fed to an optical scanner. Wasteful, but until and unless computerized voting machines go open-source and are open to voter inspection, the paper trail is necessary. It didn't stop County staff from flipping the result of the 2006 RTA election (or creating the appearance of having done so), but it is, at least, a safeguard. The polling place often has a worker looking on at the optical scanner to make sure that the same sort of dingbat that couldn't figure out punchcard ballot doesn't screw up putting a piece of paper in the only slot available. (I'm serious: that's all that needs to be done. Orientation doesn't matter.) The worker sometimes seems as though he's reading the ballots as they go in.

Hence paper "privacy sleeves" are available to ensure a secret ballot. But when I took one today, I was admonished: those were not for me. I voted, fed my ballot to the machine (with the old man looking on), then asked at the original table, in a somewhat heated fashion when we got rid of the secret ballot in Tucson.

Told to take it up with an equally old lady at the next table, the matter was resolved: I was reassured that not only were the sleeves available, but that the poll workers were supposed to offer them. She set them straight.

That isn't as bad as what happened back in 2008, when I had to raise a fuss and get on the phone with the County Recorder's office to get poll workers to give me a primary ballot. "Your party isn't having a primary," I was told. Of course they were, and there were write-ins to nominate, as well.

I understand that poll workers are largely retired, that their brains are in slow decline, and that it isn't a well-paying job. But getting it right isn't very difficult. We should at least adopt some minimum qualifications, or better still, an "If we forgot to give you a receipt"/"30 minutes or it's free" policy. If the doddering old folks screw up and you catch them, you should get ten bonus votes, a pizza, dinner at Cafe Poca Cosa, a contribution to the charity of your choice, or something similar. On them, not on the taxpayer.

It looks like the "ayes" have it.

From the looks of things at 10:18 PM, Proposition 100 will pass and Arizona's sales tax will increase by one cent on the dollar.

This isn't too much of a surprise, given the near-total failure of the "No" side to so much as present a counter-narrative.

"Post-mortem" to follow tomorrow.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Vote "No" on Proposition 100

If one is concerned about Arizona's solvency or quality of government in the long run, a "Yes" vote in next Tuesday's special election on Proposition 100, which would raise the transatction privilege tax (sales tax) by one cent per dollar, is irresponsible.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee's projections are telling: If Proposition 100 passes, we can expect a $982 MM deficit in 2014 when the "temporary" tax expires, compared to a $200 MM deficit if it fails, if the "Healthy Arizona" 2000 Prop. 204 program is left funded. The other scenario is not worth considering at this point, since one of the many negative consequences of the "Obamacare" bill--as though banning insurance in the true sense of the word wasn't bad enough--is to put AZ's Federal Medicaid funding at risk if 2000 Prop. 204 is defunded.

The difference between $982 MM and $200 MM alone is more than five times the size of the current deficit. Unless the tax increase either becomes permanent or doesn't pass at all, in the not too distant future we'll be facing a shortfall that makes this year's seem like nothing.

Jan Brewer and many of Prop. 100's supporters are claiming that, nevertheless, Proposition 100's passage this year is necessary. From a certain perspective, that is correct. Arizona's constitution requires that the state budget be balanced. If the legislature is unable or unwilling to make the cuts necessary to balance the budget, then revenue must be increased. So far, the cuts made have been opportunistic and haphazard. As was the case when I argued for ending "home rule" in Arizona's cities, it cannot be emphasized enough: The scope of state government has not yet been decreased.

We could, based on that insight alone, develop a naive algorithm for balancing the budget. Let's go back year by year, scaling each year's budget to account for Arizona's increased population, until we find a year for which the scaled budget is balanced, and adopt that year's budget. The Tucson Weekly and other reactionary-leftist sources of commentary would have you believe that every cut from the State budget will take us into Third World conditions, but don't take their lead and start kidding yourself. Arizona's budget shortfall is the result of spending increases during the construction boom (perhaps due to the perverse dynamic between Gov. Napolitano and the far-right Legislature!) and pre-boom Arizona was not a bad place to live.

But we don't have to look to the past for guidance. Using Dean Martin's Arizona Checkbook service and other publicly available information, you could put together your own $150 MM in cuts rather easily. Or, you could put to use information from think tanks. Experience with dubious figures and specious arguments from the Goldwater Institute and Americans for Prosperity has taught me to be even more cautious with non-academic whitepapers than I am with academic sources, but this one, on review, seems solid. The Reason Foundation, together with Americans for Prosperity, has put together a guide to cuts that would balance Arizona's budget. If there could be such a thing, it should be required reading for all voters in next Tuesday's election.

These aren't shell-game gimmicks, nor de-funding of initiative-mandated programs, nor drastic cuts to essentials that would put AZ in the "third world". Included are a few bad ideas, such as letting the proposed Rosemont copper mine tear up the Davidson Canyon/Northern Santa Ritas near Tucson. (I don't oppose mining, but mining the Black Hills in Greenlee County or the back side of the Silver Bells is rather different than mining a tourist Mecca a stone's throw from a city of a million people! And the Silver Bells are in Ironwood NM, which is the closest thing I have to a preferred "stomping grounds", so this isn't NIMBYism.) But what is proposed is mostly good.

The number that should leap of the page at you is what could be saved by releasing non-violent drug offenders from state prisons and not sending any more to prison. $60 MM this year, and $120 MM in 2011. That eliminates most of the shortfall in one act.

Consider the one-time gains: Sale of the Santa Rita Experimental Range, of which the State's ownership was supposed to be temporary, could get us through this year and moving the Papago Park military reservation--just why are the National Guard centrally located in Metro. Phoenix?--will take care of next year's troubles, too.

Now move on to department eliminations. Even if the Agriculture Department's budget is halved--the wholesale elimination proposed is probably not responsible, but the department's scope could be reduced to providing true public goods--that's $4.5 MM per year. $10 MM can be saved by eliminating the Department of Tourism. Our outdoors sells itself! (Word to out-of-towners: come hike Aravaipa Canyon. Trust me on this one, or send an e-mail.) $100 MM per year can be saved by moving portions of University coursework to community colleges, which many students do anyway. (Let students who value the difference pay more, like their counterparts at private universities.) We don't need a Liquor Department, nor a Parent's Commission, nor a $40 MM special "Career Ladder" program for the schools (aren't they supposed to do that anyway?), and certainly don't need an Arts Commission, state departments of racing, private postsecondary education, cosmetology, barbering, opticians, optometry, podiatry, chiropractic (!), acupuncture (!!), naturopathy (!!!), and homeopathy (?!: a state department for regulation of placebos and outright quackery!). The beauty of the proposed cuts is that you do not have to agree or support all of them. As they amount to over a billion dollars per year, they're more than enough to get us there.

And one of the ideas proposed is just plain overdue: a parental "use tax credit" for private education. It's one of the strangest things about our current state of affairs, that middle-income people get their children's educations subsidized by the state. Thinking that makes us better off is like thinking we can be made more wealthy by picking our own pockets. A use tax credit will eliminate the double payments problem and let the benefits of choice be open to more people. In the long run it will lessen dependence on the State for education and make the next shortfall less of a "panic".

The takeaway message: Even if you do not support half or even three quarters of what is in the Reason Foundation's report, it is possible to balance Arizona's budget without raising taxes. Therefore, the tax increase is not necessary.

What the legislature needs is a voter mandate for cuts. Those who are on the fence about supporting cuts need to know that the public will not vote them out of office for doing what needs to be done. The Steve Farley types, who've never seen a cut they like or a spending increase they don't, need to be forced by the voter to start thinking like grown people and considering that we live in a world of finite resources and that the government simply can't do everything that Would Be Nice without raising taxes and thus diminishing the ability of people to enjoy the fruits of their labor and investments. The construction-fueled days of free money in Arizona for government programs are over. Time to prioritize. Vote "no" on Proposition 100 to make the legislature do just that.

And start demanding responsible cuts to the scope of government, as well. Read the Reason Foundation report and call your representative or write your newspaper to say that this milquetoasty, timid cutting of a little from this, a little from that has to stop, to be replaced by a reduction of the scope of state government. At the very least, demand that non-violent drug offenders be released from prison.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Campus carry moving along in Virginia; when can we start calling AZ "Overdue"?

Via Dave Hardy, news that George Mason University's firearms ban is being challenged in Virginia's Supreme Court.

Arizona statutes explicitly delegate authority to regulate firearms at the state universities to the Board of Regents, which means that a VA-style challenge could not be made here, or at least that it would have to be structured differently.

But at issue in the appeal are the question of whether or not a carry ban violates the Second Amendment and whether or not prohibiting carry at a University is truly a compelling government interest, whether, if the government has a compelling interest that would necessitate limitations on RKBA, outright carry bans are narrowly tailored, and whether prohibiting students from keeping arms in their dormitories is, following the holding in Heller, unconstitutional. While Virginia law is not Arizona law and Virginia precedents are not binding here, state courts draw on the reasoning of other states' courts frequently, thus our attention in AZ should be on VA.

Moreover, if the appellants prevail, Virginia will join Utah and Colorado in allowing carry at state Universities; as more colleges, public or private, permit carry, the paranoid fantasies of the ban proponents lose credibility. We will, of course, still hear them, and they will, of course, still receive press coverage, regardless. It's over 20 years after Florida passed concealed carry, and the hoplophobes still repeat the arguments they made there every time liberalization is proposed elsewhere, and they are still taken seriously by the press. But it's much easier to point to examples of success than to take the lead ourselves--"Utah students can carry, and it hasn't been a problem--"no matter how much it'd be better for us to have been the leaders in this.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Why I take my hat off to Martin Escobar.

Arizona's longtime paleocon/populist blowhard Ernest Hancock, whatever his many faults, has made a few good observations over the years. One to remember is that if you have a "government number" it is far easier to get attention. Translating "government number" out of Ernie-speak, that means that if you are participating in some sort of governmental process, be it by running for office or filing a lawsuit, you will more likely be considered newsworthy.

Tucson, AZ policeman Martin Escobar probably doesn't know who Ernie Hancock is, but appears to have taken that advice. His lawsuit, alleging violations of his 42 U.S.C. §1983, First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment protected rights due to SB 1070, gained him national attention. The text of the complaint may be found on and several other news outlets; the last time I checked, it wasn't yet available from the courts, but probably will be. National attention, yes, but on reading the complaint, the lawsuit appears not only frivolous but blatantly and unapologetically frivolous. Escobar doesn't appear to have suffered injury, be compelled to suffer injury, or otherwise have standing, and his counsel doesn't even try to link the pages upon pages of Escobar's reflections on policing in southern Tucson to his allegations of rights violations.

But my hat goes off to Escobar, not for the publicity in itself, but for bringing the realities of policing in Tucson south of 22nd Street to public attention. A document with a "government number" explaining that neither use of the Spanish language, nor dressing in a Mexican fashion, nor listening to norteƱo music, nor ethnic appearance, nor skill with the English language constitute reasonable suspicion that one is an alien, let alone an alien without the right visa, now exists, both as a matter of public record an in the popular consciousness. Escobar himself now has the name recognition for ACLU-AZ or whoever else will bring eventual Fourth or Fifth Amendment suits concerning the enforcement of SB 1070 to think of him when they need expert testimony concerning the meaning of "reasonable suspicion" and "probable cause" when visa status is in question.

A single frivolous lawsuit will likely achieve far more than the dumbed-down chants of thousands of protesters.