Sunday, August 24, 2008

One of My Favorite Fiction Writers Gets (McCain and) Arizona Wrong, Part 2

I'm sure J.A. Jance knows the people of Arizona far better than I do, since I've spent essentially no time there. But I've been reading Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm lately, so when Jance writes a piece titled, "In Arizona, We're Not Afraid to Stand Alone," I can't help but remember Perlstein's account of how greatly the rugged individualists of Arizona were empowered by tax dollars funneled from Washington.

The government created army bases in Arizona Territory to fight the Indian Wars of the 1860s and 1870s, which pumped revenue into the territory through Army contracts and soldiers' paychecks; the building of the Roosevelt Dam, beginning in 1905, caused the population of Phoenix to double, thanks to the construction contracts; Federal outlays for highways, health, and vocational education made up 15% of Arizona's economy in the 1920s, and of course there were reclamation projects to subsidize farmers and ranchers; in the New Deal, $342 million of Federal tax dollars were pumped into the state, and only $16 million was collected in return; and so forth and so on: according to the conservative Tax Foundation (they're the guys who brought you Tax Freedom Day), between 1981 and 2005, Arizona received anywhere between $1.08 and $1.29 in Federal largesse for every $1 they paid, with the median figure being $1.18.

So when Jance says:
The neverending tide of illegal immigrants coming across the Mexican border is a huge problem in Arizona, and it's often part of the complications in the stories I write about my fictional Cochise County sheriff, Joanna Brady. In real life and fiction both, the burden of federally mandated and unreimbursed emergency health care has put a terrible strain on local hospitals and has resulted in the closing of several trauma centers.

People in Arizona are mad as hell about that. They believe that if the feds order something, they need to pay for it. And the Constitution says that the federal government will provide for the common defense -- but who's protecting the rights of the landowners whose property is being trampled and whose livestock is being damaged by the uncontrolled entry of illegal migrants crossing the border on foot and in vehicles?

I can't argue that the dollars Arizona gets from Washington need to be better matched to the costs incurred by particular Arizona institutions and localities, as well as individual Arizonans, BUT the fact remains that Arizonans are coming out way ahead overall.

It's easy to pretend to be a state full of rugged individualists when you're floating on a sea of Federal dollars. Is it true that every rancher who grazes his livestock on BLM lands wants the Federal government to get the hell out of his life, or does it just seem that way?

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