Is Arizona now the progressive state Wisconsin once was?
On Jan. 1, 2018, the minimum wage in Arizona goes up from $10 to $10.50 an hour. It goes up to $11 in 2019 and then is indexed to inflation. Voters approve this in referendum despite a lot of money spent in a fierce opposition campaign.
Arizona expands Medicaid under Obamacare. The Republican governor at the time, Jan Brewer, tells the Republican-controlled legislature she will veto all their bills until Medicaid expansion is passed. A coalition of Republicans and Democrats pass the bill.
In 2000, voters in Tempe, the home of Arizona State University, and Phoenix agree to an increase in their sales tax to finance a light-rail system. Other cities join in. Federal infrastructure money is used as a match. In 2008 light-rail service begins. In November 2009 there are 1 million riders, an average of 40,000 per day.
In 2016 there are 16 million riders. Art installations at the stops become tourist attractions.
Arizona State University doubles enrollment between 2004 and 2016 to 103,000 students; opens a downtown Phoenix campus; acquires the private Thunderbird School of Global Management and moves it to campus. University President Michael Crow proposes and implements a "prototype for the new American university." He is on track toward a goal of 100,000 online degree-seeking students.
In November 2017 Bill Gates announces an $80-million purchase of bare land near Phoenix to build a new "smart city." The goal is a population of 180,000.
And it goes on: A reapportionment commission draws competitive political boundaries; medical marijuana is approved by voters in 2010; Google is invited by the governor to test self-driving cars and Google accepts.
Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix has direct flights to all major American cities plus Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver in Canada and several destinations in Mexico. And every afternoon a British Air 747 arrives from London Heathrow and departs for London two hours later. It is usually fully loaded.
Granted, this is a list of the good things happening. And, good things should continue, helped by a change in political culture — the tea party has lost control of the legislature, although the legislature still attempts to throw in a monkey wrench every time a city tries to govern for the future. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is gone. Sen. John McCain preserved Medicaid for Arizona. The Republican governor is a businessman with no apparent economic or tax ideology. He was the founder of Cold Stone Ice Cream and admits he is a bit vanilla himself.
Oh, and baseball's spring training is a new growth industry with, shocker, night games and $7 beer. The 15 teams saw 1,941,347 fans pass through the turnstiles in 2017. The Cubs have a new stadium, as do the Diamondbacks and the Rockies. The Brewers just updated their cozy facility. It is a great place to catch a game and get your picture taken with Bernie. Go Brewers!
I have focused on the Phoenix area in this column, with its population of 4.6 million, but equally progressive policies have been adopted in Tucson and Flagstaff.
What could stop this progress? A NAFTA rewrite could damage the $15 billion in trade between Arizona and Mexico. New immigration rules could deeply harm the economy and culture of Arizona. This is the reason Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake leads the fight for the DREAM Act and a path to citizenship.
Yet the biggest threat seems to be global warming. Every day of every month there is a new record-high temperature. Even more alarming are the new record-high night temperatures. Things start to fall apart and become inefficient, like air conditioning, when it gets hotter and hotter. Will the rails for the light rails get too hot to function? Will Sky Harbor soon have only flights at night in the summer because planes can't take off when it is over 110 degrees? Phoenix now averages a month a year of days over 110, with many days topping out at over 115.
Will people stop moving to Arizona? Over 100,000 people moved to Arizona between July 2016 and July 2017. Will snowbirds, like me, come later and leave sooner because it's hot at Thanksgiving and hot again by Easter?
If Arizona is now the can-do state, is Wisconsin now the can't-do state? Wisconsin's broken roads are a symptom of this. Transportation is a basic task of any government. Yet we see only see one political leader, Speaker Robin Vos, even talking about it and he is a voice in the wilderness.
The 2018 race for governor in Wisconsin will provide a forum for change or staying the course. As former Gov. Lee Dreyfus famously said, "Let the people decide."
Tom Loftus of Sun Prairie is a former member of the UW Board of Regents and speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly. He was ambassador to Norway from 1993 to 1998. He winters in Arizona.
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