Before the GOP-created Great Recession, Arizona’s state economy was based on the fantasy that construction could continue until the entire Sonora Desert was covered by homes, shopping malls and golf courses. So since the housing market crashed, Arizona’s economy has languished.
While other states were trying to mend their losses by diversifying, stimulating their economies and raising taxes, Jan Brewer and the GOP-dominated legislature chose, instead, to make cuts. Deep, desperate budget cuts. Yet, despite facing a large deficit, they chose to further reduce revenue by cutting taxes for corporations. At the same time, they put teachers out of work by cutting the funding of public schools. Indeed, since 2009, only Oklahoma has cut more from student funding than Arizona. As a result, the state’s per student funding is now just 69 percent of the national average and its student performance stands at 47th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only 1 in 18 students who enter an Arizona high school will receive a degree from a college or technical school, and those who do earn a degree will likely be buried in student loan debt.
Not content with destroying schools and jobs, the GOP also did what it could to destroy tourism, the state’s 2nd-largest industry, by closing state parks and highway rest stops. And to make the state even less appealing to tourists, they passed the anti-Latino law, SB1070, which made tourists and conventions spurn the state costing us tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.
It was as if the GOP was intent on pushing our citizens into its ideological clown car and driving us off a fiscal cliff.
Now along comes the new GOP governor, Doug Ducey, who must have frozen his brain while peddling questionable franchises for Cold Stone Creamery. During the campaign, he and his supporters ran millions of dollars in misleading attack ads accusing his Democratic opponent of raising tuition to the state’s universities. But, now that Ducey has been sworn into office, he has presented a budget that would cut $75 million in funding for post-secondary education. And, though he pledged to increase K-12 education funding during the campaign, he is attempting a shell game in which he proposes to take as much from the already stressed school administration and operations budgets as he would add for classrooms. Moreover, his budget completely ignores the hundreds of millions of dollars a court awarded public schools as the result of previous cuts to education in violation of the state constitution.
Of course, one budget item that will increase is the money allocated to corrections. True to the GOP’s commitment to line the pockets of private prison corporations, Ducey proposes building yet another privately-operated prison at a cost of $5.3 million. But there is no money for the education and rehabilitation of prisoners, so after they serve their time, they are all too likely to commit more crimes. And since the privately-operated health care system for prisons doesn’t track or treat infectious diseases, they are also likely to spread infectious diseases into our communities.
In their obviously delusional minds, Ducey and the Teapublicans still seem to believe that, by further cutting the state’s already low corporate taxes, they will be able to attract corporations to relocate to Arizona bringing with them thousands of high-paying jobs. Anyone who has ever consulted with corporations seeking a place to expand or relocate knows that’s a fantasy.
Corporations, at least good corporations, look for places to expand that offer quality transportation, abundant resources, an abundant high-skilled and well-educated workforce, abundant and low-cost energy, a high quality of living, and affordable taxes…usually in that order. Arizona’s approach will only result in the relocation of corporations that offer low-skill, low-paying jobs or gun manufacturers who are drawn to the state by our heavily-armed population and our virtually non-existent gun laws. Even then, they will only come to Arizona if the state is willing to pay for changes in needed infrastructure, provide further tax cuts and pay for other incentives. All of which explains why, when high tax states like California and Minnesota are thriving with low unemployment and budget surpluses, Arizona has failed to emerge from recession and faces annual budget deficits of $1 billion or more.
In the competition to build a sustainable, thriving economy, it would seem that Arizona can only compete in a contest of Biggest Loser against other red states like Kansas and Mississippi. And the biggest losers of all will be our students.