By Serena Unrein

For the first time, Arizona’s State Transportation Board approved a state rail plan which includes connecting the major metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson by passenger rail. In a state known for its reliance on single-occupant vehicles and its lack of good public transportation, this is a crucial step forward for providing Arizonans with better transportation options.

Over the past few decades, Arizona’s population has skyrocketed, but our population growth hasn’t been matched by an investment in public transportation, leaving most Arizonans to rely on their cars to get around.

Most Arizonans make daily trips for work, school or other responsibilities such as getting to doctor’s appointments and visiting family members. Unfortunately, our current transportation system has many of us stuck endlessly waiting in traffic, spewing pollution into the air and paying more and more at the gas pump to fill our tank. There has got to be a better way.

Arizona needs a transportation system that meets the needs of the 21st century -- one in which public transportation plays a much bigger role than it does today. Connections developing between businesses, the universities and individuals are causing Phoenix and Tucson to become increasingly dependent on one another. But while three-quarters of Arizona’s residents live in the “Sun Corridor” -- the areas around and connecting Phoenix and Tucson -- there are no public transportation options between Arizona’s two largest cities.

It seems like no matter how many times we expand the I-10, it’s near impossible to drive between Phoenix and Tucson without getting stuck in traffic. There are also some horrific accidents that occur on that stretch. Future population growth will increase the demands on our current transportation infrastructure. We cannot continue to rely on pavement alone to connect the Sun Corridor.

Linking Phoenix and Tucson by passenger rail makes sense for our economy and for our quality of life.

The State Transportation Board took a big step forward by approving a state rail plan, which prioritizes connecting Phoenix and Tucson by passenger rail and eventually expanding the rail to reach even more parts of the state. The Arizona Department of Transportation is now moving forward with a study to determine the best corridor for the Phoenix-Tucson intercity rail. Having a state rail plan also puts Arizona in a position to apply for federal passenger rail dollars.

Rail between Phoenix and Tucson will significantly reduce the strain on the I-10, reducing congestion and improving our safety. Passenger rail will improve economic productivity by reducing travel time between the two urban areas and allowing people to work while they travel.

Passenger rail connecting our state’s two largest cities is essential for Arizona’s future. Business relies on the efficient movement of people and goods. Students need to get from their homes to the universities. All of us deserve a better way to go -- one that helps to reduce congestion and air pollution and that gets us where we need to go safely and efficiently.

While it’s exciting to see that some important progress is being made, there are still a lot of steps ahead to bring passenger rail to Arizona. It’s now up to our state’s leaders to make it happen so Arizonans can have better transportation options.

Unrein is the public interest advocate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund which conducts research and education on public interest issues. More information can be found at

Copyright 2011 (c) by the American Forum. 5/11

Riane Eisler

By Riane Eisler and Rene Redwood

A financial debt can be paid back. But the debt we’ll owe our children if investments in health, nutrition and education are slashed is irreparable. Investment in human infrastructure – providing the human capacity development for optimal economic productivity and innovation through both government and business investments – is essential for success in the post-industrial economy, and this should be our policymakers’ guiding economic principle.

Rene Redwood
It’s up to us to ask the hard questions: Why are we being told we can’t raise taxes on the rich, but must cut wages for teachers, nurses, child-care workers and others on whom our future depends? There is no evidence that lower taxes on corporations and millionaires “raise all boats,” or that massive cuts in social services have ever helped people in developing nations rise from poverty. The opposite is true. It is countries like Canada, Sweden, New Zealand and Finland that have made commitments to caring for future generations that have risen from poverty to prosperity. And today nations such as Brazil, South Korea, and other “emerging advanced economies” are heavily investing in their people.

Why are we told that cutting social programs is the road to prosperity, when our past prosperity was the result of the very opposite?

At the beginning of the 20th century, the United States was what we today call a “developing country.” Except for the super-rich, our general living standard was abysmal: child and general mortality rates were extremely high, as was poverty. Then we invested in prenatal and child health care such as vaccines; abolished child labor; mandated not only primary, but also secondary public education; and promoted college education through the GI Bill for returning soldiers. These kinds of government expenditures, along with Social Security, Medicare, Head Start and other government programs to care for and educate our people had a huge return on investment for our people and nation.

Today, largely as a result of retrenching in such public expenditures, the U.S. has higher child mortality, maternal mortality and poverty rates than any other developed nation. According to a 2007 UNICEF study, the U.S. ranked 24th of 25 developed countries with children living below the national poverty level. By comparison, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Spain topped the list. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that poverty afflicts roughly one in six American children—some 13 million youths, a figure that’s expected to rise as poverty trends continue to soar.

In 2009, more than 4.4 million single mothers earned wages below the national poverty level and were barely able to supply their children with basic needs. That number of women had increased 6.7 percent compared to the previous year, according to census figures. The kinds of cuts now proposed—especially cuts to programs to help impoverished families with children—will push us down even further.
By contrast, investing in education, health care, child-care and eldercare drastically reduces unemployment, poverty, public assistance, spending on prisons -- and at the same time provides a trained work force and higher tax base. According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 37 percent of Americans believe job creation/economic growth is our nation’s No. 1 issue, and only 22 percent named the deficit/government spending as the top. What’s more, while Americans find some budget cuts acceptable; they adamantly oppose cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and K-12 education.

That’s because most of us know that our most important assets are our people. If we don’t invest in human infrastructure, we cannot be economically successful.

We urgently need a realistic long-term perspective on how national and state deficits are calculated. The human capital deficit created by cutting social programs will be irreparable. By contrast, benefits to individuals, families, businesses and society at large from investment in human infrastructure will accrue for generations.

There’s an old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Our priorities should be exactly what the “deficit hawks” are putting on the chopping block. Cutting those programs is criminal behavior, not sound policy.

Riane Eisler is president of the Center for Partnership Studies ( and author of The Real Wealth of Nations and The Chalice & the Blade. Rene Redwood is CEO of Redwood Enterprise in Washington, D.C. (

Copyright 2011 (c) by The American Forum. 5/11


By Tsedeye Gebreselassie

In 2006, Nevada voters did a really smart thing. Recognizing that their state’s minimum wage stayed flat year after year, despite rising costs of living, the people of Nevada voted to index their minimum wage rate to adjust annually with the cost of living. In the last few years, these small annual increases have helped thousands of working families make ends meet in a rough economy, while providing a modest boost in precisely the type of consumer spending our nascent recovery needs.

Rather than celebrate voters’ sound economic move, critics of the minimum wage see an opportunity to once again toss out their usual—and widely discredited—claims that a strong minimum wage is a “job-killer.” Counting on understandable anxiety about Nevada’s stubbornly high unemployment rate, opponents of the minimum wage have proposed state legislation that would begin a repeal process for the initiative passed by Nevada’s voters just four years ago.

Let’s quickly dispense with these “job-killing” claims. Real-world experiences with minimum wage increases have produced little evidence of job losses. The decade following the federal minimum wage increase in 1996-97 ushered in one of the strongest periods of job growth in decades. Analyses of states with minimum wages higher than the federal floor between 1997 and 2007 showed that their job growth was actually stronger overall than in states that kept the lower federal level. And just last winter, a rigorous study finding that increasing the minimum wage does not lead to job loss was published in the Review of Economics and Statistics. Economists at the University of Massachusetts, University of North Carolina, and University of California compared employment data among every pair of neighboring U.S. counties that straddle a state border and had differing minimum wage levels at any time between 1990 and 2006. Analyzing employment and earnings data of over 500 counties, they found that minimum wage increases did not cost jobs.

Yet, critics of the minimum wage are undeterred by the facts, continuing to put the blame for the current recession and high joblessness rate squarely on the shoulders of our nation’s lowest-paid workers. This would be laughable if it weren’t so offensive—and the potential consequences of this shell game so tragic.

It doesn’t take an economist to tell you that the factors causing this recession have very little to do with how much or how little businesses must pay their frontline staff. Indeed, if we’ve learned anything these past couple of years, it’s that relying on rampant financial speculation and irresponsible lending practices to generate the spending that drives our economy, rather than investing in good jobs at good wages, is no way to run an economy. That’s why a robust minimum wage is a cornerstone of any recovery strategy, because it puts money into the pockets of low-income families who will spend it immediately, increasing consumer spending without adding to the deficit. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the small bump in the federal minimum wage in 2009 generated $5.5 billion in new consumer spending.

Over the last 40 years, the real value of the minimum wage has eroded substantially, lagging far behind rising living costs. At its peak in 1968, the federal minimum wage was worth more than $10 an hour in today’s dollars. When Nevada indexed its minimum wage in 2006, it joined many other states—as of today, 10 in all—to ensure that the purchasing power of these wages does not erode over time. On the federal level, minimum wage earners went 10 years without an increase until Congress finally raised the minimum wage in 2007. Repealing Nevada’s minimum wage indexing law might very well lead to the same result.

Gebreselassie is a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project.

Copyright (C) 2011 by American Forum. 4/11