Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
When old timers talk about Arizona’s economy, they often refer to the “5 C’s”– cotton, copper, cattle, citrus, and climate. The “5 C’s” built Arizona, but how relevant are they in today’s world of limited resources?
At least 4 of the 5 C’s come with a high environmental cost, since cotton, copper, cattle, and citrus all use more water than Arizona can afford to use. This practice has led to the destruction of desert rivers and streams. Three of the 5C’s– cotton, copper, and cattle– also have destroyed our state’s vegetation and desert ecosystem.
According to a recent article in the Arizona Daily Star, a 6th C has emerged as an important player (no pun intended) in the state’s economic development– casinos. In fiscal year 2011 (July 2010 – June 2011), casinos took in $1.7 billion. .
Although copper ($5.3 billion) and climate (AKA, tourism, $17.7 billion) have continued to be blockbuster sources of revenue, 2010 revenues from cattle ($637 million), cotton ($206), and citrus ($34) paled in comparison to gambling.
What is missing from this article about revenue is cost. What is the environmental cost of copper, cattle, cotton, and citrus? What is the cost to the state in tax breaks and incentives to the copper industry or businesses related to tourism? If revenues of these businesses are so high, what are they paying to the state for the privilege of doing business here?
And what is the true cost of gambling? The Star article quotes expert sources who estimate that 75% of casino gamblers are Arizonans. Yes, the tribes made $1.7 billion on gambling, but that means that everyday citizens lost $1.7 billion on gambling.
The old saying is: gambling is a tax on people who are bad at math. Gambling can be highly addictive. Compulsive gamblers can lose everything… houses, jobs, families, lives.
Is this rise in gambling revenues a good sign for our state’s well being? I think not. It only shows the desperation of Arizonans trying to eek out a living however they can in a depressed state with few opportunities for the unemployed and undereducated.
Instead of relying on the 6 C’s, Arizona should move to an economy built on the 6 E’s — environmental sustainability, education, electronics (AKA technology), equity, excellence, and economic opportunity for all.