If you don’t like reading about politics and policy, you have my permission to close this post immediately. I don’t usually post on these sorts of topics.
But I heard something this morning that I considered brilliant. I was involved in a forum on creating vibrant, livable urban environments (sex blogging is just a hobby… I have a day job). We were discussing the dilemma many cities are finding themselves in – their infrastructure (public transit, water treatment systems, public buildings, etc) is crumbling and property tax rates have been frozen or near-frozen for years. Citizens recoil at the idea of new taxes, yet the services they want and the infrastructure they rely on… they continue to want that.
The brilliant observation…. one of the panelists – an investment expert who manages a multibillion dollar investment fund – said there is a difference between investment and spending that politicians (and tax payers don’t understand). There are countless studies supporting the idea that ‘investment’ in transit, green spaces and other forms of infrastructure pays itself back many times over in the talent and visitors is attracts to a city. And going into debt (or raising taxes) to pay for that is good business – just like when a company borrows money for an expansion.
Another one of the panelists – the mayor of a mid sized town – said his city has incurred significant debt in rebuilding its downtime (it was a steel town that fell on hard times as heavy industry moved from the northern US and Canada down to Mexico). His city was in a total bind – no industry and an ugly, hollowed out downtown. He borrowed a fortune to build downtown condos, attract arts and entertainment industries, build a modern transit system. He is now seeing population and employment grow and, as these grow, tax revenues come in and he’s paying back there debt. His city s back to a triple A debt rating and is now considered a highly desirable place to live.
We need to get past this polemic of ‘politicians are bad; government is stupid and taxes are unnecessary’. We need governments to provide essential services and maintain infrastructure so our cities are livable and vibrant. And this is worth paying for.