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Offer a state worth living in

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Posted: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:37 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

I've got a great catch for businesses wanting to escape the burdens of high taxes and big government. It's a place called Somalia.

Of course, there are a few drawbacks to relocating in this government-free country. You won't find much in the way of passable roads. Or steady electric power. Or reliable water supplies.

Oh, and if you decide to bring your family with you, here are a few pointers. Bring along a personal tutor for your kids, since Somali schools aren't very good. And the first thing you'll want to teach your family is how to say, in as many languages as possible, "My family has plenty of money. They'll pay whatever you ask."

OK, I admit, that's an over-the-top example, but here's my point. Businesses may complain about high taxes, but they depend on the services tax dollars provide. All the financial incentives in the world won't be enough to attract businesses to Arizona if we don't maintain and improve our state's quality of life.

Conservatives don't agree. They never tire of telling us the key to attracting businesses to Arizona is to cut their taxes. Never mind that when businesses pay less, either the rest of us pay more or the quality of services go down. Cut taxes, they tell us, and businesses fleeing high-tax states will be drawn to Arizona like iron filings to lodestone.

Obviously, businesses want to pay the lowest taxes possible. So do I, and I'm a proud tax-and-spend liberal. Of course, I would also love to eat at a fine Tucson restaurant, then have the owner walk up to my table, smile, tear up the bill and say, "Dave, your money's no good here."

But I'm intelligent and mature enough to realize there's no such thing as a free lunch, at a restaurant or in a society. Whether I want a fine meal or a fine quality of life, I know I have to pay for it.

I could write about how we need to maintain our infrastructure to attract businesses, and we need to preserve a clean, beautiful environment, and we need to keep crime under control, all of which cost money. But I'm a teacher, so I'm going to focus on education.

Businesspeople usually come with families attached, and they expect first-rate educational opportunities for their children. All Arizona has to offer them is a 20-year educational slide. In 1985, we ranked in the middle of the nation for how much we spent on each child's education. Now we're either 49th, or dead last — we won't know this year's ranking until the budget dust settles.

See if you think this is an effective business recruitment slogan: "Come to sunny Arizona, where business taxes are low, and we spend less on your children's education than any state but Utah!" I don't imagine we'll be printing that on posters any time soon, but the message is out there for anyone to see: Don't move your business to Arizona if you care about your children's schooling.

A businessperson's children are only part of the educational equation, of course. Businesses paying high wages demand a skilled, educated workforce. If the K-12 schools aren't doing the job and university funding is being cut, businesses have every reason to worry they won't find employees who will bring the know-how and creative energy needed to compete in today's global marketplace.

We might do fine bringing in companies that want a slew of minimum wage workers who have no future beyond asking the question, "Do you want fries with that?" But those aren't the kinds of businesses we want to attract.

Arizona's conservatives have a tax cut hammer, and they think attracting more businesses is just another nail. But lowering taxes won't have businesses beating a path to our door. First and foremost, we need to offer them a state worth living in.

Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.

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