Tucson Keeps Missing the Bigger Picture

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That’s especially so on immigration, Amazon, and the minimum wage.

The Tucson establishment often misses the bigger picture in the pursuit of transitory feel-good measures. Take the subjects of immigration, Amazon, and the minimum wage—subjects that I don’t have ideological or partisan heartburn over but do care that Tucson is consigning itself to permanent also-ran status by missing the bigger picture.


Establishment leaders are planning to provide temporary housing and devote other resources to aid poor and poorly educated migrants who are crossing the border in record numbers. No doubt, they and their constituents care about the migrants and feel they are doing the right thing. Kudos to them for caring.

The bigger picture is similar to what it was a hundred years ago with my poor and poorly educated Italian immigrant forebears—namely, such immigrants can be a net positive for the nation as a whole in the long run, but in the shorter run, they can put a strain on local communities in terms of increased costs for education, medical care, social welfare, and law enforcement.

In other words, the costs are concentrated and the benefits are dispersed.

The City of Tucson can’t afford the concentrated costs. It already suffers from a poverty rate twice the national average, a rate of property crimes near the top nationally, horrendous test scores in too many k-12 schools, a below-average rate of homeownership, large swaths of unkempt public and private property, crumbling streets from decades of deferred maintenance, and a brain drain of young talent that moves to Phoenix and other vibrant cities for opportunities.

The surrounding unincorporated county is wealthier but is an amorphous, poorly maintained blob without a center or defining character. Being unincorporated, it is incapable of providing the level of services and amenities that a well-run municipality can offer.

The blame for Tucson’s travails shouldn’t be put on migrants, however—not when most of the travails are due to shortsighted, poorly run, and highly partisan city and county governments, enabled by voters who have voted for the status quo for decades and by establishment leaders who don’t seem to know how badly the governments and the metropolis compare to well-run locales on key measures.

By the measure of the cost of municipal services, it doesn’t compare well at all. For example, when my wife and I moved four years ago for family reasons from metro Phoenix to metro Tucson, to a house of equal value, our combined cost for property taxes, water, fire service, and trash pickup increased by 50% while the quality of public services and amenities fell significantly.

That doesn’t include the value of the time we spend picking up litter along a busy street every morning on our daily five-mile walk, a chore not done by government or by property owners that front the street, including retail businesses, apartments, condos, a gated HOA, a private golf course, an upscale resort, and a public school. Clearly, something is amiss with civic pride in the Tucson metropolis.


The foregoing problems are compounded by Tucson being largely bypassed by big, rich companies as a location for headquarters or major offices, even though the companies claim to value diversity and care about the poor. The truth is, their “woke” executives and knowledge workers favor sparkling, dynamic, prosperous enclaves.

Local leaders celebrated when Tucson was selected as the location for two low-wage Amazon warehouses, which are two out of over 900 Amazon facilities across the U.S. But they apparently didn’t see the bigger picture of Amazon locating highly paid software engineers, logistics experts, marketing specialists and other professionals in scores of other cities across the nation, including Phoenix, but not in Tucson.

To that point, the company chose leafy, clean, prosperous Arlington, Virginia, as the location for its second headquarters for its highly paid professional and managerial employees. Arlington is next door to the imperial city of Washington, D.C., where bad immigration policies have been hatched by both political parties and imposed on the provinces.

Pop Quiz: Do you think that Arlington or Tucson can better afford the costs of assimilating and aiding large numbers of poor and poorly educated migrants? Hint: The median household income in Arlington is $120,000, versus $43,400 for Tucson; the poverty rates are 7.6% and 22.5%, respectively; and the percentages of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree are 75.3% and 27.4%, respectively.

If your answer is Arlington, then that raises the question as to why local leaders haven’t demanded that migrants without visas be transported to Arlington or similar wealthy towns for temporary living and follow-up actions instead of a poor city like Tucson (and Del Rio). Not only can those other places better absorb the costs, but the migrants would be better off in terms of facilities and resources.

Minimum Wage

Tucson is considering an increase in the minimum wage, an issue that comes with pros and cons. But once again, the bigger picture is missed in the debate.

The bigger picture is that whatever the minimum wage ends up being, it will do nothing about the root causes of Tucson’s socioeconomic problems. The root causes include a paucity of political competition within the city and county, a lack of large municipalities in the metropolis to compete with the power of the City of Tucson and Pima County and shake them out of their hubris, the fact that 36% of the metropolis is unincorporated (versus 6% in metro Phoenix), the paradox of the dominant culture being anti-development but the metropolis being marred by some of the ugliest development imaginable, and another paradox of Tucsonans valuing the metropolis’s natural setting and nearby national forests but tolerating a plethora of commercial businesses and apartments with tacky and often illegal signage in front, with frontages overgrown with weeds and littered with trash, and with acres of parking lots devoid of anything green.

But the biggest root cause of all is that provincialism keeps local leaders from seeing the bigger picture.

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