I’ve been cleaning out my office at the end of my Council term. In addition to recycling mountains of paper and gaining a great deal more storage space, I’ve been pleased to discover that my personal policy development has been quite systematic from my days on the Planning Commission to the present.
I even found my first Planning Commission fan mail. This little note from 2002 was sent in response to my questions about one of the residential developments underway at the time and applauding for standing up to the Council which was calling me anti-development. What I was starting to ask, in a very clumsy way, was what’s the cost to taxpayers of various kinds of development rather than trying to reduce the impact of government on development costs for particular projects (which is what people usually glom onto).
My point all along has been: government is a player in the market (by regulating what can be built, incentivizing/subsidizing certain types of projects, by its tax structure) and as a party to individual development deals like subdivisions, planned unit developments, etc.
While working to develop policy and regulations which do not unfairly burden business (in the short term), the city must also consider its own (that is, taxpayers’) interests in the long term (call it a governance perspective).
Fortunately, many others have started asking the same questions (and/or the internet resources have been exploding to make them more accessible) over the last 10 years and here are a few of the things I wish I’d been able to bring up in 2002 and certainly want to highlight in 2012:
For all that residential development, I wish I’d had The power of greenfield economics ready at hand and been able to speak intelligently about “the proverbial elephant in the room [which] is the amount of sprawling, redundant public and private infrastructure we’ve built since the end of World War II.”
So now, as Northfield struggles to fund maintenance of all that infrastructure it has already built, the city might be able to ask how government policies (from the feds on down) have been part of the problem and how Northfield can look beyond what seem like quick solutions to longer term, sustainable changes which both support economic development without adding to Northfield’s long term debt burden and forgoing tax revenue through tax abatements or other incentives.
And some follow-up:
That NY Times series on subsidies got a lot of attention from the policy people. MN2020 published its own 2 part series with Part 1 and Part 2 (the more interesting of the two with details of an Iowa subsidy situation). MN2020 also cites its 2007 report Chasing smokestacks, stranding small business focusing on shifting MN public policy. Strong Towns included links to the NYT series in their Friday Digest.