Bucking the Buckeye State - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Bucking the Buckeye State

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Posted: Sunday, January 7, 2007 9:08 am | Updated: 6:39 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

This is not a football column, but its impetus is Monday night’s national championship college football game.

As some Trib readers such as “Michigan Mary” Douglas from Chandler know, I’m an Ohio State University alumnus. And you know where that puts me on Monday evening.

But this is not a football column.

It is a column about two states, both of which I call home.

One is struggling, though not on the football field. The other is happening, though not on the football field.

Arizona’s unemployment rate was 4.1 percent as of November. Ohio’s, at 5.4 percent, was one of the highest in the nation.

And still ahead are a couple of Ford Motor plant closings.

I used to work in Dayton, Ohio, a city that saw its best days in the 1930s and ’40s when the American auto industry was in its heyday. When I left the Miami Valley for the Salt River Valley more than 14 years ago, the city was entering its third decade of decline. The wellworn witticism was, “Will the last one to leave town, please turn out the lights.”

Not everyone has left town. But not many are moving in either.

The Census Bureau report just a month ago that pegged Arizona as the fastest growing state in the country identified Ohio as 44th in growth, with a net gain in residents of 7,321. There are undoubtedly East Valley zip codes that grew faster than that.

The demise of manufacturing has had a crushing effect on the state’s economy and psyche. Knock on wood, but jobs just keep coming to Arizona.

The only equivalent in Arizona to the shrinking auto industry in Ohio is Motorola. Once the state’s largest private employer, Motorola’s decision a few years ago to sell off or shutter a big chunk of its Arizona operations barely caused a ripple to the state’s economy.

DIFFERENCE MAKERS

So why is one state thriving and another fading? Certainly there are lots of factors at work. But here are some to think about.

The state and local tax burden in the Buckeye State just 36 years ago was among the lowest in the nation, ranking 47th. According to the Tax Foundation, it has shot up to the third highest in 2006.

Ohio’s horrific tax burden became more than just a statistic to me. My octogenarian mother mentioned during New Year’s that she had to pay her school district income taxes when she returned home. That’s right. School districts can impose an income tax in Ohio.

In contrast, the state and local tax burden in Arizona dropped from 10th highest in the country in 1970 to 32nd today, according to the foundation. That trend may not be good news for the tax spenders, but it sure is for us taxpayers and it has a lot to do with our booming economy.

It’s more than the numbers. I left Ohio with a sense that the state is obsessed with the past and a lot of energy is spent celebrating it — most recently with the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight.

I moved to a state focused on the future.

The later suits me, my wallet and my mental disposition much better.

Ohio just went through an electoral upheaval, throwing out a U.S. senator and changing parties in control of the governor’s office in the wake of a scandal that touched the Republican governor — a fellow with the familiar Ohio political name of Taft.

Arizona has certainly seen political shenanigans in the past. But we’re benefiting from a period of stability and with one party in control of the Legislature and another of the governor’s office, compromise is necessary to get anything done.

The two parties last year got together and passed a reasonable budget that didn’t hurt taxpayers or the economy while doing some good in education and transportation.

They seem to be rowing in the same boat and in the same direction again. Leaders in both parties are focused on figuring out how to build more highways to keep pace with a growing population and a growing economy.

I know there will be some pillow fights, but I sense that both sides know that people want results, not partisan baloney.

While picking up my Ohio clan in the Goldwater terminal at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, I walked by a very large ad showcasing Arizona State University and its president, Michael Crow.

Other than for its football program, I haven’t kept close tabs on what Ohio State University has achieved under president Karen Holbrook.

I have watched ASU’s Crow and his new university crusade that’s making the school a player in the Valley’s future.

That crusade just last month earned ASU a Carnegie Foundation designation as a “community engaged” university.

No such recognition went to OSU.

I wonder if the Karen Holbrooks of the world are taking notice or if the burden of football championships and tradition is just too heavy to build a new university.

OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS

Ohio has a glorious past shaped by inventors, oil, steel and auto barons, friendly people, a great football program and a tolerable summer.

But it also has a crushing tax burden, political discord, and a yearning for its Industrial Age past — a past out of which powerful unions emerged.

Summer in Arizona may not be as tolerable, but we have a lot going our way. And we can keep it going our way if we keep our noses pointed toward the future and keep taxes and government under control.

In this tale of two states, one has a great past; the other is rising and sizzling like an Arizona sun in July.

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