Monday, January 26, 2015

You Get What You Pay For

I love paying taxes. That's right - this girl who officially registered to vote as a Republican at age 17, worked on Republican staff and never voted for a Democrat for President until this last election (that means I DID vote for Bob Dole in 1996) loves paying taxes. Obviously I've become more liberal in my near middle age, but you can't love cities and not love all the things they have to offer. Those services and the amenities that come with living and visiting cities don't come for free. Someone has to pay for them, and I'm happy to pay my share. Great places don't become great without investment - both capital and human - and we've got to be willing to make our contributions.

I get it -  not everybody wants to live in a city. And that's totally fine. You have to expect, however, that if you want to live in the middle of nowhere, you won't get the same services. In the last half century greenfield subdivisions have exploded, and here in Michigan a lot of those people pay way less in taxes than if they lived in the city. If you want to live on a cul-de-sac in a brand new build by the freeway with a new road and new water and sewer infrastructure, have at it. But you need to pay for it. So often those homeowners are paying way less and expecting the same services.

As one who works in the legislature there is a lot of talk about whether or not to raise taxes. Here's what we ignore in the discussion: people are willing to pay more to get more. Here in Michigan nearly half of our college graduates leave the state every year. Nearly half. That's astonishing. They disappear to places like Washington, DC and nearby Chicago because they're awesome places. The cost of living in both DC and Chicago is crazy high. Nobody cares. If you show me a 22-year-old kid who moved to Chicago and has concern for the high taxes and regulation, I'll show you a unicorn. They move there because there's public transit, parks, public art, lots of things to do on the weekends. And they pay for it because it's important. They'd rather pay top dollar for a tiny apartment in Chicago than a giant new build by the freeway. Because they get it. Cities are where it's at.

If you want to live in a subdivision you can see from the freeway, I'm not judging. That's not true - I'm totally judging. But mostly because I don't want to have the added burden of paying for infrastructure and things in my community - the actual central city - because you've decided you want to pay less.

Even though I love paying taxes, curbing sprawl is a very conservative concept. We should be making the most of the infrastructure and services we have, not expanding them so people can pay less and then freeload off those of us who are paying more. 

Here's the thing - everyone deserves to live where and how they want, but we have to be realistic about the kind of development we can continue to sustain. Last year the rise of suburban poverty was all over the news from Time to CNBC to the Brookings Institution. Suburban sprawl as we've known it is not sustainable, and educated adults are bucking the suburbs and moving back into cities. We all want the biggest bang for our buck, and we should be willing to pay for the services and amenities we think are important. I know I am.     

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