Arizona On Track To ‘Achieve’ Third World Status

Arizona was warned. Local governments in the state were worried about a report in 2008, from the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, which seemed to place the state at a fork in the road. It was poised to become either a great place to live, or “an uncompetitive, unsustainable place where the standard of living stagnates or declines and the position of Arizona tumbles from its historic attractiveness to undesirable.” The mayors and city councilmen in the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) hired an expert on metropolitan development, Michael Gallis, to suggest what they should do.

In his presentation to MAG last week, Gallis told them bluntly that they need another way of thinking. Political leadership and education in the state fall way short of where they need to be. By way of contrast, Shanghai, China aims to “become the world center of finance, trade and culture in the 21st century”—and says so in its mission statement. Arizona doesn’t even have a mission statement. But Hugh Hallman, mayor of Tempe, pointed out that the state has great ideas—like a “Canamex” transportation corridor for goods, between Mexico and Canada. He seems to have forgotten that the corridor was established under the North American Free Trade Agreement. And even though Arizona has been talking about the corridor for 25 years, the state has yet to complete its portion of the necessary rail and highway connections.

While the city and county governments received praise for their leadership at the meeting, the state government and Arizona’s Congressional delegation were pointedly omitted from the accolades. William Harris, CEO of Science Foundation Arizona, pointed out that education in Arizona ranks 48th in the nation and “you’re not going to have an innovation economy in 30 years.” The fact is, the success of American tech companies depends on immigrants from China and India rather than on its citizens.

In the past, Harris pointed out, the state had leaders with the grit and determination to complete big projects, like the system of dams on the Salt River. Such leadership doesn’t exist today.

What Harris didn’t explicitly say is that the state has a legislature and governor who are willing to gut the educational system, harass its immigrant population, slash healthcare coverage and other benefits, and challenge federal policies at every turn rather than focus on real solutions to real problems. As they have tried to make Arizona an undesirable place for immigrants to live, state officials have made it increasingly undesirable for all its residents—and even its corporations.

“I want to see Arizona as a place of discovery and innovation,” Harris told the city and county officials. “Don’t accept mediocrity. Don’t accept being 48th unless you want to condemn your children to a Third World society.” With that, some further suggestions come to mind: “Too late” and “Don’t hold your breath.”

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