Driving Along The Cliff’S Edge


This week, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans compared the two-year struggle to convince Arizona State University to build a low-cost college campus here to a white-knuckle, cliff-sided drive around the world’s biggest volcano.

That sounds about right.

Residents got a glimpse of some of the 1,000-foot drop-offs and hairpin turns on that road at Wednesday’s Business Buzz luncheon, when ASU Vice President Richard Stanley offered a progress report.

One absolutely crucial piece of information emerged from the session. To whit: prospects for a Payson campus could survive even if the state Legislature completely loses its mind and again cuts its already dwindling support for the state’s three universities.

The just-concluded election cast a deep shadow across the otherwise hopeful negotiations between ASU and Payson, by locking in a growing state budget deficit and electing many representatives who have taken a virtual blood oath against increasing state revenues.

The prospects for the state’s universities now seem fraught with danger — like the view over the edge of a crumbling cliff. In the past two years, the state has cut support for the universities from about $8,000 per student annually to about $4,000 per student annually. That forced the Board of Regents to nearly double the full-time, in-state tuition — to nearly $9,000 annually.

No one knows what the Legislature will do in January when it convenes to confront the projected deficits.

What happens if the Legislature cuts state support further? Can ASU open a new campus if it has to ration admissions on its existing campuses?

In truth, the budget crisis actually strengthens the case for a low-cost, undergraduate-centered program like Payson is pushing. After all, projections show the state must find a way to increase the supply of college degrees by 50 percent by 2020. So you’d think the Legislature would jump at the offer of a free campus that can provide degrees at half the cost of the Tempe campus. As Stanley pointed out, in a rational world, it’s a no-brainer.

Alas, we’re not sure that the Legislature spends much time in a rational world.

That’s why it’s so important that Stanley for the first time publicly said the Payson program might survive even if the Legislature won’t provide the $2,000 to $3,000 per student ASU had worked into its plan.

Backers may find other ways to keep the cost of the campus low enough to survive without an initial promise of state support. Fortunately, Mayor Evans’ vision and persistence has included in the master plan supporting businesses like a convention hotel and research park, which could make the project pencil out even with only the bare minimum of state support.

So the journey remains both terrifying and exhilarating. We haven’t arrived by any stretch — but boy, what a view.

Setting the pace

Jeeze. There’s just no satisfying some people. So, let’s say you’re a Payson police officer or firefighter or some other public safety official. You go to work every day, dead steady ready to put your life on the line to protect the residents of Rim Country — especially the kids.

You work overnight shifts. You run into burning buildings. You answer dangerous “shots fired” calls in the middle of the night.

So, you’d have to feel pretty good — putting it all on the line to help your neighbors (especially the kids).

So what do they do? They go and raise $15,000 so they can take kids facing a bleak Christmas on joyful shopping trips.

This year, Christmas for Kids provided a $50 toy-buying shopping trip for 266 kids who might have otherwise had to all but skip Christmas.

Typical do-gooders: Overachieving once again.

Makes it hard on the rest of us to keep up.

Hardly any of us suit up every day willing to risk our lives for strangers. And now it’s Christmas and we have to play catch-up when it comes to taking care of our neighbors (especially the children).

What pressure.

Don’t get us wrong — we do appreciate it — the protection, the burning buildings, the rescue calls — and, of course, the toys.

Still, it makes us feel like we ought to do something to follow such a heartfelt example. Hmm. What to do? What to do?

Oh, wait: We’ve got it. The food drive!

Merry Christmas, all. And thanks for the example.


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