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Tuesday, August 26, 2003
 
A Very Long Post on Metro Government: Part 1 of 2

I have been thinking a lot about the push for "smart" growth and metro government in medium sized cities like Buffalo and Rochester. I know that there is a distinction between the two, but in my experience the push for growth taxes and growth boundaries is tightly linked to the question of who makes the decisions. To limit growth or funnel it into cities rather than suburbs, you need centralized power. As a result, you need metro before you can have "Smart" growth.

I know this is an issue in Maryland and I wouldn't be surprised if you guys are seeing similar battles up in Maine and Rhode Island. For what it is worth, here are my thoughts on what should be done: basically - - the exact opposite of metro government. Pick this thing apart as you wish guys, I am looking to refine the argument and think it through thoroughly. I like ideas that go against the grain, but that doesn't necessarily make them good ones.


The best road for improvement for cities like Buffalo and Rochester is not the "metro" government model of centralizing authority. I think that centralization of power is part of the problem. The reason that suburban towns and school districts work relatively well is, in part, because they have to compete for
"customers". People "vote with their feet." School districts and towns have to be responsive to the mixture of goods that people desire - - some
people will want really low taxes, others will accept relatively higher taxes in exchange for better services, schools, etc... - - and people shop around.

In the simplest terms, when they see other areas offering something better for themselves and their families, they consider moving. In terms Jason will appreciate, people move when they see the value of the goods in another town exceeding both the value they get from where they currently live + the cost of moving + the pain in the ass. The result of this competition is that towns have to work very hard to keep taxes low and provide the right mix of services to attract and keep residents. If they don't, they pay the price.

Centralization - - whether through actual metro government or through redistributive taxes - - only serves to undermine this system of incentives. Citizens no longer ask, do I want to pay $25 more for leaf pickup? They ask... do I want people in wealthier communities like Amherst and Clarence to subsidize my leaf pickup The answer to the first question varies. The answer to question 2 is almost always yes. As things get more centralized, it gets less and less practical to ask the people questions about minute issues anyway, so these decisions are gradually taken away from the people and given to politicians to
make on the basis of their own self interest.

Unlike towns, cities are less responsive to those positive competitive pressures. Why? (See part 2)


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