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Valley & State

  • Phoenix is ready to become more bicycle friendly

    PHOENIX (AP) — Phoenix is about to become more bike friendly. The city is rolling out its new bike share program called Grid Bike Share on Tuesday. The program has 100 bikes at 27 different locations in and around Phoenix's central corridor. The green-colored street bikes can be found in places next to the light rail and bus stops along with major entertainment and business centers. The cost to rent one is $5 per hour. There are also monthly and yearly plans. Bikes can be rented at kiosks located at some bike stations, online or through an app.

  • U.S. closes Arizona pension investment trust probe

    PHOENIX (AP) — The U.S. Attorney for Arizona has found no evidence that Arizona's pension fund for public safety workers committed criminal misconduct when it valued some real estate properties in its $6.2 billion portfolio, pension officials announced Monday. The board chairman for the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, Brian Tobin, said the decision by the US Attorney for Arizona closes the books on the yearlong investigation of the pension fund. The FBI and U.S. attorney's office launched the probe last year into whether real estate values were inflated to boost performance bonuses awarded to some senior investment managers. The allegations were brought to the attention of prosecutors by former pension system employees. "This was and is a serious allegation," Tobin said. "It's not true and it never was true." Tobin said the investigation, and two others done by its independent auditing firm and the Arizona Auditor General that also cleared the pension fund, are examples of the system's checks and balances working correctly. Board lawyer James Belanger said the Justice Department is completing a review of several people he would not identify. But he said he expects they'll be cleared as well. The pension plan released a letter from the U.S. attorney to Belanger confirming the decision. Cosme Lopez, spokesman for U.S. Attorney for Arizona John Leonardo, confirmed the contents of the letter but could not comment on any additional reviews. The pension plan for public safety employees is facing a massive shortfall between its assets and what it expects to owe police and firefighters across the state when they retire. The latest projection as of June 30 shows $12.2 billion in liabilities compared to just $6.2 billion in assets. The pension board also fired its top administrator, Jim Hacking, in July after it was revealed that he had illegally awarded pay raises to five senior employees.

  • Barber files federal lawsuit over uncounted votes

    TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Rep. Ron Barber, D-2nd Dist., filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to stop certification of the 2nd Congressional District race in Arizona after the count put his Republican opponent fewer than 200 votes ahead of Barber. The lawsuit filed in federal court in Tucson is the latest attempt by the Tucson-area Democrat to challenge the results that had him losing to Martha McSally by 161 votes. Barber wants 133 disqualified votes to be counted before the election is certified. The results are headed for an automatic recount mandated by state law because of the razor-thin margin. McSally has claimed victory and has attended freshman orientation in Washington. Three Arizona voters who say their lawful votes weren't counted are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Lea Goodwine-Cesarac, an 81-year-old retired teacher, says she moved shortly before the election and voted at the wrong polling place but was not told to go to the correct one. "No election is perfect. We rely on volunteers to run our democracy and make it work. And they deserve our thanks, but sometimes they make mistakes," Barber attorney Kevin Hamilton said. Barber last week asked the board of supervisors for both Pima and Cochise counties to hold off on certifying the election results, a necessary step before the Arizona secretary of state certifies them on Dec. 1. Both boards declined to do so. In Pima County, some supervisors said it was not their role to interfere in the election in that way. The Barber campaign has also requested that Secretary of State Ken Bennett add 156 uncounted ballots to the tally. They include the 133 votes mentioned in the federal lawsuit. Hamilton said he hopes a judge will hear the request on Tuesday.

Nation/World

  • AP sources: EPA to propose stricter smog standard

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Coming full circle on a campaign promise, the Obama administration will propose Wednesday to reduce the amount of smog-forming pollution allowed in the air, which has been linked to asthma, lung damage and other health problems. The stricter standard makes good on a pledge President Barack Obama made during his first campaign for the White House and one of his first environmental actions as president: reversing a decision by President George W. Bush to set a limit weaker than scientists advised. In 2011, amid pressure from Republicans and industries, and facing a battle for re-election, Obama reneged on a plan by then-Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson to lower the permissible level to be more protective of public health. The initial range of 60 to 70 parts per billion proposed by the EPA in January 2010 would make it one of the most expensive regulations ever issued, with an estimated $19 billion to $90 billion price tag and would have doubled the number of counties in violation. People familiar with the proposal told The Associated Press that the agency would propose a preferred range of 65 to 70 parts per billion. The agency's scientific advisers had endorsed a standard of 60 parts per billion. The agency will seek comment on 60 parts per billion as well as the current standard of 75 parts per billion put in place by Bush in 2008. Those familiar with the proposal were not authorized to discuss it by name ahead of the official announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity. The agency was under a court-ordered Dec. 1 deadline to issue a new proposal. "Seldom do presidents get an opportunity to right a wrong," said Bill Becker of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, one of numerous advocacy groups that were enraged by the White House's decision to table the first proposal. In response to the new proposal, he said "Obama has walked the walk on air." The new standard caps a string of historic moves by the Obama administration to improve air quality. The EPA has issued or proposed the first regulations ever to control heat-trapping carbon dioxide, mercury and air toxics from power plants. The administration also has doubled fuel-efficiency standards for car and trucks, and clamped down on industrial pollution that blows downwind and contaminates other states. The Supreme Court Tuesday said it would review the first-ever limits on mercury and air toxins, and whether EPA should have considered the cost of the regulation. Other rules are likely to be targeted when Republicans take over Congress early next year. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who will take over the Environment and Public Works Committee in January, said in a statement Tuesday night that a stricter standard "will lower our nation's economic competitiveness and stifle job creation for decades" and vowed "vigorous oversight" of the proposal in his new position. In a call with reporters Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute said the EPA should retain the current standard. Under the initial proposal, the number of counties in violation of the new standard nationwide would double. Smog cities such as Los Angeles and Houston would have been joined by California's Napa Valley and a county in Kansas with a population of 3,000. A higher range will mean fewer counties will be out of compliance. Also, other air pollution rules will likely ease the burden on counties and states by reducing smog-forming ground-level ozone as side effect. States would have up to 20 years to meet the new limits, or could face federal penalties.

  • Arizona among 21 states suing to overturn Maryland gun law

    HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Twenty-one states, including Arizona, have asked a federal appeals court to overturn Maryland's tough gun-control law, contending that its provisions banning 45 assault weapons and limiting gun magazines to 10 rounds violate the Second Amendment right to keep firearms at home for self-protection. A coalition led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed the friend-of-the-court brief last week in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. The document supports an appeal by groups whose challenge to the law was rejected in August by the U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Morrisey, a Republican, said in a statement that the Maryland Firearms Safety Act of 2013, if upheld by the courts, would undermine a core part of the Second Amendment by banning popular firearms that can be used for self-defense. "States must band together at times when they see citizens' rights being diminished or infringed upon," he said. A spokeswoman for Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley criticized the action Monday. "A federal judge has already affirmed the constitutionality of this law," Nina Smith wrote in an email. "This effort by other states won't do anything to reduce violent crime or save lives." David Paulson, spokesman for the Maryland attorney general's office, declined to comment on the pending litigation, citing an agency policy. The state has until Dec. 31 to file its written response. The other states involved are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. The group includes 18 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Maryland's Republican Gov.-elect, Larry Hogan, has said he would uphold the laws of both Maryland and the United States, including the Second Amendment. Maryland lawmakers passed the legislation in response to the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

  • Brown family statement calls for peaceful protests

    FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — Michael Brown's family issued this statement after a prosecutor announced that a grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson: We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions. While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen. Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera. We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction. Let's not just make noise, let's make a difference.

Featured columns

  • Tips for year-end gifts to charity

    Many people give to charity each year during the holiday season. Remember, if you want to claim a tax deduction for your gifts, you must itemize your deductions. There are several tax rules that you should know about before you give. Here are six tips from the IRS that you should keep in mind:1. Qualified charities. You can only deduct gifts you give to qualified charities. Remember that you can deduct donations you give to churches, synagogues, temples and also government agencies.2. Monetary donations. Gifts of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card and payroll deduction. You must have a bank record or a written statement from the charity in order to deduct any gift of money on your tax return. This is true regardless of the amount of the gift. The statement must show the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. Bank records include canceled checks, or bank, credit union and credit card statements. If you give by payroll deductions, you should retain a pay stub, a Form W-2 wage statement or other document from your employer. It must show the total amount withheld for the charity, along with the pledge card showing the name of the charity.3. Household goods. Household items include furniture, furnishings, electronics, appliances and linens. If you donate clothing and household items to charity, they generally must be in at least “good used” condition to claim a tax deduction. If you claim a deduction of more than $500 for a specific item, it doesn’t have to meet this “good used” standard if you are going to include a Qualified Appraisal of this item with your tax return.4. Records required. You must get a written acknowledgment from a charity for each and any deductible donation (either money or property) of $250 or more. Additional rules apply to the statement for gifts of that amount. This statement is in addition to the records required for deducting cash gifts. However, one statement with all of the required information may meet both requirements. See this link for further info concerning written acknowledgments from charities: www.irs.gov/charities-&-non-profits/Substantiating-Charitable-Contributions. In addition, you will find a link to IRS’s “Select Check Tool” that lists most charitable organizations that are registered with the IRS and are therefore eligible to receive your tax deductible contributions.5. Year-end gifts. You can deduct contributions in the year you make them. If you have charged your donation to a debit or credit card before the end of the year, it will still count for 2014. This is true even if you don’t pay the credit card bill until 2015. Also, a personal check will count for 2014, but only as long as the check you mail is postmarked by Dec. 31, 2014.

  • OPINION: A cheer for Obama’s record

    Candidates in the 2014 races all were blaming President Obama for the state of the state and the union. I agree. President Obama is to blame.  He is to blame for the Dow Jones Index being almost 18,000 when it was less than 8,000 in 2009 when he became president.It is his fault that unemployment in the U.S. is now 5.8 percent instead of 7.8 percent in 2009. We should blame him for the GDP being 3.5 percent today instead of -5.4 percent when he took over. The deficit GDP percent is now 2.9 percent when it was 9.8 percent in 2009.Whose fault is that?  President Obama’s.It must be his fault that gas prices have dropped, and the U.S. is now exporting, rather than importing, oil. Surely, it is his fault that consumer confidence is almost three-times higher than in 2009.We can’t credit the Congress for progress over the past four years as they have done less than any Congress in the history of the U.S.During his first two years in office, with help from a Democratic Senate and House, a health care bill passed that Democrats have worked toward since FDR was president. Under the new ACA, the number of people without healthcare insurance has dropped.  Republicans keep trying to repeal it but what will be their replacement? I doubt people with healthcare insurance will be willing to give it up. I don’t know about your insurance plan, but the costs of mine have gone down.

  • Travelers stuff roads, skies this Thanksgiving

    Travelers will be making more pilgrimages than ever this Thanksgiving, according to AAA’s annual travel forecast.More than 888,000 Arizonans will travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, an increase of 3.4 percent over last year. Nationwide, 46.3 million Americans will travel, a 4.2 percent jump over the 43.4 million people who traveled last year, according to the full-service travel agency.  “Arizonans and the nation are experiencing the highest growth rate in travel since July 2012, thanks to increasing consumer confidence and falling gas prices,” said Amy Moreno, senior travel manager for AAA Arizona. “As a travel expert, we predict a very busy holiday travel season.” Three trends from AAA’s 2014 Thanksgiving forecast among Arizonans include:• Falling prices fuel trips. Almost nine out of 10 Arizona travelers will drive to their destination. With a current statewide average of $2.798, drivers will pay the lowest gas prices for the Thanksgiving holiday since 2009.• Air apparent. Though road trips rule over the Thanksgiving holiday, air travel rose 3 percent in the state and nation and has increased for the third consecutive year. Fun facts: Top frustrations of air travelers included nearly half (48 percent) believing passengers should not be able to use their cellphones during flights. And apparently, there’s little need for the Knee Defender, which prevents air travelers from reclining their seats. More air travelers report they are more likely to leave the seat-back up during most or all of their flight (52 percent) than to recline (29 percent).

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