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GUEST OPINION

Citizen misplaced blame for bloated county budget

MARY C. SCHUH

The Citizen’s recent highlighting of bloated county government spending is appreciated. However, the alleged surprise about potential crushing tax rates for overhead and maintenance confuses me. The Citizen chooses to avoid its own responsibility, and that of officials who should be berated.

For years now, Pima Association of Taxpayers and other citizens have advocated for a budget advisory-review committee.

Paul Marsh supported it and Sharon Bronson made an appointment. Raul Grijalva vowed he would not let another budget cycle go awry, then ended up failing to start the process. He apologized but it lies dormant.

None of this feeds the bulldog of course, but for the Citizen to laud interim-Supervisor Ray Carroll as the father of ideas is ludicrous and insulting to all of us who have stalwartly fought for this change.

During the recent budget cycle, PAT turned in two budget review reports. The 12-page report recommended the change again and with guidelines. Please note the wheel already has been invented, too.

The Citizen’s indignation is admirable, but is it not castigating the wrong whipping boy? I do not normally defend bureaucrats but my sense of fair play will not let me do otherwise in this case. Chuck Huckelberry, Pima County administrator, is not the villain here.

Huckelberry put out two memos last year referencing the general obligation bonds and the transportation bonds. I call them ”Bond bibles.” They list projects, priorities, costs, other funding, impact and future overhead and maintenance costs.

I don’t think elected officials, in general, have read them. I have and referenced them. I know the media did not, or they would have explained all the ins and outs of tax consequences to the public. Huckelberry, according to the Citizen’s unfounded accusation, needs to ”spell out for taxpayers what the operating costs” will be. He did, but the Citizen and the politicians did not.

Again, the county administrator put out a letter of transmittal with the budget this year citing the oncoming, online costs of new construction. He warned of the $43 million overhead and maintenance and impact on budgets with possible tax increases. He also warned, in another memo, of the impact of taking 1 percent for art from all the projects. Have you read that one? These are all public documents.

Did you hear a word of concern from one current supervisor? Did you hear one of them remove one project from their wish-list? You have better hearing than I for all I heard was: I want: $480,000 to buy constituent property; I want: $50,000 for ethics and $1.5 million for a Mount Lemmon tram with no study, no assessment of overhead, impact or risk; I want: Kino’s $18 million real debt forgiven and a higher salary, benefits for live-in lovers, unrelated children, perks, holidays and personal time for politics. Gimme $250,000 for a redundant Job Path program; gimme the right to collect salary from other areas of tax-supported county budgets with double-dipping. Oh, and find $300,000 from a ”plethora of money” for that ill-conceived, undefined Sonoran Desert Protection Plan. Did you ever write an accurate editorial on this?

You pontificate and chastise the county administrator and laud the newest Poster Boy of Pork without whipping the soles of your own feet. Shouldn’t you be a bit more subtle in your pre-emptive, obvious political support? Huckelberry can only gather, assimilate and disseminate information. If the county has a dysfunctional board, which appears to have grown more so since last June, incapable of reading the memos and accepting that fiscally liberal, socialistic programs need to go, what can Huckelberry or any of us do? They vote their pork barrels and our tax burdens.

Perhaps, we need to advocate community obligations to the media. A free press is how government informs the people. A free press also needs to inform the people about what their government is doing to them.

Mary C. Schuh is president of the Pima Association of Taxpayers.

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