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Brewer's budget battle

Ariana Brocious | Jul 10, 2009 11:51 AM

A week into the 2010 fiscal year in Arizona, the state's budget is $2.1 billion in the red, worrying Tucson officials and others about committing money and jobs.  In the past six months since Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer stepped up to fill former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano’s post, the state has been embroiled in what the LA Times calls the “nastiest fiscal fight in Arizona history.”

It has been a surprisingly vicious conflict, given that the state legislature is predominately Republican. After years of going head-to-head with Napolitano, lawmakers were anticipating an easier relationship with Brewer, who took over after Napolitano was called to head Obama's Department of Homeland Security. Yet Brewer hasn’t toed the party line —instead, she’s supported tax increases and defended spending on health care and public safety. And she has refused to budge, resulting in months of battling over education allocations, spending cuts to rein in the rampant state deficit and Brewer’s big issue: increasing the state sales tax (to be voted on in a November election) which would raise around $1 billion to offset cuts to social programs.

Recent highlights include Brewer suing the Legislature for allegedly violating the state constitution, Senate President Bob Burns walking out on a meeting and later harshly criticizing the governor, and Brewer vetoing every budget proposal that cut money for state services.

Last Wednesday lawmakers ended the fourth-longest legislative session in modern times by approving a budget in the early hours of the 2010 fiscal year that included $600 million in cuts but not Brewer’s proposed sales-tax hike.

Brewer line-vetoed major parts of the budget, particularly education spending which she viewed as insufficient, and called the legislature back for a special session this week. On Monday state lawmakers finally approved the education funding, restoring $220 million in cuts.

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An old idea reborn

Ed Quillen | Jul 09, 2009 09:23 AM

   Sometimes old ideas become new ideas.
    On July 9, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter announced plans to seek federal funding to study a high-speed rail corridor from Denver south through New Mexico to El Paso, Texas.
    Take out the "high-speed" part of it, and you've got the dream of Gen. William Jackson Palmer in 1870 -- to go south from Denver to the Rio Grande valley (thus the name of his Denver & Rio Grande Railroad) to El Paso, where it would connect with Mexican lines.
    Palmer's railroad (absorbed by the Union Pacific in 1996) did reach the Rio Grande, but never went south of Santa Fe. His preferred route, over Raton Pass, was blocked because the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad got there first. And the 1879 silver bonanza of Leadville turned Palmer's attention to a different direction.
    So the line became the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and evolved into an east-west link rather than the original north-south route.
    About 60 years ago, in an introduction to a book called Cities of the West, Carey McWilliams observed that even though the mountain ranges of the West trend north-south, the major transportation corridors oppose this geography by running east-west.
    In the view of McWilliams (who grew up on a ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colo., and went on to edit the Nation magazine after a productive literary career in California), the West's transportation network was aligned to serve national needs, rather than regional needs. The railroads that got the land grants -- that is, the government support of the era -- were east-west lines.
    In the formative years of the American West during and after the Civil War, the national government wanted the West Coast tied to the Midwest. Some north-south corridors that tied Helena to Phoenix might have encouraged a regional economy and identity -- and after four years of bloody civil war, another regional culture may have been the last thing the United States wanted or needed.
    The pattern persists to this day. It's easier to catch a plane from Denver to Philadelphia or Los Angeles than it is to fly to Boise or Helena.
    Or take a look at a modern Amtrak map, which reflects certain contemporary national transportation priorities. It shows four east-west corridors. As for north-south routes, there's one along the West Coast, and another from Minneapolis through Chicago to New Orleans. But there's nothing in between, out where we live.
    So if Colorado Gov. Ritter and his colleagues, Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Rick Perry of Texas, manage to get federal support for a north-south corridor in the West, they'll accomplish something new -- or something as old as Gen. Palmer's plan of 1870.


Will money talk?

Marty Durlin | Jul 09, 2009 06:50 AM

It's a sweet-voiced, normal-looking middle-aged woman who looks sincerely at the camera and tells us that she's one of millions of Californians who want to pay taxes on marijuana, legalizing her drug of choice and helping to refill the state's empty coffers (the taxes could fund 20,000 teacher salaries, she says). This is an ad from the Marijuana Policy Project, founded in 1996 to remove criminal penalties for marijuana use. 

Even though Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (who's admitted to inhaling) suggested in April that it's time for a debate on the legalization and taxation of marijuana, and even though there's a pro-pot bill in the California legislature (AB 390, which would tax and regulate the drug), many TV stations have refused to run the 30-second ad, either ignoring requests for rate cards or rejecting it on the basis of "standards" or "comfort" level.

A Field Research Corporation poll in April revealed that 56 percent of Californians favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

To bolster its case further, the Marijuana Policy Project offers these arguments:

  • In 2007, more than 74,000 Californians were arrested on marijuana charges – 80% for simple possession, not sale or manufacture. During the same year, more than 66,000 violent crimes went unsolved.

  • Marijuana is California’s top cash crop but this industry goes untaxed while Sacramento raises taxes on middle-class families and is making deep cuts to police, schools, and hospitals.

  • Prohibition creates an unregulated, criminal market for marijuana where drug dealers routinely sell to kids. Regulating marijuana will take marijuana out of the hands of criminals and put it where it belongs: in a well regulated, licensed market only available to adults.

The lady in the ad says marijuana is "a substance safer than alcohol." Alcohol abuse kills 75,000 Americans annually. Cigarette smoking accounts for more than 400,000 deaths each year. But recent research on the health impacts of smoking marijuana shows mixed results. While a study by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Drug Abuse, released in 2006, found no connection between marijuana smoking and cancer, a 2007 British study revealed that one ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, produced temporary psychotic symptoms in people, including hallucinations and paranoid delusions.

We've legalized alcohol and cigarettes. In the name of saving an economy, we now may legalize pot -- allowing people to make their own decisions about a substance that has not yet been shown to cause any deaths.




Duwamish not dead

Arla Shephard | Jul 09, 2009 02:40 AM

Next week, Cecile Hansen, a direct descendant of Seattle’s namesake Chief Sealth, will travel from one Washington to another. 

Hansen, the chairwoman of the Duwamish tribe, has been invited to testify in D.C. at an upcoming hearing on H.R. 2678, a bill introduced in the House that would grant the Western Washington tribe the federal recognition it has been fighting for since, well, forever. 

The tribe, comprised of nearly 600 members currently, was granted fishing and reservation rights way back in 1855, when Chief Sealth signed the Treaty of Point Elliott. Unfortunately, the U.S. government never saw fit to actually follow through with any of the promises it made. 

Federal recognition would provide the tribe with government aid, and possibly restore their fishing rights and allow them to open a casino. This has caused alarm among other Northwest tribes, who are worried that recognizing the Duwamish would drain limited federal resources

Specifically, the Muckleshoot have argued that Duwamish federal recognition would encroach upon their own fishing rights. Hansen believes the Muckleshoot are worried that the Duwamish could operate a casino in Seattle, diverting business from the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn.

The Muckleshoot went so far as to seek court intervention in the Duwamish's other fight for federal recognition. In addition to the House bill, the Duwamish are involved in an expensive and lengthy legal battle to overturn the Bush administration’s declaration that the tribe doesn’t really exist. 

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6,000 years without enviro laws

Jonathan Thompson | Jul 08, 2009 11:04 AM

See, we need to mine uranium because there were no environmental laws around 6,000 years ago, when the earth was created. At least I think that's what Arizona State Sen. Sylvia Allen, R, is saying in this video clip. Huh?



Condor quandary

Jodi Peterson | Jul 08, 2009 06:20 AM

A prominent group of biologists and scientists is strongly criticizing conservation plans for Tejon Ranch, a 270,000-acre property north of LA.  The ranch is slated for 30,000 acres of housing, industrial and resort projects -- which will sprawl across roughly 20,000 acres of critical habitat for the endangered California condor. Tejon's developers have asked the Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to "take" more than two dozen imperiled species, including condors (see our brief in "Two Weeks in the West", and our pro and con opinion pieces).

But condor experts, including former leaders and members of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s condor team and federal condor recovery team, have just issued a report saying that the Tejon conservation plan, which attempts to mitigate the development's impact on all those rare species, would be a disaster for the huge birds:

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Roughing it the easy way

Ariana Brocious | Jul 08, 2009 03:10 AM

Summer is officially upon us and for many that means camping, often in the company of family or friends. This summer is an especially good time to get outside to spend a few nights under the stars, sing off-key by the campfire and roast all manner of food on a stick, because the National Park Service is offering three fee-free weekends at over 100 National Parks.

But for those who are less than comfortable with the prospect of potentially sleepless nights, mosquito bites and half-raw, half-charred hotdogs, yet still balk at exploring the great outdoors from inside a giant RV, there is a compromise in the Oregon State Parks.

Called “Camping Lite,” Oregon State Parks offer yurts, cabins and tepees in addition to the standard tent and RV sites. “Roughing it has never been so smooth,” says their Web site, which lists the amenities offered in both rustic and deluxe sites. Not all state parks offer all the options, but most have at least one alternative kind of camping site.

I stayed at a rustic yurt in the Valley of the Rogue State Park, Ore. at the end of May, after a day spent visiting Oregon’s only national park, the gorgeous Crater Lake. Nearing the end of a three-week road trip up the West Coast, it seemed like a fun break from tent camping. Our yurt could sleep five people on a combination of futon and bunk beds, had a table and chairs and was equipped with light and electricity—very useful for the coffee pot my trip companion insisted on hauling around everywhere (a concession I granted given his caffeine addiction and resulting nasty withdrawal behavior). All cooking had to be done outside, but we did have a nice porch on which to sit and watch the sunset.

Personally, I quite enjoy sleeping out in the cool night air, body close to the earth, hearing only the crisp silence of early morning and being lucky enough to witness wildlife. But I’ll be honest—a good night’s sleep on a real mattress in the screened yurt felt pretty nice. It's a happy middle ground for those between hard-core backpackers and RV devotees, which hopefully means even more people will leave their air conditioning, television and Internet behind for a few days and check out the natural beauty of Oregon.

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Blue horses: riding on moonlight

Michael Wolcott | Jul 07, 2009 03:10 AM

I step out of my shack beneath a waxing half moon. Milky light pours down on northern Arizona. Scattered ponderosas march across the bunchgrasses of Government Prairie, casting oval shadows to the west of each tree. As usual, my walk takes me along the fence line.

A cloud shutters the moon. Across the barb-wire, two huge silhouettes emerge from a clump of pines: horses. Big, solid geldings. Sorrels, I think. But in the gauzy moonlight you can’t really tell. The grass is silver, the trees black; a star on the bigger horse’s forehead seems to be a watery yellow. The horses’ bodies appear a vague, pastel blue.

Blue horses in moonlight. They consider me from the edge of the trees, then walk to the fence. One shoves its great blue head toward me. The other tries to move close, but gets pushed away. They smell like horses: dried sweat, leather, and damp sweet-grass. That scent carries memory:

It is sunrise on the first day of June a decade ago, at a place in Wyoming called Blackrock. Twenty miles to the west, the saw-tooth profile of the Tetons shines platinum in the brand new day. To the north, the blocky Absarokas are silver and white with snow.

I am walking the south bank of the swollen Buffalo Fork where it loops around the bunkhouses and barns, the pasture and corrals of the Forest Service compound. I am hoping to spot a moose, or maybe a grizzly. It’s my second day on the district.

The morning will be warm, but for now the mud underfoot is still frozen. Two sand hill cranes rise from the willow bottom on six-foot wings. Their ratcheting voices sound like dry tree branches rubbing together.

I climb up out of the riverbed into the pasture, strewn with purple larkspur and yellow balsamroot. White phlox blossoms fleck the new grass like patches of snow. Suddenly, without warning, comes that cliché: thundering hooves.

A hundred yards away, a stand of lodgepoles seems to part like some wild-west version of the Red Sea. Out of the breach come fifty horses: bays, buckskins, sorrels, pounding the ground at a dead run. They bob shoulder-to-shoulder across the meadow, fleeing with one mind. I can see the whites of their frightened eyes.

Three crazed border collies work the herd from the sides, funneling them through a wide metal gate, into a chute that leads to the corrals. Bringing up the rear are two black-hatted cowboys, whooping and spurring. I do not care about horses, yet it is impossible to not be stirred by this sight.

Later today the wranglers, Jack and Bill, will teach me to saddle a horse. In the years to come, I will learn a few other things: to avoid a horse's deadly hooves, to pack loads that will ride twenty miles, to keep my broad-brimmed hat on in a windstorm. I’ll lope across summertime meadows, drag a string up over Two Ocean Plateau in a snowstorm, and get bucked into Soda Fork Creek by a paint mustang named Kid. I will get back on the horse.

The Wyoming summers will come and go. Without bothering to consult me, the future will become the past. I'll move on. I stroke the gelding’s withers, breathe in that unutterable fragrance, and remember. Blue horses carry me back.

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The glorious Fourth

Marty Durlin | Jul 02, 2009 06:46 AM

Like hundreds of small towns around the West, Paonia will celebrate the Fourth of July with a parade down the main drag (Grand Avenue, in our case) and festivities in the park. It's the annual Cherry Days event, some 62 years old, awash in tradition and punctuated by occasional sparks of innovation. There will be the inevitable Clown Band in their ancient red and yellow costumes, the Shriners in their miniature cars, the handsome horses, the cherubic children stained with cherry juice and sticky with cotton candy, the Cherry Day Queen waving from a float, the cherry cook-off, the barbecues, the carnival rides. The "new" events this year include a cake walk and a bed race, and a bunch of us from High Country News are participating in the Ladies' Precision Irrigation Shovel Brigade, complete with accordion accompaniment.

I've attended Cherry Days off and on since 1953, when my father brought me, a six-year-old with a pony tail in a dress of cherry-print fabric. As a budding politician, my father was campaigning in the Democratic stronghold of the county and took me along, while my mother remained in the Delta hospital with my new baby sister. At one house we drank thick fruit juice -- made from home-canned peaches, apricots and plums -- and at a potluck luncheon we ate batter-fried chicken and thick slices of chocolate cake. I remember that year especially well because it was so unusual to be alone with my father, and I was treated like a star wherever we went, everyone congratulating us on the birth of my sister.

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Three strikes for the Forest Service

Jodi Peterson | Jul 01, 2009 04:00 AM

Yesterday, a federal judge once again struck down an attempt to revise the rules governing national forest planning (see our story "The End of Analysis Paralysis"). Environmentalists had filed suit, charging that the changes would weaken protections for wildlife (by getting rid of the viability requirement) and exempt national forest plans from formal review under the National Environmental Policy Act. It's now the third time the changed rules have been pushed back in court.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

The decision means the Forest Service will have to reinstate rules protecting fish and wildlife and limiting logging in 150 national forests and 20 national grasslands covering 192 million acres, including more than a dozen national forests in California.

"It is a great victory for national forests," said Marc Fink, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, which was one of the plaintiffs. "We're hoping today's ruling is the final nail in the coffin for the Bush forest policies and that we can move forward and do what is right for the forests."

The agency will now have to return to either its 1982 or 2000 planning rules. But those cumbersome, inflexible rules are still in need of an overhaul. “We’ve sort of run the course (with the previous rule) and a lot of things haven’t worked,” said Tony Cheng, associate professor of forestry and natural resource policy at Colorado State University (quoted in our 2007 story). “Maybe it’s time to try something new. Public lands are an experiment in participatory democracy.”


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