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  • Before the Mortgage Mess

    An important op-ed appears today in the Washington Times. Stuart Butler, vice president of domestic policy issues at the Heritage Foundation, writes about Smart Growth and provides some important historical context.

    As he writes, “Going far beyond the traditional zoning restrictions, some local governments embraced a host of ‘smart growth’ policies. But these policies also artificially inflated housing costs. So the cost of a home moved steadily beyond the reach of normal families – unless they got a subprime mortgage.”

    Thus, Butler puts in chronological order the dominoes that eventually fell. While commentators like Thomas Sowell correctly finger risky mortgages major contributors to the collapse, Butler digs a little deeper and identifies the “root cause” – Smart Growth.

    “If we are going to get out of the housing mess, it doesn´t just mean fixing the mortgage market or – as some argue – bailing out homeowners. It also means scaling back the rules in many jurisdictions that continue to artificially push up new house prices and fan the pressure for huge mortgages.”

    Well said. Read the whole thing.

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  • Before the Mortgage Mess

    An important op-ed appears today in the Washington Times.  Stuart Butler, vice president of domestic policy issues at the Heritage Foundation, writes about Smart Growth and provides some important historical context.

    As he writes, “Going far beyond the traditional zoning restrictions, some local governments embraced a host of ‘smart growth’ policies.  But these policies also artificially inflated housing costs. So the cost of a home moved steadily beyond the reach of normal families – unless they got a subprime mortgage.”

    Thus, Butler puts in chronological order the dominoes that eventually fell.  While commentators like Thomas Sowell correctly finger risky mortgages major contributors to the collapse, Butler digs a little deeper and identifies the “root cause” – Smart Growth.

    “If we are going to get out of the housing mess, it doesn´t just mean fixing the mortgage market or – as some argue – bailing out homeowners. It also means scaling back the rules in many jurisdictions that continue to artificially push up new house prices and fan the pressure for huge mortgages.”

    Well said.  Read the whole thing.  If you are interested in uprooting Smart Growth and Restoring Prosperity to our nation’s cities and metro areas, then you need to come to our conference!

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  • Taxing Mobility or Facilities

    Most experts agree that the current way of paying for roadway infrastructure – the gas tax – is a flawed system of revenue collection.  It’s only going to get worse.

    Since the gas tax is levied on a per-gallon basis, the accelerating trend of fuel efficiency in automobiles will soon mean that people are driving more while paying less.

    Of course, I’m all for more mobility … since mobility is undeniably correalated with economic prosperity and is also an unmistakable exercise of freedom.

    And I want taxes low and taxes low and taxes low.  But I don’t want public facilities provided without cost (or paid for by other people).  I believe in user fees.

    This brings us to an interesting debate.  On the one hand you have the idea of a vehicle-miles traveled tax (VMTT), sometimes called a mobility tax.  It would require the installation of a mileage-monitoring device that would not only cost money but also raise privacy concerns.

    An alternative would be a fee on facilities.  After all, it’s the highway or road that needs maintenance, repair and/or expansion.  Why not price the roads and then spread the costs over a per user basis?  Many new highways are paid for by tolling, which is essentially what this would be, just extended to existing facilities for normal wear-and-tear needs.

    Either way, the public policy discussion should be fruitful in the years ahead as we figure out what to do.  My two big concerns deal with the political “remedy.”

    1) If a superior user fee system is developed, politicians will be tempted to adopt it AND maintain the current gas tax system, thus double taxing citizens for their mobility.

    2) Smart Growth politicians will try to significantly increase fees above the actual costs as a way to punish auto drivers and suppress mobility.

    As our think tank friends flesh out the policy ideas, our activists friends will need to remain vigilant against the greed of government.

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  • Office of Smart Growth?

    The gigantic stimulus packaged pushed by the Obama Administration has understandably drawn much media attention, and activists for limited government, fiscal accountability, lower taxes, etc. have a lot to talk and write about.

    Less has been said about the President’s expansion of the bureaucratic administrative state in general, and the new White House Office of Urban Affairs in particular.

    The purpose of the OUA is outlined in the Executive Order creating it:

    In the past, insufficient attention has been paid to the problems faced by urban areas and to coordinating the many Federal programs that affect our cities.  A more comprehensive approach is needed, both to develop an effective strategy for urban America and to coordinate the actions of the many executive departments and agencies whose actions impact urban life.

    The OUA is charged to “to provide leadership for and coordinate the development of the policy agenda for urban America …”; “to coordinate all aspects of urban policy”; and “to engage in outreach and work closely with State and local officials, with nonprofit organizations, and with the private sector…”

    Maybe this office will do nothing more than just funnel federal largesse to metro areas for inner city schools and homeless programs, or maybe it will simply merge Chicago-style corruption with Bronx Burough graft.

    So why are Smart Growth enthusiasts smiling?

    My first observation is that the “the” in “coordinate the development of the policy agenda for urban America” is, of course, singular.  Yet there are tens of thousands of urban areas.

    Smart Growthers love the one-size-fits-all approach to urban planning, and they’d make George Orwell blush when they say cities will preserve their “unique sense of place” while pushing the same exact formula of McUrbanism: higher densities, compact development, mixed use, and transit orientation.

    Another concern is who President Obama tapped to head the office: Adolfo Carrion.  Carrion is an urban planner by profession.  In his first interview with the New York Times, Carrion said:

    “When you look at the economic crisis that we’re facing, the fuel to our economy has been our cities, so taking that huge stimulus package and focus on growing smart cities is, I think, smart policy.”

    Of course, we’re glad he’s not vocally championing dumb policy for stupid cities! But in the field of urban public policy, these remarks are an unmistakable signal towards Smart Growth – the control-freak planning doctrine that is spreading in influence across the country.

    It looks like Smart Growth is about to get a major boost – complete with money and mandates – from the White House.

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  • In Need of a Happy Pill

    Portland, that is.

    According to an upcoming issue of Business Week, the people of Portland, Oregon, are the unhappiest people in the United States: “The city with the highest overall score in our index was Portland, the beautiful Oregon city that also has very high depression and suicide rates.”

    Also scoring high are St. Louis, Detroit, and New Orleans.  Hmm, high crime in the first, economic self-immolation in the second, and a giant state-swallowing hurricane in the third.  And Portland beats them all!

    With artificially high housing costs and deliberately induced traffic congestion, the city has given “depression” a whole other meaning.  Talk about a “unique sense of place”!

    Want the antidote to depression?  Try the 7th Annual Preserving the American Dream Conference in Bellevue, Washington, near Seattle on April 17-19.  If you’re out of happy pills and don’t want the Portland model to get you down, join us as we focus on “Restoring Prosperity” to America’s cities!

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  • An $8 Billion Compromise

    The House stimulus bill had no money for high-speed rail. The Senate bill had $2 billion. Where did they compromise? On $8 billion. Plus Amtrak gets $1.3 billion, which is also more than in either the House or Senate bills.

    Highways and urban transit get the amounts in the Senate bill, $27 and $8.4 billion, which is less than the House bill. Since the total for transportation is $46 billion, that leaves about $1.4 billion for airports.

    (more…)

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