Schizophrenic Policy Makers Pursue Buying Economic Development

Steven Polzin's picture
My local community recently got into political spat as the city, county and state negotiated the terms of a deal to attract a major corporation to bring a facility to the community. In the interest of high-quality growth, tens of millions in dollars and various perks were offered to attract a very well-heeled corporate player. In the meantime, Floridians frustrated with the inability of government to be willing or able to keep up with growth in terms of providing the requisite infrastructure; sewer, water, transportation, etc., increased the pressure on governments to have new development pay for growth rather than having it increase the tax burden on existing residents. Let's see:
  • We are growing too fast to keep up.
  • But we want more growth and are willing to pay to attract it.
  • But we say that we want growth to pay for itself.
We struggle to have any consistent and equitable process for government investments in stimulating of growth and on more than a few occasions promised growth has failed to materialize or turned out to be a highly subsidized minor geographic relocations of economic activities whose net benefits are modest.

We want high-quality grow but we may be growing entry-level service workers faster. We want to attract high income jobs but we immediately get worried about affordable housing when home prices get bid up. At a personal level we are very excited about the appreciation of our homes; but of course we're frustrated that they are now taxed higher. We pine for creative class highly educated workers but we leave our borders open so we can benefit from cheap labor. We have visions of being globally competitive in high skill knowledge based segments of the economy and we tolerate mediocre schools and seldom reinforce the virtues of hard work and competition and risk huge shares of our future workforce being ill prepared to compete. We take money from the public to build sports stadiums and urban amenities then tout their economic stimulus impact while failing to account for the economic impact of taking those resources from the public's pockets. We celebrate signs of urban renaissance but often fail to understand the infrastructure investments required to upgrade our developed areas -- using dated logic to presume a resource efficiency from redevelopment or densification that has yet to materialize in a tangible fashion that feeds back into location and development decisions.

We want people to be responsible in how they make location and travel decisions but we continue to insulate them from the full cost of those decisions by refusing to let gas taxes or tolls rise to reflect the true cost of infrastructure provision say nothing of covering any of the externalities of the modes. We wax nostalgic for historic visions of personal travel ignoring the fundamental changes in household structure, personal time use allocation and 21st century economics. Democracy and human behaviors can be frustrating when it comes to complex multifaceted transportation and land use issues.

Other than that everything is fine.
Steven Polzin is the director of mobility policy research at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.



Good rant

I can appreciate your comments Steven. I find a lot of my own beliefs echoed here. Allow me to add a couple more schizophrenic items related to the citizenry reflected in local politics:

1) we want to stop urban sprawl, but I want my 1/2 acre lot and home and we're sick of this density

2) we should fund and build new transit lines and people should use them, but I can't use it because I need my car for my flexible lifestyle, and of course

3) I like strong property rights, I should be able to do whatever I want on my property unless of course someone else's property in any way impacts my daily life and then I'll show up to the local meeting and pine about it.

Dichotomy list.

I found this blog post...interesting. Please permit me add a few to the list:

We know these dichotomies exist across the country, yet we do nothing to address them. We complain about the fecklessness of the public(s) yet do nothing to make the process more transparent for them. Our public(s) complain about congestion, but we continue to build the same development patterns. Etc.



A farmer's metaphor

I'm certain that it was borrowed, but I will never forget the idea offered a decade ago by a northern VA family farmer to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors regarding growth.

His argument was that land in the hands of the board via zoning was being spent like money in the custody of a hypothetical teenager. When the teenager saw a sale, (s)he was all to eager to "save" money by consuming nondurables, forgoing interest and better future investments for the immediate approval and envy of friends.

Similarly, when the supervisors saw potential sources of new tax revenue, they were all too eager to permanently sacrifice land, commit future community dollars for certain infrastructure maintenance, and even offer incentives, in return for gains of questionable duration and scale. The true costs of the commitment would never match the return, yet they saw a short-term opportunity that could not be passed up. They seemed to think they were saving.

Since then, I have always pictured one of the Board members in unbefitting clothing. Not a pretty picture, but hard to forget.

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