Monday, March 01, 2004

"Let's Put On Show, I Mean an Investigation!" "I've Got a Barn!"

How better to celebrate the Leap Year than to leap to conclusions? I sure can't think of a better one. Again, it's Arizona issues this week; of course, Arizona politics is what they call a "target-rich environment." I got top placement and a strange cartoon, a serpent's tongue with a dollar sign on it; here's the newspaper link. Libertarian Clip Art, I presume.

The Prison Probe
Legislature sticking county with legal costs for state's standoff inquiry

East Valley Tribune, Feb. 29, 2004

Why would the GOP legislative leadership make their so-called investigation into the Lewis Prison hostage situation as complicated as a Rube Goldberg cartoon? The answer, as always, is: Follow the money.

It might strike you as a bit, well, partisan that the GOP-controlled Legislature would appoint a special committee, which then calls on a potential candidate for governor (Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley), who then has to make a big show of stepping aside after supposedly picking a local version of an independent counsel, Melvin McDonald.

It’s not merely a complicated four-cushion shot instead of a straight line. It also put the Republican House speaker and Senate president in the awkward spot of trying to explain that nothing political -- nothing! -- was going on because all the political guy was doing was choosing some non-political guy to run somebody else’s investigation.

But why bother with those machinations, when the Legislature could have cut out the middleman and hired McDonald directly? Why even mess with Romley, thereby giving Democrats like me such an easy shot to complain about letting a potential Republican candidate investigate his future Democratic opponent?

Why? Because the Legislature doesn’t have the money to hire McDonald, or anybody else for that matter. They didn’t budget for this job, and ultimately they don’t plan on paying for it. Instead, they decided to call in favors from a nearby government, controlled by fellow Republicans, that apparently has money lying about for the Legislature to use.

House Speaker Jake “Obey Me or Lose Your Chairmanship” Flake and Senate President Ken “I Bought the Law, and My Family Business Won” Bennett consider this a win-win situation -- at least for them. They get their little investigation, on their terms, while Maricopa County taxpayers pick up the check. To these guys, “fiscal discipline” means using somebody else’s budget to finance your goodies.

We had to impose new taxes to build the Cardinals stadium and Bank One Ballpark and preserve the county hospital, but somehow Maricopa County has enough money floating around that the County Attorney can pay for the Legislature’s dirty work? The next time you hear one of our county supervisors talk about unfunded state mandates or belt-tightening their budget, just remember that they had plenty of money when the House speaker from Snowflake (in Navajo County) and the Senate president from Prescott (in Yavapai County) needed a slush fund for their political fun and games.

The supervisors may agree to this fiscal sleight-of-hand, because most of the GOP majority at Third Avenue is good buddies with the GOP majority at 17th Avenue, and because the Legislature easily can punish a county government that doesn’t do its bidding.

But if the supervisors really represent Maricopa County voters and aren’t just some farm team at the Legislature’s beck-and-call, they might want to ask the GOP to advance the funds first. Get the retainer for Mel up front, OK? Flake and Bennett most definitely aren’t the kind of guys you want to let run a tab.

Let me spell it out for you slower supervisors. Step 1: If you agree to fund Mel’s second big case of the year on the county tab, you’ll wait nervously for weeks for Flake and Bennett to put the reimbursement money into this year's budget bills. Step 2: At the last minute, they’ll insert the money into the conference report, but put the appropriation exactly where the governor can strike it with a line-item veto. Step 3: Flake and Bennett blame Napolitano, while the county gets the shaft.

Clear enough, guys? Call me if you have any questions.

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