Arizona's 10 Worst Ideas of the Decade -- And, Yes, It Was Hard to Pick Just 10

Categories: News analysis
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We've been alternately bored/annoyed by the Arizona Republic's series of top-10 lists devoted to summarizing the Aughts. We know it's a good way to fill the paper during a slow news week and all ... but, really, they couldn't come up with anything more interesting than this?

And go figure: The only remotely negative piece in the ongoing package has been a wire pickup from the Washington Post. "The decade's worst ideas" allowed the Republic to call out such odious developments as Blackberries, compassionate conservatism, and the housing bubble.

But that package got us thinking. What were the worst ideas in Arizona this decade? The state's in near bankruptcy, county government is in shambles; Sheriff Joe is still running amok. Surely, some ideas (and actors) are responsible for this state of despair.

This being New Times, we're happy to call out the fuzzy logic -- and we're naming names. So here goes: our entirely subjective list of the stupidity that got us to where we are today, or maybe just irritated the hell out of us on our way down.

10. Failing to connect light rail to the airport. Yeah, yeah, we love the new light-rail line. And, yeah, they're now working on connecting it to Sky Harbor -- apparently realizing that the shuttle system they've touted instead is inconvenient and annoying. But why they didn't just do this in the first place is beyond us. The cost was too great? Well, we're paying for it now. Why not just make the line a little shorter going into Mesa on the front-end? Call us Phoenix-centric, but who needs to get all the way out to Sycamore anyway?

9. The Coyotes moving to Glendale.
The Coyotes franchise has lost money ever since moving to Arizona from Winnepeg in 1996. But those losses escalated greatly when Glendale got the brilliant idea to pour $180 million into a hockey arena. As it turns out, people will drive to Glendale for an NFL game, but they won't go there for hockey. The team is now setting records for the lowest per-game attendance. Even with new ownership, there's still 26 years left on its lease, millions of dollars in bonds the city still needs to pay back, and all of 10,000 hockey fans in the Valley. Trust us: This won't end well.

8. Clean Elections. Okay, so voters approved this "reform" in the late 90s. But it's only in this decade that publicly funded elections have taken root here. And boy, have the results been lousy. Nearly $15 million in surcharges and court fees go into this fund every year -- and the best we have to show for it are a bunch of morons down at the Capitol. Sigh.

7. Turning the Sheriff's Office into an anti-immigration force. Regardless of how you feel about immigration, you have to admit that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's camera-ready sweeps have been disastrous. Even as the MCSO managed to nab a few corn vendors, crime soared in other parts of its jurisdiction. We dare you to read the East Valley Tribune's Pulitzer Prize winning series on the issue and still argue with us about whether the plan worked. Yes, it got Arpaio the publicity he craves. But serve the public? Um, no.

6. The Suns trading for Shaquille O'Neal. It's not just that we miss Shawn Marion. It's that the lumbering O'Neal destroyed the on-the-court chemistry of a smart, fast team. The Suns became sluggish, fat, and kind of boring. As much as we liked having Shaq in our neighborhood, we're still happy to see him gone.

5. "Balancing" the budget with photo radar. This was then-Governor Janet Napolitano's big idea in 2008, on her way to abandoning the state for a plum job in D.C.: lots and lots of photo radar. Today, hundreds of thousands of drivers have coughed up the $181+ per-ticket cost, and the state is on pace to collect nearly $40 million from the program. But we're still in the hole, and, in this increasingly poor state, fewer drivers are paying up without getting officially served first. Who gets stuck paying is increasingly a matter of dumb luck and lack of stealth -- not a question of who's the worst speeder.

4. The Employer Sanctions Act. What happens when you crack down on illegal immigration? Immigrants -- and their families -- leave town. And what happens when a state loses 10 percent of its population? We're living it, kids, we're living it. Sales tax has plummeted. Apartments sit empty. Job growth has disappeared. Yep, there are fewer people here speaking Spanish today. But only Russell Pearce could think the outcome was worth it.

3. Electing Andrew Thomas -- twice. Okay, we can't blame all of Arizona for this. But Maricopa County has a lot to answer for here. The county attorney can't get along with anyone. He keeps blowing big cases. Even his fellow county attorneys -- in an unprecedented move -- have written op-ed pieces blasting his abuses of power. Perhaps worst of all, as pointed out at the anti-Thomas rally on the courthouse steps last week, he simply isn't a very good lawyer. Please, Arizona, do not make this man attorney general!

2. Rewarding alt-fuel capabilities -- even when they weren't really being used. The Arizona Legislature wanted to do something to help the environment. The problem is, they were too stupid, or too corrupt, to do it well. Hence the Alt-Fuel Scandal, which provided a 40 percent rebate and sales tax exemption for anyone who purchased an SUV or pickup truck converted to use alternate fuels. The problem was, drivers didn't actually have to use the alternate fuels once they bought the vehicles. The other problem: The deal was so sweet, it threatened to bankrupt the state. Red-faced legislators had to disband the program just one year after its inception. The program cost the state an estimated $200 million and cost House Speaker Jeff Groscost -- who wrote the legislation even as he lobbied for natural gas companies -- his career.

1. Betting the state on the housing bubble. Everybody thought Arizona real estate was a bubble that wouldn't burst. The attitude started with homebuyers -- who were all too willing to lie about their income to get a house they couldn't afford -- to banks, who flipped the dirty loans en masse, to politicians, who acted like sales-tax revenue would rise forever, so why not spend it all today? Today there's a foreclosure on almost every block and the state is desperately trying to sell the Capitol. The Capitol! If anyone predicted this level of despair back in 2000, we would have called them an alarmist nutjob. Kind of makes us worry about those crazy 2010 predictions, no?

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