Join Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel as he brings us up to date on issues from south of the Gila.
TED SIMONS: Time now for another edition of Southern Exposure, our monthly look at issues from Tucson and other areas south of the Gila. Joining us now is Tucson Weekly Senior writer Jim Nintzel. Good to see you again.
JIM NINTZEL: Always a pleasure.
TED SIMONS: We're celebrating the east valley. Tucson is celebrating a birthday, right?
JIM NINTZEL: 240th birthday. We've been around since 1775. Long time back. It's also our zoo's baby elephant's first birthday. Much cause for celebration.
TED SIMONS: All right.
JIM NINTZEL: I'm missing out on a lot.
TED SIMONS: You're missing out on that and I'm sure that's great but, you know, folks aren't celebrating the economy down in Tucson. We've got the consumer confidence report coming out here recently. Maricopa county, everyone's all excide. The rest of the state and especially in Tucson, confidence is low, optimism not there. What's going on?
JIM NINTZEL: I think we generally lag behind the Phoenix area when it comes to rebounding from economic setbacks as we've been going through in this country. And we have not caught up with where you guys are in terms of opportunities, jobs and many other things. So there are a lot of concerns down there, things are not going as well as they are up here.
TED SIMONS: The sequester I know is big on the Tucson economy. Does that show the dependence that the region has on government defense spending?
JIM NINTZEL: Tremendous reliance on that. It's a huge linchpin of our economy. Our biggest private employer is Raytheon which is doing alright with the missile contracts. We are very dependent on both that, the university, as well, and you've seen some pretty serious cutbacks on the universities here in the state over the last few months, as well. So a lot of people are still service, you know. Am I going to have a job next week? And that definitely impinges on your consumer confidence, your willingness to spend a lot of money.
TED SIMONS: They called it a broad-based pessimism. Do you sense that?
JIM NINTZEL: I don't so much but I hang out with the fun-loving crowd. We're often at the theater listening to music.
TED SIMONS: Congratulations. I hope you're not taking the bus. What's going on with the bus strike?
JIM NINTZEL: It's a mess, two weeks striking bus drivers down there. So that's a real big problem for many people who depend on the bus to get to and from their jobs, they're having trouble hanging out. Another problem with employment there, folks on the lower end of the economic scale and need to have a bus ride to work are not able to keep their jobs unless they can find an alternative route. The teamsters are making some very tough demands on the private company that manages the bus system for the city of Tucson. And the city of Tucson has been generous with the bus system. They have continued to fund it but they've been very reluctant to raise fares or reorganize routes in some kind of more economic fashion so the costs of the bus keep going up. We've added the light rail. That's a big addition in terms of needs for the budget down there. So there are some real problems with finding the money to be able to meet the demands of the striking drivers.
TED SIMONS: Is this issue and it sounds like there was a chance from reading up on this, there's a chance late last year to nip this in the bud. That chance came and went. Is there a perception of a lack of leadership maybe on the Tucson city council?
JIM NINTZEL: I think the Tucson city council is not the most popular body, although we'll see what happens with the election there, three of the members are up for re-election, facing Republican challengers this year. The mayor skated by without a challenger this go around. So that tells you something. The opposing party is having trouble getting a candidate to run for mayor tells you something about the organization.
TED SIMONS: So, broad-based pessimism with the city council, as well.
JIM NINTZEL: Yes, probably not in trouble because we have partisan elections and there are three Democrats for every two Republicans in the city of Tucson so they have a tremendous edge.
TED SIMONS: Real quickly, I know that Pima County filed suit against the state regarding a tax provision in the new budget that would take money out of the counties, Pima County especially was upset by this. Give us a brief overview.
JIM NINTZEL: It's so complicated. It has to do with property taxes. The state had essentially back filled some of these property taxes, provided a subsidy for the school districts essentially. And what has happened is the Governor Ducey and the lawmakers said we're cutting that off this year. And we're capping it. The counties have to come in and fill that in. Counties are saying you're asking us to tax people in other jurisdictions to fund Tucson unified school district and the other people are paying that tax have no vote in the school district so this is taxation without representation. They went to the state Supreme Court and the state Supreme Court said go down and start at the Superior Court level. This is going to drag on for a while.
TED SIMONS: Okay. They will file in Superior Court. What is a wallaroo?
JIM NINTZEL: It's a type of kangaroo. It's on the loose. Big news in Tucson. They are on the loose, we don't know -- the last report I heard is the marsupials remain at large.
TED SIMONS: So do we know what these wayward wallaroos were doing? Someone must have been driving around and said, what are those?
JIM NINTZEL: I think they've been mistaken as kangaroos. Very kangaroo like in their form and yeah someone saw a kangaroo and reported it to the sheriff's department and we don't know where they are now. They're loose somewhere on the northwest side. I don't know what happened. A coyote or wallaroo, who wins that fight? From the cartoons I watch, they're very good boxers.
TED SIMONS: And the coyotes don't do well in competition. Were those owned by someone? Did they escape from a home or zoo? What are they doing?
JIM NINTZEL: Details remain sketchy as to the origin of the wallaroos that are on the loose in Tucson. It could be something related to Chupacabra for all I know.
TED SIMONS: He said one of them could be on the property, he just likes to hide.
JIM NINTZEL: So one does not know what's happened to the wallaroos.
TED SIMONS: What is colossal cave park?
JIM NINTZEL: Colossal cave park, long-time tourist attraction in Tucson and it has fallen on hard times. It's owned by the county, it's been managed by a private entity for some time. And they really have not kept up with the times and so the county is stepping in. They found a new operator, they're going to try to clean it up. It's not like Kartchner Caverns it's had so many tourists tromping through it for so long that it's not nearly on that level. But it was a popular tourist attraction at one time. There's a lot of land there, there's a ranch attached to it. They're working on trying to find a way to spiff up colossal cave park and it all came about because there was a lion poached on the ground by some cowboys and the county had to get involved and many troubles followed but they're working towards fixing it up now.
TED SIMONS: My next question, who is George Rosenberg?
JIM NINTZEL: George Rosenberg was a long-time Tucson resident. He was a newspaper man for about 20 years from the 1940s to the 1960s. Got out of that, got very involved in healthcare, Arizona Theater Company led the drive to rescue that once upon a time before it became a statewide organization. Helped get our poetry center underway, the humanities seminars that they teach down there to older retired people who can take university courses in Tucson. A whole host of things that he was involved with, passed away last week at the age of 99. A lot of folks started calling me up and saying you need to tell people about this guy because he was involved in so many different things. And he will be very much missed by his family and friends down there of which there are many.
TED SIMONS: Are there younger George Rosenbergs in the making or is that the kind of person and time that has come and gone?
JIM NINTZEL: It was a very small town when he got there in the 1940s and it really grew while he was there. I don't think those same kind of opportunities are there where one person can have that kind of influence but there are people working hard to try to make the place a better place to live.
TED SIMONS: All right. Jim, good to have you here.
JIM NINTZEL: Always a pleasure.
TED SIMONS: Thanks for being here. Friday on "Arizona Horizon," it's the Journalists' Roundtable. We'll look at how the corporation commission handled a request by APS to increase fees for rooftop solar. And we'll discuss efforts to rebrand Arizona. Those stories and more on the Journalists' Roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.