Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Like any fad, however, this one can quickly be proven to be more style than substance.
We are lead to believe that we inherited an 18th century system of government, needlessly duplicating efforts, or worst still, working at cross-purposes, leading to higher taxes and less growth. We hold on to these governments for vanity reasons, like preserving school mascots, ignoring the savings offered by consolidation.
Advocates would further have us believe that coordinated regional control like that of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Met Council would create lower operating costs and provide better service to the taxpayer. A close examination of the facts proves this is counterintuitive, and really a guise to restore urban political power and union control.
The Met Council is held up as one the national standards of regional cooperation. Formed over 30 years ago, the Met Council encompasses seven counties in the Twin Cities area, handling everything from sewer and water projects and transit, to functions normally left to local control, such as parks and libraries. As such, it is a good yardstick with which to measure the relative savings of consolidation over our own local model.
The “ruler” in this case is a June 2008 report -- A Cost of Government Study for Northeast Ohio by the Center for Governmental Research. http://www.scribd.com/doc/8529075/Cost-of-Government-Study-for-Northeast-Ohio-Focus-Cuyahoga-County
As stated in the executive summary, the Twin Cities has hardly been reaping the benefits of shared services. “Based on the data provided to the Census of Governments, in 2002 the per capita cost of government in the regions studied varied from…a high of $4,336 in the Twin Cities…. Northeast Ohio’s per capita spending (was) $3,750 .”
While the Twin Cities has a per capita government cost structure 16% higher than ours, a closer comparison of some traditionally “local” expenditures highlights the real contrasts. The Twin Cities spends 131% more on Parks per capita than NE Ohio, 50% more on Transit Services, and 14% more on Housing and Community Development.
The higher costs of administration and labor is one reason regional control is expensive. Each of these Twin Cities functions is represented by a public union – and though they represent different units, they work collectively to shut down many aspects of government when any one of the unions has a dispute.
My position as Trustee of my local library helps me understand one reason why Twin Cities taxpayers pay 33% more per capita to deliver library services than our local independent libraries.
We are one of six library systems operating outside of the Akron/Summit County Library System. Advocates for regionalism and costs savings have held that Ohio should have a single system of schools and libraries in each county for the sake of efficiency.
Our library receives about 25% of its operating funds from the state; the remainder is from a local operating levy. Consolidating us into Akron would only drive our costs up and drive down the quality of our local service. The Akron system’s starting salaries are 30% higher than the average of the other six county libraries. The benefits and pensions in Akron are also higher. The employees at the local libraries under a single county system would be subject to the same agreement, eliminating any potential savings and possibly raising operating costs..
The assets we have acquired may be dispersed throughout the county, and given the smaller size of our town relative to Akron, we could face the threat of a reduction in service and shutdown with little or no say in the matter. Consolidation advocates only seek to redistribute our assets and our tax base to urban control. That is the essence of “Smart Growth. “
Poll after poll shows that local government is one of the few forms of government receiving positive support from voters. It’s no surprise, since local government officials must be responsive to local needs to stay in office. Most local governments were not formed by riders on horseback, but in the 20th century, by voters who carefully chose their local form of government. Regional entities, like our NE Ohio Regional Sewer District, formed by court order, are free to pass on rate increases or create new fees like stormwater with non responsibility to voters. This is the type of government we would get under consolidation.
Cooperation and mutual efforts to save money should certainly be explored. But blanket statements about replacing antiquated local government systems are not constructive in helping Ohio with its economic future.
There’s an old saying –“if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it.” In most cases, local governments ain’t the ones that are broke. To the bloated state and regional governments who seek to tell us in local government that its time to lose some weight, there’s another old saying – “sweep your own doorstep.”
Monday, February 22, 2010
"I'm a political person...We don't fight to lose. We fight to win. So we manipulate language to still achieve our ends but to ultimately score legislative and practical victories. _Katz, Commmonweal interview
“Report says cities key to Ohio's future - Brookings Institution finds bureaucracy, politics, turf wars are blocking advancement”
By Julie Carr Smyth
Published on Monday, Feb 22, 2010
COLUMBUS: Ohio may be proud of its cows and its cornfields, but its Clevelands and its Cincinnatis are the future.
That's the message in a new report from the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program and the Greater Ohio Policy Center. The think tanks paired up for two years to look at how best to establish the hard-hit state as an economic powerhouse after the United States regains its financial footing.
The answer: Invest in the cities.
The report, to be unveiled today Feb. 22, 2010, calls metro regions ''the key functional units in the global economy today'' and sees Ohio as a good national testing ground for its ideas.
''It's the new spatial geography of the country and of places like Ohio,'' said Bruce Katz, co-founder of the Brookings metro program. ''Almost every single Ohioan lives within an hour's drive of an urban area, and 50 percent live within 10 miles of an urban center.''
The report identifies 16 metropolitan areas in the state, regions that include both cities and their suburban, exurban and rural surroundings. The areas range in size from cities like Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland to the Ohio River towns of Ironton, Marietta and East Liverpool.
Bruce Katz, Vice President and Regional Director of the Brookings Institution, ís reported in the press as an objective voice in urban development. He was quoted in the Plain Dealer(1/1/2-10) that we must change our evil suburban ways: "The bottom line is the U.S. just got the biggest wake-up call it received in the past 50 years," Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution said of the recession. We have been growing in the wrong way, he said, and must change to survive. "The American economy is about to rebalance and restructure in a dramatic way," Katz said.
But what's the end game here? Katz says one thing to a gathering of Ohio lawmakers, but quite another when among other urban policy makers. Here are excerpts from an interview with columnist Steve Lender of Commonweal. (Complete interview is here: http://www.commonweal.org/programs/fg_interviews/katz.html ) Katz at first is taken to task for not promoting “fair growth” social equity issues. In his answer to Lender, an unusually candid Katz cautions him that although “social equity” and power are the objective, it must be presented in a way that is acceptable to suburbs that make up the bulk of the potential revenue, even if it means he must “manipulate language to still achieve our ends but to ultimately score legislative and practical victories.” so here is Bruce Katz in his own words, putting out the real objectives of "regionalism" and the promotion of cities:
Bruce Katz defines Smart Growth:
The beauty of "smart growth" is that it captures in one phrase a lot of things. It is a big tent... a big umbrella kind of movement. And it is definitely having traction. And no one is going to change that. This is a moving train. You are not going to change the rubric. I think you can fit within the rubric and appropriately so and come to that table and make your case. But that means leaving the margins and coming to the center of the debate. And I don't see that happening.
With a smart growth framework and a smart growth rhetoric urban revitalization issues that have been kept on the fringe for a long time can now be seen as pro-suburban and pro-rural. This should be the heyday of brownfields remediation because people understand that if we redevelop more land in the cities it takes pressure off the fringe and everyone is happy. Is that fair growth or smart growth? It is both.
Katz: Smart Growth or Social Equity?
But if you come in saying "fair growth" and that we are doing this because of equity, people are not going to give you an audience. If you come in and say we are going to do this to take pressure off the fringe, then they will say: let's talk; we have common ground. I think we should think about what we are trying to achieve here and what the rhetoric is and the language is and the political coalitions are that you need to achieve those objectives. And we should understand that we are going to break bread with a lot of strange bedfellows to mix a metaphor.
This is a central question to urban constituencies as to whether they are willing to play in a larger game. I am totally for what fair growth is trying to achieve. To me smart growth is fair growth. The way we define smart growth it is fair growth. But the term sends signals that this is more than just about equity issues. The environmentalists need to be for this and the business needs to be for this. Smart growth sounds like a competitive issue as much as an environmental issue. It is an issue of fiscal equity and metropolitan access. I think the best way to proceed is along a big tent, majoritarian coalition path. Then we can try to steer the conversation at particular points in time. Otherwise you are on the margin. And you are off having some conversation somewhere and it is like: who are you?
Katz: Submerging your Objectives while telling an Audience what they want to hear
I was talking to the Michigan state legislature the other day, this was the urban caucus of Detroit legislators, Grand Rapids legislators, suburban legislators, rural legislators -- it was a broad band. Each one of them wanted to hear a portion of the smart growth debate that they could bring home. The rural guys wanted farm preservation, the urban guys wanted brownfields and renovation, the people in the suburbs said they had a workforce problem. So you want a big menu and then you want to be able to say: you take this part of the agenda, you take this part, and we are all going to work on different committees and agencies. We have to be very strategic or people will say: what does that have to do with what we are doing?
I come out of the legislative arena so for me this is just the way you do business. You have to submerge your own identity and your own mission, in a way, to achieve your own end. And that is what legislators do all the time. It is second nature to legislators. It is different for constituencies that seem to need the message to be clear so they can energize their base. But that may not be the most successful political strategy. I think this is a very important juncture for advocates to decide what the language is because we have a moving train here and it has a big umbrella aspect to it and it is not going to change. It is going to be smart growth.
Katz: Goals for Cleveland
If we reinvest in the core, if we take 20 percent of decentralization in this country [and redirect it back to the city], that is a major change. It is monumental. So people should not dismiss that because the fiscal ramifications of that change are huge. And in a lot of places the displacement is not as broad as people are saying. The country is not Silicon Valley. The country is more like Cleveland where metropolitan decentralization is undermining all the communities in which low-income workers and minorities live. And Cleveland, given projected growth, could stop growing [outward] today and accommodate population settlement and population growth without much displacement if it was done intelligently.
Katz: How the Political game is played
Let's be clear about this. This is not the Judaic/Christian ethic. It is that [smart growth and inclusionary zoning] will make the region more economically competitive and relieve traffic congestion. As such it is as much the suburban self-interest as the self interest of those [low-income urban residents] that are getting access to the [new suburban] housing. This is where we need more conversations. People like me and Myron Orfield are trained to be opportunist and get the 51% of the vote. We focus on what it takes and who are your allies. The poster child for your allies may be the head of the biotech cluster and not the central city advocate. That is just smart politics. In the end you get what you get. You get as far as you can go. And then once affordable housing is ingrained like it is in Montgomery County, then you can go back at it again and again.
We have to win here. We have to win. I'm a political person. Myron Orfield is a political person. We don't fight to lose. We fight to win. So we manipulate language to still achieve our ends but to ultimately score legislative and practical victories. And I think we need to get strategic enough to do that or else we are having side conversations that are not really in the center of the debate.
(Maryland Governor)Glendenning has done this. He did not call it Fair Growth but he basically says we should invest in places where we already have people and where we already have investments because that is smart fiscally. And it is smart environmentally because it takes pressure off our land. We don't want to look like everywhere America. We are better than that. We are Marylanders. We want to preserve our countryside because that is part of our heritage and our cultural legacy. He could have come in and said: Look there are more of us in big urban counties than there are of the exurbs and we are going to outvote you and that is fair because we have the people. But he didn't do that and it was really a smart way of achieving the same end. From the partisan perspective what is Glendenning doing? He is funding Democratic strongholds: Prince George's, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, and Montgomery County. The political people in Maryland know that. But he put it in a framework that made it substantively correct to have a different partisan outcome.
In Minneapolis they said: "Guys, we are 75% and we are going to wire the rules. You can live in your gated communities but we are going to tax the hell out of you. Or at least we are going to take a portion of the up-tick in revenues so that you don't gain it all. That kind of politics works in some places and I am all for it but I am not for it where it doesn't work. Knowing your political culture and the composition of your state legislature it won't take too long to figure out what will work and what won't work.
Katz: How Regionalism and Smart Growth get done
You don't want to start on distributional politics. I think you want to come in and say: Here is a goal we want to reach as a state. We want to preserve our land and rebuild places we have invested in. Everyone who is involved, the cognoscenti, know exactly what is going on. But I think the other approach gets into the lowest common denominator allocation politics which I think you want to avoid. You go down that road and who knows where that ends up because the bulk of the taxes are paid in the suburbs. I'm not sure we want to go down that road. You want to go down a road that allows you to achieve a substantive goal but in a politically smart way.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
The public has a positive view of regionalism in general. Polls tells us voters want our local governments to collaborate more, to reduce waste and inefficiency, and to work together to promote a more prosperous region.
Four years ago a group of mayors and community leaders began meeting to explore ways to achieve these goals. The Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association has admirably taken the first big steps to working together –sitting down and discussing solutions. Unfortunately, the result of their meetings is a proposal, the Regional Prosperity Initiative, or RPI, that is long on tax redistribution and a new central land use planning authority, but short on cost savings and economic benefits.
The solution is due in large part to where the mayors went for their answers. Myron Orfield, a former Minnesota legislator and urban planning consultant, was one of the group’s early advisors. His philosophy is simple –regions like ours have a bad economy because their central cities are failing. Cities are failing because their suburbs have sapped them of their economic strength. Restore their strength by diverting taxes from prospering suburbs back to cities, and redirect new development back to those same urban areas through centralized land use planning. This form of regionalism started over 30 years ago in his hometown, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
RPI members have presented their ideas, based largely on the Twin Cities model, before local leaders throughout the 16 county region. The local response -- “We’re in favor of regionalism in principle, but we need more details.” Which cities will be asked to give up future tax revenues? Who makes the decisions on which cities receive the extra tax money? Who will make the decisions on where new developments will be permitted, and how much say will the affected communities have? And most importantly, will we get a vote on the final plan?
Instead of answering these questions, RPI members point to the Twin Cities results as an answer and call to action. “The Cleveland area is failing,” they say, “because we don't plan growth and cooperate (share taxes) the way they do in the Twin Cities.”
The Twin Cities area has experienced growth, but this is due in large part to their white-collar economy compared to our dependence on manufacturing. We can’t change our economic base, but in the aspects the RPI says it can control – sprawl, poverty and government costs, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is far from being a model. In fact, Cleveland outperforms the Twin Cities in these categories -- our region has less sprawl (Brookings, 2009) a lower poverty rate among African-Americans (Census, 2002) and has a lower cost of municipal government (Gund-Miller, 2002).
The RPI seeks local endorsements, while it remains frustratingly unclear on the most basic question – how will regionalism come to NE Ohio? The only published answer is that the RPI will be enforced on the region by a state mandate. RPI Chair Mayor William Currin told an Ashtabula audience “the group wants to enact the plan from Columbus, through state government, so that each one of the 571 municipalities in the 16-county region would not have to sign on individually.” The Twin Cities plan came into being this way, as an emergency measure, tacked on to an unrelated bill in the Minnesota legislature.
Regionalism doesn’t have to be forced on unwilling cities. Denver communities were given an opportunity to join or leave their regionalism plan by a local vote. Regionalism had to be sold to skeptical city governments, based largely on results. In the past eight years, Colorado municipalities representing over 87% of the Denver area have joined. Results will answer skeptics and reduce distrust faster than predictions from experts.
Fear of ceding control can only be overcome by open, honest dialogue. Our municipal leaders should insist on all the details and the right to a vote on a regionalism plan. It has taken a long time to get us to this point. Let’s not miss the opportunity to do this right.
Originally published in Crain’s Cleveland Business as “Regionalism cannot be Universally Applied”-- Nov. 30, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
A once prosperous suburban shopping mall, mired in a declining neighborhood, loses one its last anchor tenants and faces the prospect of closing down. Randall Park in
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, per capita income in
Why is this troubled inner ring suburb 10 miles from downtown
The RPI is advocating this form of Regionalism in large part due to the success they hold out in the 7 county Minneapolis-St. Paul Twin Cities region. The RPI-Twin Cities model shares new growth tax revenues from more prosperous, growing areas to restore the deteriorating urban core and inner ring suburbs. Applying “equity” to tax revenues is designed to help the worst areas of the region by channeling dollars where they are needed most, restoring the vitality of cities.
What is significant about the plight of
The Regional Prosperity Initiative’s land use planning would direct and manage new growth areas throughout the region, which stretches out to
Again, Twin Cities/RPI regionalism fails to deliver as promised. Research released by the Brookings Institution: "Job Sprawl Revisited", the movement of employment in a region, shows that for the period 1998-2006, the Twin Cities areas under a regionalism plan actually lost a greater percentage of downtown jobs and sprawled jobs outside the downtown area at twice the rate of
Another benefit advocated by the RPI brand of regionalism is the cost savings that results from consolidating government resources. The Met Council alone has 3,700 employees, taking on consolidated functions of transit, parks, and libraries among others. Nevertheless, the per capita cost for Municipal Government is 25% higher in the Twin Cities than our region, according to 2002 figures in Cost of Government Study for Northeastern Ohio, funded in part by the Gund Foundation.
The rush to put the RPI plan in place by 2010 is predicated on large part on the “success” of their model in the Twin Cities. This “success” may prove illusory or insignificant in a discussion about seriously redesigning the way
The inconclusive economic benefits of regionalism from the Twin Cities in terms of cost savings, controlling sprawl, and reinvigorating our urban cores should cause our community leaders to reconsider the RPI plans alongside other regionalism plans with measured success.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Let's start out by "defining our terms."
What do we mean by "Cleveland?"
The 75 or so square miles that make up the nation's 40th largest (gulp!) city?
For the purposes of this blog, no. If you are looking for a blog about city developments and neighborhoods, this isn't it.
No, sorry residents of the City of Cleveland. We are going to take your name, for better or worse. Kind of like when the airport baggage check guy says "where you headed?" You say "Cleveland," not Hiram or Strongsville.
So we are from Akron, Canton, Mentor or Medina but we will call it Cleveland. Calling it anything else sounds fake, or forced. Kind of like the Cleveland+ campaign. I know what they are going for, but it just doesn't cut it. "The North Coast?" kind of better, except you get a few miles from the lake (and when we say "the lake" we all know the lake to which we refer, a true Cleveland marker) and you can't even get good perch. --so how much "coast" is in Canton?
If I could come up with a better all-inclusive substitute name for "Cleveland" I could really cash in. Even Northeast Ohio doesn't work. Try saying "Northeast Ohio" to people in Mansfield or Sandusky.
It's one of the reasons I''m skeptical about the future of Regionalism. But much more on that later.