Changing the subject?

by David Safier
I've been watching cable news this afternoon (Warning: watching too much cable news can result in severe attacks of anxiety and rage. Contact your physician if the symptoms last longer than 24 hours — or shut off the damn TV!) The Republicans are trying desperately to reframe the torture debate into a single question: what did Pelosi know, and when did she know it? It's not about waterboarding, it's about what Pelosi was told. Pelosi, Pelosi, Pelosi.

Which got me to thinking. Are Arizona Republican legislators clever enough to be trying the same thing here with their latest budget legislation?

They passed two bills. One temporarily withheld $300 million from school districts, an oft-employed budget strategy to put off paying bills until you get more money. Nothing new there. But the other bill said, in essence, if we find any school districts have more money in their bank accounts than they're supposed to have, we're going to subtract that amount from what we owe them.

How will they know if districts have more money than they're supposed to? Someone will have to dig through district budgets. Day by day, drip by drip, we'll hear about slush funds districts have, whether they're legal or not. The public will hardly even care about details like legality, and the media can't stay away from stories like this. They love this kind of stuff.

"I wonder if TUSD has been squirreling away money. How about Amphi? Or Vail? Really they have [name a figure] in their bank account, and they're crying poor?"

I can already see one of those detailed, ain't-it-awful stories about TUSD in the Star. It's so easy, and it makes them feel so investigative, to dig into the district's dirty laundry. If the attention and the heat turn toward the districts, that's good for the legislature.

I'm almost certain some districts have more money than they should in their accounts, or the wrong kind of money. And even if they don't, the process of explaining makes you look guilty. "These are federal funds that can only be used for . . . and this money from property taxes needs to be set aside to . . ." It sounds shifty.

I may be over thinking this. Maybe the Rs in the legislature will just blame Pelosi for the budget cuts.

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