Raising Arizona

Okay, Janet, you won. Now what?

(If this sounds familiar, that's because it's a carbon copy of the ideas of civic-planning rock star Richard Florida.)

For this crowd, higher housing costs aren't a critical issue. Even crime isn't a critical issue. The environment could be. Pollution hasn't driven high-end workers from places like Boston or the Silicon Valley, but pollution could be more of a factor in Arizona.

"The outdoors, the air, the water, still matter," Rex says. "If we have a few more winters with the terrible air we had last year, that would definitely make this a much less attractive place."

Professor and state Representative Ted Downing.
Professor and state Representative Ted Downing.
Valley child advocate Terry Leveton.
Laura Segall
Valley child advocate Terry Leveton.

Which leads us to what Napolitano must do in the next four years to help build her legacy of building prosperity.

She must continue to fight for education, Rex says.

"Money isn't everything, but, you know, it is something," Rex says. "We aren't as bad as some of those national rankings suggest. We're generally average. But that doesn't cut it. You've got to be better than average. And if Napolitano can substantially impact our educational system, that would be huge for the future of this state."

She must push hard in support of new state university campuses. "Downtown is going to be great, and the campus at Williams Field will pretty soon be right in the middle of an urban area. We may need more. They are such huge job generators and they also increase the opportunities to better educate our existing population."

Rex and other state economists generally suggest small revisions to the state's tax codes. The general property tax on businesses is "still pretty high," he says. The difference could be picked up by individual property taxes, which, Rex says, "aren't really that big of a deal to these kinds of people."

Going the other direction, Napolitano could greatly increase revenue for the state by pushing for the end of numerous state tax breaks that exist for specific industries. State Representative and University of Arizona professor Ted Downing says that he and other legislators identified $1.7 billion in tax exemptions "that started out as attempts to stimulate an industry, but then have stayed on forever as ridiculous subsidies." One example is the ostrich farms, known as the "Ratite Industry" in tax code, which were given tax incentives with no sunset clauses.

"A lot of these guys getting subsidies are far from poor anymore," he says. "They're just freeloaders. The money that could be put to good use from closing down these entitlements is very significant.

"If you want a tax break, it should come with a sunset clause and performance indicators," he says. "You know, like the performance indicators we demand from our children."

Napolitano could also overhaul the administrations of agencies such as the Department of Commerce, where duplicative and just plain inefficient programs and procedures cost millions of taxpayer dollars to no good end.

Another storm brewing on the horizon: the lack of affordable housing.

With the huge surge in housing prices in recent years, Arizona is nearing the point where, like California, those who provide critical services such as police and fire protection could no longer afford to live where they work.

Although the state has little control on this issue directly, economists argue that a governor, especially a popular one, can put pressure on municipalities to assist lower-income homeowners. One solution: Lower the often outrageous fees levied by cities for approval on home remodeling projects.

And if Arizona has any hope of creating a brighter organic work force, the state must help middle-class parents send their kids to college.

As Arizona's university campuses have begun massive upgrades that should help incubate partnerships with high-tech industry, the average student who might someday work at those industries can't afford to go to the university.

"If Janet wants to ensure mobility, she needs to help the middle class get their 40-year-old kids out of the household," Downing says. "The middle class must be able to afford to send their kids to college."

With tax reform and a focus on creating an incubator for good jobs, and keeping homeownership and a higher education within reach of all Arizonans, Napolitano's state should prosper.

And with all that prosperity, she should finally have the resources necessary to adequately help those Arizonans who are not prospering.

Specifically: the children.

Janet Napolitano would make an interesting psych study.

Here is a woman with no children who at the same time possesses what seems to be the strongest of maternal instincts.

(Or, okay, cynics, just ass-kickin' political instincts, which, because we love our mothers, would look exactly like maternal instincts.)

Protecting children was her first order of business in her first term. It has been her greatest passion. The state's children have become her own.

Her efforts to make a better life for kids in Arizona could be her greatest legacy.

But an immense amount of change and resources has so far led to only limited results. (For example, Arizona ranked 37th in this year's Casey Foundation state rankings of child health and well-being, which measures 10 key indicators. That's up from 41st, a marked improvement, but, child advocates point out, still 37th.)

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets