Election follies, felonies

The Arizona Republic
Friday, October 29, 2004
Robert Robb

Notes and observations from a campaign trail that's getting awfully muddy:

• The most vexing ballot measure this election is Proposition 401, the nearly billion-dollar bond program for the Maricopa County Community College District.

On the one hand, it's not ambitious enough.

The most pressing higher education need in the Valley right now is for choice and cost-effective, student-friendly environments. The community colleges provide such environments, and consideration should be given to expanding some of them into four-year, degree-granting institutions.

But this bond program doesn't finance such a transition.

On the other hand, the Arizona Tax Research Association makes a good case that the bond proposal is too ambitious for the district's current mission.

Enrollments at the Valley's community colleges will undoubtedly grow, requiring more instructional space. But, according to ATRA, the growth projections used to formulate and justify Proposition 401 are about twice what the district is currently experiencing.

Moreover, about a third of the money is going for computers and equipment for which debt-financing isn't cost-effective.

The current mission of the community colleges is valuable, but also overstated in one significant regard.

Much is made of the "partnership" between businesses and the colleges. But to a large extent, this "partnership" consists of taxpayers subsidizing job training for these businesses.

Understandable why the businesses would like that. But not so clear why that should be an obligation of taxpayers.

• The establishment media continue to suspend their critical thinking skills when it comes to stories damaging to President Bush and his administration.

On Monday, the New York Times reported that nearly 380 tons of high explosives had been looted from a munitions storage facility south of Baghdad after the area had fallen to the control of the United States.

John Kerry promptly seized upon the story as demonstrating President Bush's incompetence as commander in chief. The charge has become a centerpiece of his going-home argument.

It was quickly established, however, that a weapons inspection team found that the material was missing within a month and a half of the fall of Baghdad. There was very little traffic on the roads during the interim, meaning it was unlikely that scores of heavy trucks transporting explosives would have gone unnoticed. And highly unlikely that nearly 380 tons of material got out via backpacks or light trucks.

It's at least as plausible that Saddam's regime moved the material before American troops seized the area, an obvious possibility not even mentioned in the Times' account.

This doesn't quite rank with CBS overlooking obvious problems with forged documents in its eagerness to nail Bush about his National Guard service. But it's revealing, nevertheless.

• Particularly when Kerry's serial commission of a math felony goes completely unnoted or examined.

Kerry wants to repeal Bush's tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 a year, which would raise in the range of $60 billion to $80 billion a year in federal revenues.

That's about what Kerry says his health care plan would cost, although independent sources peg the price much higher.

In any event, it would be fair argumentation for Kerry to say that Bush favored giving tax cuts to the wealthy instead of the health care improvements Kerry proposes.

But Kerry makes the same argument about virtually everything, and is escalating it as the campaign comes to a close.

In the campaign's closing weeks, he has said that, without the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, No Child Left Behind could be fully funded, Social Security could be saved, and more could be done with homeland security. He keeps spending the same money several times over.

Kerry is trying to create the impression that without tax cuts for the wealthy, all domestic problems can be solved and there are no tough fiscal choices facing the country. And that ain't so.

• The state's fiscal problems would be eased, at least in the future, by Proposition 101, arguably the most important ballot measure before the voters.

Proposition 101 would require ballot measures that obligate the state to spend money to include a dedicated source of revenue to pay for it. If the dedicated source fell short, the Legislature could reduce the spending accordingly.

A state budget is intrinsically a balancing act. Without a dedicated revenue source, voters are asked to make a decision about mandated spending without knowing the true cost, in either higher taxes or reduced spending elsewhere.

For example, in 2000 voters approved expanding eligibility for the state's Medicaid program. Proponents said that federal funds and tobacco settlement monies would cover the entire cost. But that proved not to be the case, and the expansion is now costing the state General Fund more than $200 million a year.

In other words, voters made a decision about a false choice.

Gov. Janet Napolitano put it well in expressing support for Proposition 101 at her weekly press conference this week: Voters deserve to know where the money is going to come from.