April 7, 2011

7 Keys to Understanding Mass Transit Impact – and Value

Posted in role of government, taxes, U.S. Economy, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 9:32 am by realitytax

DC Streetcar study1) It’s not just bus and light-rail

Streetcars play an increasing role, as the DC Streetcar Land-Use Study documents, and for good reason. The upfront costs are lower than light-rail, while businesses (and commercial real estate values) react much more vigorously than they do to bus rapid transit (BRT) proposals.

2) Return on Investment is Reliable, Investors React

In terms of taxpayers dollars, the Goody Clancy DC study found “streetcar offers a better ratio of benefits to costs compared to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or Light Transit. While BRT is less expensive to implement, it does not generate the real estate investments to the same degree that streetcars can.” In other words, with a lower implementation cost than light rail that stability and predictability is what businesses and property owners like. Long-term, they know the traffic patterns and support for use are reliable.

3) Urban Rail Transportation Stimulates Economic Development

With so many elected officials trying to create jobs and reverse shrinkage of tax revenues, studies on the light rail projects in Minneapolis, Portland, and Denver reveal more benefits than just the immediate job creation from the construction projects, there’s lots of other new real estate development, too, including especially housing when the lines are well-sited.

4) Transit Is Not an “either/or” Choice

Some state legislatures are leery of the investment as they look at funding for the repair and maintenance of existing roads, highways, and bridges. Yet a new (or better) Transit system reduces wear, freeing up more money and reducing infrastructure maintenance costs in transportation budgets.

5) If Highways Are the Answer We’d All Move to L.A.

I don’t want to decry development in Southern California, but the smog and traffic jams are legendary. Most developed areas don’t have the land to give up for more highways, toll-roads are far from a free solution even though they shift the maintenance costs, and most communities favor fewer big roads as the cost to our environment and impact on our quality of life becomes more evident.

3) It’s Efficient

Max busIt’s a simple fact, person-throughput is increased when a greater share of travelers in any given transportation corridor are riding rather than driving. Risks shrink, quality of life blossoms, and systems that mitigate commuter congestion coincidentally result in revitalized commercial and retail growth – again, because business investors recognize and gravitate to the predictable. While there are pitfalls to be avoided, there are numerous studies that show what’s working and what hasn’t; the data is real, so re-inventing the wheel isn’t the first step.

7) If You Build It, They Will Come

When you consider areas such as the Pearl district of Portland it’s obvious why that city is always high on lists of desirable places to live; urban development was phenomenal, and some estimates suggest streetcar ridership is 7 times higher than a bus alternative would be. Either way, it spurred billions of dollars in development projects, which translates into jobs and other tax revenues for the city – and isn’t that what every state or local government needs?

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March 11, 2011

Budget, Deficits, Ideas, and Stuff

Posted in federal budget, role of government, taxes, U.S. Economy tagged , , , , , , at 12:48 pm by realitytax

The thing people are best at is exchanging stuff, including ideas; that’s what sets us apart from every animal on the face of the earth. Dogs don’t exchange bones with each other, chimpanzees and dolphins don’t ask for advice, and yet nobody reading this could build the simplest device we rely on every day in any reasonable amount of time without the active participation of many, many other people.

You doubt it? Name your example: Could you make a toothbrush? How will you get the petroleum to make the various plastics? OK, so you can whittle down a piece of wood to serve as the handle, sure, but are you going to use a knife you traded for or make your own? You can collect some stiff bristly stuff, but to trim it all to a nearly uniform length would you like a scissors? …and glue the bristles in place…how? Let’s not even consider transportation machines and mp3 players. So much more efficient to let somebody else mine and smelt the metals, while legions of people build and maintain the systems to distribute the stuff, and still others focus on food, wouldn’t you agree?

Another way to think of it is that while any of us can probably manage to be self-sufficient, it wouldn’t leave us much time for anything else at all. Complex trading makes it possible for specialists to efficiently do what they’re best at, and the whole society can enjoy the fruits of the labor of others.

Now what’s that got to do with the U.S. economy, government budget decisions, and the federal deficit?

Well, while we can all agree that while the government has a long-term fiscal management issue, (call it a problem if you like,) the key factor in the budget challenges is health care costs, and more to the point the rate at which those costs are growing. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “The Congressional Budget Office expects Social Security outlays as a percentage of G.D.P. to rise 30 percent over the next quarter-century, as the population ages, but it expects a near doubling of the share of G.D.P. spent on Medicare and Medicaid.

We don’t solve that by reducing what we spend on either education or job creation. Cutting the benefits for military veterans only shifts the costs of their health care, it doesn’t control it. Cutting taxes surely doesn’t provide any free-market incentive to rein in runaway health care costs, nor does reducing and/or eliminating the collective bargaining rights of public-sector employees (another way of shifting the costs without actually addressing the cause.)

There’s a time for catching the drips coming through the roof, but that’s a stop-gap until you can properly fix the roof. If you’re in charge of the building it’s not responsible to tell the people who live or work in it to just keep emptying their buckets – if you don’t know what to do yourself, you call somebody who can fix it, and if you have to raise the rent you do that, too. That’s the whole point of participating in society instead of being self-sufficient.

Bernie SandersIt’s time for Congress to do their job and stop asking the American people to keep emptying the buckets. They asked voters to trust them to solve problems – to keep the roof in good repair – not kick them down the road while we collect rainwater and listen to their complaints about how hard it is to fix. Lowering taxes to fight a budget deficit is like bringing gasoline to fight a fire.

Those elected officials that have no idea how to actually live up to that promise should get out of the business and let somebody with real solutions work on it before they ruin the building and bring down the value of the whole neighborhood even further. Stop talking about “partnering with business” and how regulations are a burden and go work on whatever stuff it is you’re actually good at doing (other than interviews with sound-bites and acting like absentee slumlords, that is,) and leave my government – for the people – alone.

February 10, 2011

United, we stand.

Posted in economic recovery, foreclosure crisis, health care, immigration, role of government, soft bigotry, taxes, U.S. Economy tagged , , , , , , , at 11:01 am by realitytax

Miami Herald LogoThe President of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, joined with Gaby Pacheco on an Op-Ed piece in the Wednesday Miami Herald, “DREAM Act – keep trying” intended to reinvigorate the discussion of immigration.

“It is time for President Obama and Congress to take action on meaningful immigration reform, to turn these dreams to reality and to move our country and our economy forward.”

RICHARD TRUMKA AND GABY PACHECO
Wednesday, 02.09.11

Who is Gaby Pacheco? Gaby is an “undocumented, DREAM-Act eligible youth” from Miami, risking a fair bit by stepping into the limelight.

Richard Trumka of the AFL CIO

AFL CIO President Richard Trumka

Like it or not, immigration is the most powerful force in shaping our culture, and has been for centuries. Trumka and Pacheco have it right, asserting that our immigration “system” will not fix itself. So, what should the role of the department of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the rest of the state and federal agencies dealing with immigration be?

Well, if you believe some, government can’t get anything right, and should just throw in the towel and disband. I’m not one of those. We elect people to work for us in Washington (and in our state governments, too.) The reality is: without government there would be no immigration policy, let alone men and women paid to enforce it; we’d be practicing the model currently used in Somalia. Somalia, where piracy plays a central role in the economy – and thinking people find the means to leave if they possibly can.

It’s misleading for politicians and pundits to talk about reducing the size of government, cutting taxes, cutting the deficit, and lessening “government interference in our lives” while at the same time arguing for more immigration agents, more prisons, building democracies in other nations, and fixing the economy to help the middle class recover from the banking and mortgage crisis that came from deregulating Wall Street. Double talk won’t form a more perfect union, let alone ensure domestic tranquility, ok?

We’ve always believed that the way to make this country great is to ensure that future generations will enjoy a higher standard of living. That won’t happen if they can’t buy homes because they can’t even afford health insurance, while politicians cater to the whims of special interest money funneled to their incredibly expensive campaigns.

I’m not saying every tax dollar is spent wisely – we can’t even account for squandered billions simply “lost” during the abysmal Iraq reconstruction, for instance – but that’s precisely why it’s time to talk about running our government as a whole, and every agency within it, better and more carefully. Planning for the future, financial experts advise, is always about investing strategically and ensuring diversity.

“At a time when business is loudly advocating for importing skilled workers, politicians and corporate CEOs are ignoring the fact that some of our best and brightest are already here, but pushed into an underground economy where they can’t actively participate.”

RICHARD TRUMKA AND GABY PACHECO
Wednesday, 02.09.11

If you believe that government should work for us, that our elected officials should work for us, that partnering with business to ensure our economic viability as a nation is a key to a future where our children can thrive and prosper, then it’s time to stop focusing on the messages that divide us.

That’s why I applaud, and stand with, that third-generation Pennsylvania coal miner Richard Trumka, and Gaby Pacheco, a DREAM Act-eligible youth from Florida, as they talk about jobs, the economy, and immigration — which the Congress seems to lack the courage and vision to address. It’s time for our elected leaders to stop playing politics and do what we sent them to do – create real solutions.

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August 2, 2010

Pawlenty knows politics.

Posted in 2012 Elections, GOP, John McCain's campaign, media coverage, taxes tagged , , , , , , , , , at 9:17 am by realitytax

Senator McCain suggests his wife enter a topless contest in Sturgis

Is America ready for a first lady who's recently entered a topless contest?

While it’s arguably inappropriate objectification of his wife to bolster his career when lame-duck MN Governor Pawlenty describes her as his “red-hot smoking wife,” I disagree w/ wonkette’s characterization that it’s “two years early.” If Obama hadn’t started early he probably wouldn’t be President, and remember Senator McCain tried to woo votes from Harley riders by suggesting his wife enter the topless Miss Buffalo Chip contest in Sturgis in 2008.

If voters made their choices rationally the political calculus of candidates and campaigns would be very different. Voters often rationalize when interviewed, but research proves the decisions are more often based on emotion than intellectual evaluation.

Campaigns get longer and more costly all the time because mainstream media producers see candidate spending as helping their own bottom lines. In other words, it’s also arguably a conflict of interest to base so much of the determination of a campaign’s viability on successful fund-raising. True, in many cases advertising is a crucial factor, and we all accept that one of the keys to advertising success is repetition across a wide range of media to generate the maximum number of impressions. Yet wouldn’t it be refreshing for a network or newspaper to cap the amount of political ads they’d take at some reasonable level?

Voters report they’re actually annoyed by the saturation of TV as elections approach; in some cases the result seems to be tuning out altogether. Meanwhile where are the balancing stories about what the candidates have actually accomplished, how a candidate runs an efficient and fiscally restrained campaign focused on issues instead of fund-raising, or which ads are to distract from facts or obscure their votes while echoing slogans and talking points in much the same way Budweiser hammers away with their “King of Beer” message.

Lame-duck MN Governor Pawlenty anxious to try a different job

MN Governor Pawlenty spending most of his time raising money and his visibility

Pawlenty knows “earned” media coverage is less costly than buying ads, and he’s got the recent examples of Palin and Bachmann proving the press loves provocative statements more than substantive discussion. Any “news” outlet is reliant on ad revenues, which are in turn driven by ratings. Look how quickly most mainstream media companies jumped on the Shirley Sherrod story – a hint of controversy and the race for viewers/readers was on without what we used to think of as journalistic integrity, all in pursuit of the mighty dollar. Pawlenty certainly doesn’t want the national press talking to disgruntled Minnesotans or economists about how his “no new taxes” mythology has driven down quality of life and scuttled the state budget.

Look for conflicts of interest in coverage, and follow the money if you want to understand Pawlenty — but don’t underestimate either his political savvy or the impact his “red-hot smoking wife” may have on voters and donors.

July 15, 2010

Deficit truth and voodoo economics

Posted in economic recovery, federal budget, GOP, taxes, U.S. Economy tagged , , at 10:56 am by realitytax

If the GOP is really serious about deficit reduction why does Sentator McConnell (R-KY) say it’s a “uniform view in his caucus that tax cuts needn’t be offset by other changes in spending” — do none of them think tax cuts affect the budget? There’s ample evidence that the tax cuts enacted under the previous administration were, in fact, the largest factor in rapidly turning the Treasury’s surplus in 2000 into the deficit under a Republican administration which mostly enjoyed a Republican Congressional majority.

What kind of voodoo budgeting lets you ignore a revenue decrease?  We lost 3 million manufacturing jobs while Bush was President, but the GOP line is that tax cuts will help?  Tax cuts don’t put groceries on the table of an unemployed person, but they do add to the deficit – it’s not complex math.

We’ve got to get more rational in discussing the budget and the deficit. The economy can work – productivity has nearly doubled in this country in the past 30 years, and corporate profits are obviously robust even as CEO salaries and bonuses have sky-rocketed.

Leaders who will safeguard the interests of ordinary citizens are becoming an endangered species in the Congress. In late summer 2008 Congressional leaders and the Bush administration told the country that big business needed behemoth bailouts our our entire economic system would collapse, but that Wall Street bailout did nothing to save blue collar jobs, reverse the outsourcing trends, or stimulate job creation. The bailout didn’t even stimulate lending, it just gave banks cash that went to year-end bonuses.

Bonuses – seriously. What other industry would award bonuses when they had to get billions to remain in business?

And now Senate Republicans want to balance the budget (and stir up fears about deficits) while they claim there’s no need to offset tax cuts with other revenue?  Think about that.  Tax cuts may or may not make be your cup of tea; they’re a tool in the economist’s arsenal. Yet to claim on the one hand deficits are bad and then turn around and advocate revenue reduction — in this case by providing tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens — without offsetting it in any way defies the reasoning powers we expect in our elected leaders.

July 2, 2010

Leadership and the budget conundrum

Posted in 2010 Elections, health care, media coverage, taxes, U.S. Economy tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:55 am by realitytax

Budgeting is always an exercise in prioritization; there’s never enough money to accomplish everything we’d choose to undertake perfectly. The vast majority agree we want government to exist, to manage highways and immigration and mutual defense and make sure our toys don’t have lead paint and our drugs aren’t snake oil and prevent monopolies and so on.

Accordingly, it’s the leaders we elect who have to run government well, although many lately seem to run on the premise that government can’t do anything cost-effectively, let alone well.

We’ve seen what happens when big business calls the shots, from Wall Street’s calamitous collapse (which hurt most of us considerably more than it did them) to the slip-shod operation of an oil rig that threatens to ruin the livelihoods of millions along the gulf coast and savage the oceans and shores for decades to come. The short-sighted profit motive aspect of capitalism is best balanced by governmental regulation on behalf of the greater good.

True leaders don’t sit back and watch as our jobs move overseas and huge corporations prey greedily on those outside their inner circles, they work on behalf of those who elected them despite the constant temptation posed by special influence money. I’m delighted there are, in fact, so many excellent elected officials working on behalf of Minnesotans, and I congratulate David Bly, U.S. Represenative Tim Walz, and their hard-working current and former peers such as Shelley Madore, John Marty, and the late, great U.S. Senator late Senator Paul WellstonePaul Wellstone pursuing solutions to everything from the MN Health Plan to our national budget priorities. Their tireless, selfless efforts are a model of how to step up and get work done despite naysayers who promote a “divided we fall” agenda exemplified by the smoke-and-mirrors approach to discussing the Minnesota budget that Governor Tim Pawlenty has relied on to further his Presidential ambitions at the expense of the citizens of Minnesota.

Hopefully this current election cycle will give us more people pursuing common sense approaches in the state and national legislatures instead of more political posturing and empty “anti-tax, anti-government” sound-bites, although from Fox to MSNBC the media lately seems inclined to let the latter dominate their “journalism” rather than observing that time-tested rule for investigative research and reporting: follow the money.

February 11, 2010

Are disingenuous “republicants” trying to undermine confidence in government?

Posted in economic recovery, GOP, health care, media coverage, mortgage reform, taxes, U.S. Economy tagged , , , , , , , , at 2:29 pm by realitytax

Now more than ever Americans question that Congress is ready, willing, or able to effectively govern. We trusted them with billions of dollars in handouts to Wall Street in late 2008, but still needed a separate stimulus bill to create jobs after a new administration took office, a process which has yet to make much headway as reverberations of the economic crash continue.

Some debate the value of Cash for Clunkers, too – mostly they’re elected to Congress as Republicans, and none of them work in the auto industry. But it’s fashionable to bash the opposition, after all. The media drinks it up, and it keeps their pundits off the foreclosure stories.

The “Credit Card Bill of Rights” was so hamstrung that banks used the interval to increase fees and interest rates on consumers. The American people fear Washington has gone wrong, and the media coverage of Republican leaders steadfastly refusing to compromise on anything has come to epitomize Washington’s gridlock.

Health Care Reform was one of the keys to President Obama’s litany when he was still just Senator Obama, a candidate for our nation’s highest office. It united a broad coalition of voters who believed he understood the unfairness of a system where insurance companies treated health care differently than any other form of insurance, picking and choosing the most profitable customers while denying those who most needed health care access to what is nominally a payment system. In fact, 55 Republican members of Congress who oppose a public option, calling it a “government takeover of health care” nonetheless rely on just such a system themselves. If “government run” health care payment administration is good enough for a member of the U.S. Congress, it’s probably good enough for you and me.

Meanwhile, medical bankruptcies will continue to occur despite the skyrocketing cost of premiums. Over half the personal bankruptcy filings in the U.S. are triggered by medical costs, but Congress spent billions to prop up rich bankers who didn’t even suffer a cut in pay, let alone lose their jobs or benefit packages. Set aside the uninsured a moment, the average medical debt that causes insured families to become bankrupt is $18,000 – compare that to the bonuses paid on Wall Street.

Corporations jiggle their accounting to avoid paying taxes, and the richest Americans pay a smaller fraction that the less well-to-do in personal taxes. It’s no wonder the Tea Party concept holds appeal – we seem to have returned to taxation without representation, and if there’s one things Americans agree on it’s the concept of “fair play.” Well, Americans outside the Republican Caucus in the U.S. Capitol, anyway.

Since it’s politics, we know we have to follow the money. We’ve recently cut dozens of taxes; Congress has left income tax laws alone which would normally put the GOP in a mood to smile. In this case, with one party childishly digging in their heels much like children who won’t eat their vegetables, we have to ask: “What more does the minority hope to gain?”

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