State lawmaker calls Tucson a "corpse"

There is little doubt that Pima County has been frustrated by state lawmakers.

The county has charged the state with being too intrusive into local politics and upset that the state has been balancing its budget on the county's back.

Until today, the county could only make those charges in memos or select interviews with the media, never face to face and in public..

But the May 17th county meeting to approve a tentative budget provided a rare opportunity.

Two state lawmakers came to the meeting to oppose the county's proposed 11 cent property tax increase.

They walked into a hornets nest, giving the county a chance to vent.

State lawmaker Vic Williams, a Republican from District 26, was the first to open the debate.

"We have adjusted to tough times in the state of Arizona and we would wish you would do the same," Williams encouraged the board. "That you would look at other than raising taxes, reducing spending and providing fiscal responsibility that we've done in the state."

To be told that the state was fiscally responsible and the county not, was more than some could bear.

"The president of the board of supervisors association did make this statement - the state balanced its budget on the back of the counties,", Supervisor Sharon Bronson told Williams.

To that, Williams took great exception.

"That is an inflammatory statement," he said. "That is not true."

But Bronson pressed the issue.

"A third of our budget is sent back to the state," she says. "So if they're taking it to balance their budget, then I don't know how to phrase that."

Another Democrat, Richard Elias from District 5, couldn't let it go either.

"The action you took this year... really gave us the impression that you used us down here in Pima County as a whipping post," he said. "And that hurt."

Even a Republican supervisor, and a former lawmaker, Ann Day got in the act.

"There's a mind set with Maricopa County Republicans that we're different down here. That we're liberal and we drink different water," she told Williams, and District 30 representative Ted Vogt. "They look at us with disdain. It's hard not to get caught up in that."

Some in Pima County feel that's what happened to the Southern Arizona delegation.

But Williams takes issue with that.

"To protect the economic vitality and economic interest in this region is the plan and what we feel we're doing at the state legislature," he said.

And he also took the city of Tucson to task for what he called the "miserable failures of Rio Nuevo."

"We have to work with the city of Tucson and the downtown area because we see it becoming more decayed, less prosperous and we don't want to be shackled to a corpse in our success," he says.

Elias said "I can't believe he called Tucson a corpse."

And Elias expressed some hope for the future asking the delegation treat "people in Pima County more fairly in your next session because you failed in that respect this year."

And another exchange between Williams and Bronson.

Williams said "we have to work together in balancing our budget."

But Bronson shot back, "I didn't see much working together."

"Well that's your perspective. I respectfully disagree with your opinion," Williams said.

That's when another former state lawmaker, now board chair, Ramon Valadez picked up the ball.

"When I was in the state legislature and I had an issue with someone in Southern Arizona, I picked up the phone and called," he said. "You didn't do that."

But Williams reminded them the phone works both ways and "you can call me anytime."

In the end, the county passed it's tentative budget of $1.3 billion which includes an 11 cent property tax hike.

Williams calls it a hike but Bronson says homeowners will actually pay less.

With a drop in home valuations, the bump in rates won't raise anyone's bill she says.

Williams says with a record number of foreclosures now is not the time to raise rates.

In the end both sides promised better communication and cooperation.

@