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What the Devil won't tell you

A look at 2017: The year of 'Who the Hell Knows'

If you liked last year's uncertainty, you'll love what comes next

We now know Wall Street was blowing smoke for the last two years bitching about uncertainty. The election of Donald Trump brings nothing but uncertainty in health care, foreign relations, military adventurism and potential internal strife.

However, corporate taxes are coming down, so everything is A-OK as far as they are concerned. Uncertainty on Wall Street means, “I wanna be kissed in my special place, and absent that we're going to hold our breath and turn blue over the uncertainty of it all.”

Together we in Southern Arizona enter 2017 looking through the lens of just one tautology: God only knows what will happen. Five issues locally could give Tucsonans an idea.

Now, newspapers typically indulge in looks-ahead for one reason only: After-Christmas advertising makes newsholes big but absolutely no news happens. Gotta fill them with something between Christmas and New Year's Day.

On the other hand, the annual news siesta gives us a chance to catch our breath and look forward to what's coming. So here are five things to look for in the coming year:

Arizona's economy takes off

Hey, it's gotta happen some time.

Arizona was among the first states into the great recession and has been lagging the country out of it.

Sure the state doesn't pay for schools, the community colleges or universities. Yeah, it's a dumb business model to simply pursue tax cuts, tax cuts and more tax cuts at the expense of all else.

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Tax cuts, you will remember, fixed the Arizona economy back in 2011 with a series of tax cuts and incentives. Jan Brewer signed the landmark legislation and issued this statement at the time:

“I'm not willing to stand aside and just wait until the Arizona economy recovers,” said Governor Brewer. “Through this legislation, we’ve signaled our belief that a vibrant private-sector is the key to Arizona’s long-term prosperity and fiscal health. I’m confident this smart mix of tax cuts and other business incentives will result in long-term economic growth, new jobs and an overall atmosphere of improved prosperity for Arizona citizens. Our message is clear: Arizona is Open for Business.”

Whah … whah ... whah … whaaaaahhhh (sad trombone).

I've balked before but at some point Arizona must make a progression to the mean and boost our pace to a trot, catching up to the national economy.

Kiplinger's and Forbes predict Arizona to rank 2 and 4 in job growth come 2017, at more than 3 percent.

Moody's Analytics predicted last year Arizona would lead the way nationally.

Private sector job growth in 2016 crept along at about one percent. Arizona's economy has been moving along like Kevin Spacey before he became Keyser Soze — dragging one foot behind with a curled up arm out front.

However, there must be some companies out there looking for as close a free ride as humanly possible. To his credit, Ducey has proven quite effective at “bro-speaking” site selectors to Arizona. The announcements rolled out last year. The jobs will come in the coming years.

City sales tax

Voters are going to decide on a half-cent sales tax for public safety and roads. The results will be telling after Pima County bonds failed yuuuge in 2015. Every major local institution who could have opposed the bonds supported them but they failed.

Distrust of institutions was a major factor in the election of Donald Trump. Just one major newspaper's editorial board endorsed Trump, members of his own party ran away from him and most of the moderate voices in the military came down against him. But he won.

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A string of successes in local economic development, rebounding home prices and an improved job market might bode well for the sales tax's prospect.

I'm not endorsing the sales tax. I have some technical issues with it but if voters cast a collective aye, it could be a much-needed vote of confidence for local business leaders.

More economic confidence will only help.

Sedgwick swings

Incoming Tucson Unified School District Governing Board member Rachael Sedgwick won her seat as a bit of a wild card in the last election.

She steps into office as a kinda-perhaps ally of the Michael Hicks/Mark Stegeman voting bloc and not-quite adversary to Team Kristel Foster/Adelita Grijalva. She'll replace Cam Juarez, who regularly sided with Foster and Grijalva.

Sedgwick comes in pledged to neither side in what has been a series of brush fire battles over the ABC's of TUSD issues (audits, bullying and classroom spending).

The power, therefore, belongs to Sedgwick if she's up for it and can keep it. Her smarts and professional background make her uniquely suited to step into the gig. She's impressive.

The new dynamic could go either way. The “Butterfly Effect” could flap wildly and spin the board toward or away from any number of storms. If district Superintendent H.T. Sanchez tries to strong arm her, she could veer into the Stegeman/Hicks bloc. If those two try to jam her early into votes she doesn't like, she could find herself with Foster and Grijalva and if those two want a fight, Sedgwick seems the type to tangle.

Eventually, though, it will be Sedgwick who will hold the power if she remains triangulated. That will require the ability to disengage from fights and reposition herself in the middle rather than joining sides in a total war.

A Huckelberry deal

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry's contract is up for renewal and it looks like a done deal.

Supervisor Sharon Bronson's successful re-election bid locked the Democrats into a 3-2 majority for the next four years.

The potential loss of Boss Huck would leave a gaping hole in Southern Arizona's leadership. He's been running Pima County for 23 years. That's insane for a local big cheese. During his reign, TUSD has had eight superintendents, the University of Arizona is going on its sixth president and seven city managers have run the municipal bureaucracy.

I hear the voices griping about Huckelberry's vise grip on power but those are the same voices who complain about the dysfunction driving out TUSD supes, city managers and academic leaders. Having a go-to guy helps. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild may be that leader. He's not there yet.

The mere act of surviving this long suggests he needs a victory lap. Firing him because “we need new blood” seems like an argument you don't want to hear at work. “Jill, you are doing great but you've been doing it well for so long that it's time to make a change.” I'm not sure that I buy that.

Pima's recovery

Pima Community College can be relegated to ugly step-sister to the Research One academic citadel on Speedway.

Tucson's economic future, though, may hinge more on Pima's vitality as a pit stop for a labor force that will constantly need to retool to remain relevant. Zooming tuition increases at the University of Arizona leave the community college as the one viable stepping stone into a four-year degree program for Tucson's low-wage families.

So of course the Legislature and governor eliminated all state funding for it. Can't have a zombie apocalypse with strong public institutions now can we? And without the zombie apocalypse, what use are our guns?

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As 2016 turns to 2017, Pima seems every bit the Helga to the University of Arizona's Ella. It's been an internal mess for going on 10 years to the point where the Higher Learning Commission put the whole institution on notice that it may lose its accreditation. Under the leadership of Lee Lambert, the school is working — some may say “struggling” — to get back in good graces.

It hasn't worked completely. This month Pima failed to have its good standing restored and will have to wait until Sept. 1 to learn its fate.

Recalibrating an academic institution ain't easy. Overhauling one is that much harder. Pima's return from near-death remains a vital piece of Tucson's future fortunes and the one we don't really talk about that much.

Bonus Trump-i-fication

Arizona faces two serious federal issues with Trump coming in.

There's Trump's border wall right through our desert. That may be more of a metaphor. Even Trump voters are dubious the wall will ever happen.

Repealing Obamacare could turn out to be a much bigger deal.

Arizona's expansion of AHCCCS, added 215,000 residents to the ranks of the insured during its first year alone. Republicans now have the votes to keep their promise to zero out the Medicaid expansion (the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System is the state's medicaid). They are now discussing "Repeal and Replace" or "Repeal and Delay" until they can replace Obamacare with another plan.

Don't discount the possibility of "Repeal and Forget," to eliminate the program and walk away. Conservatives hate Obamacare, and the underlying premise that health care is a right, enough to just ditch it.

That could have a big impact on the local economy and the health care industry.

It doesn't make the official list because I don't think it can happen without capsizing the health insurance markets. Then again, never, ever, rely on the logic "they can't be that stupid," which explains a lot of 2016.

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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1 comment on this story

Dec 30, 2016, 6:56 pm
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Tucson’s problem that won’t go away is that Phoenix draws all the development money, what there of it that wants to locate to areas with a bleak educational outlook going forward. Its gravitational pull has gotten so strong Tucson is only a distant suburb in the eyes of most relocation specialists.

Tucson’s best option is to re-energize the U and hope for economic fallout. It hasn’t been pulling its weight in developing jobs because of its leadership issues as well as the problem of being in an area that is inhospitable to millenials. The city’s demographic density for young adults is one of the nations lowest, lower even than its northern neighbor. This affects lifestyle choices and negates the networking effect that is crucial in fostering start up enterprises. An older population doesn’t spend and that affects advertising revenue, leading to a downsized media presence which is a bellwether of cities beginning a death roll.

The best way for Tucson to prosper is to chart an economic destiny apart from Arizona. Either secede and become a capital city where investment oriented tax policies can be set, lobbyists keep dining establishments above water and progressive attitudes encourage participation in the community or begin a stronger economic/political partnership with Phoenix able to challenge the state’s Luddite policies.

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