Commuter tax on Suburbanites Working in Indianapolis?

According to the Indianapolis Star, Mayor Greg Ballard of Indianapolis is poised to improve the slowing growing city's competitive position relative to the suburbs.  The Star  noted:

"Indianapolis may be a bigger draw than surrounding areas in attracting young residents, but it’s got a problem."

"Right as they begin raising families, many in their 30s split for the suburbs — taking their growing incomes, and the local taxes they pay, to bedroom communities in Hamilton, Johnson, Hendricks and other counties."

Mayoral Chief of Staff Ryan Vaughn told The Star that initiatives would include a focus on improving schools, and public safety, both of which had much to do with the decades long declines of US central cities. Vaughn told the newspaper that "Ballard wants to focus on strategies to compete more fiercely with suburban counties that draw — and keep — middle- and higher-income residents."

Certainly, the fact that central cities are far safer today than they were when New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani implemented his much copied policy of intolerance toward crime in the early 1990s. Even so, Mayor Ballard has it right. Long term, sustainable recovery of cities as livable environments within the metropolitan economy requires both good public schools and an environment in which parents feel that they and their children are safe.

There is a cautionary note however. While the Mayor's office is on the right track in wanting to solve the endemic problems that have so weakened core cities such as Indianapolis, he has yet to take a position on a proposed commuter tax that would be levied against employees who live in suburban counties and work in the city. This would make the suburbs more attractive for employers who are presently located in the city. Further, it would make the suburbs more competitive to businesses that choose the Indianapolis area for relocation. Trying to attract and keep middle income households, while repelling business makes little sense.

North Dakota Leads Population Growth Again

New US Census Bureau state level estimates have just been released. Repeating the pattern similar to that developing since 2010, North Dakota, the District of Columbia, Texas, Utah and Colorado have posted the strongest percentage gains.  North Dakota added 3.1 percent to its population between 2012 and 2013 and 7.6 percent since the 2010 Census. Close behind was the District of Columbia, which added 7.4 percent since 2010, though its growth over the past year has been at a lower 2.1 percent rate.

Texas added the most residents of any other state over the last three years (1.3 million), a fifth more than 22nd ranked California, which is nearly 50 percent larger. Texas has added 5.2 percent to its population since 2010, while California has added 2.9 percent.

Utah grew 5.0 percent, followed closely by Colorado, at 4.8 percent.

Former perennial growth leader Florida continues to recover, placing 6th, with a three year growth rate of 4.0 percent. At its present growth rate, Florida should pass New York by 2014, to become the fourth largest state. South Dakota, Washington, Arizona and Alaska rounded out the top ten.

The slowest growing states were Rhode Island (the only state to lose population since 2010), Maine, West Virginia, Michigan and Vermont. A table is attached with the data.

States Ranked by 2010-2013 Population Change
Rank   2010 Census 2012 2013 Pop. Change 2010-2013 % Change 2012-2013 % Change 2010-2013
1  North Dakota           672,591        701,345        723,393         50,802 3.1% 7.6%
2  District of Columbia           601,723        633,427        646,449         44,726 2.1% 7.4%
3  Texas      25,145,561   26,060,796   26,448,193    1,302,632 1.5% 5.2%
4  Utah        2,763,885     2,854,871     2,900,872       136,987 1.6% 5.0%
5  Colorado        5,029,196     5,189,458     5,268,367       239,171 1.5% 4.8%
6  Florida      18,801,310   19,320,749   19,552,860       751,550 1.2% 4.0%
7  South Dakota           814,180        834,047        844,877         30,697 1.3% 3.8%
8  Washington        6,724,540     6,895,318     6,971,406       246,866 1.1% 3.7%
9  Arizona        6,392,017     6,551,149     6,626,624       234,607 1.2% 3.7%
10  Alaska           710,231        730,307        735,132         24,901 0.7% 3.5%
11  Wyoming           563,626        576,626        582,658         19,032 1.0% 3.4%
12  Nevada        2,700,551     2,754,354     2,790,136         89,585 1.3% 3.3%
13  North Carolina        9,535,483     9,748,364     9,848,060       312,577 1.0% 3.3%
14  Virginia        8,001,024     8,186,628     8,260,405       259,381 0.9% 3.2%
15  South Carolina        4,625,364     4,723,417     4,774,839       149,475 1.1% 3.2%
16  Hawaii        1,360,301     1,390,090     1,404,054         43,753 1.0% 3.2%
17  Georgia        9,687,653     9,915,646     9,992,167       304,514 0.8% 3.1%
18  Delaware           897,934        917,053        925,749         27,815 0.9% 3.1%
19  California      37,253,956   37,999,878   38,332,521    1,078,565 0.9% 2.9%
20  Idaho        1,567,582     1,595,590     1,612,136         44,554 1.0% 2.8%
21  Maryland        5,773,552     5,884,868     5,928,814       155,262 0.7% 2.7%
22  Oklahoma        3,751,351     3,815,780     3,850,568         99,217 0.9% 2.6%
23  Montana           989,415     1,005,494     1,015,165         25,750 1.0% 2.6%
24  Oregon        3,831,074     3,899,801     3,930,065         98,991 0.8% 2.6%
25  Tennessee        6,346,105     6,454,914     6,495,978       149,873 0.6% 2.4%
26  Nebraska        1,826,341     1,855,350     1,868,516         42,175 0.7% 2.3%
27  Massachusetts        6,547,629     6,645,303     6,692,824       145,195 0.7% 2.2%
28  Minnesota        5,303,925     5,379,646     5,420,380       116,455 0.8% 2.2%
29  Louisiana        4,533,372     4,602,134     4,625,470         92,098 0.5% 2.0%
30  Arkansas        2,915,918     2,949,828     2,959,373         43,455 0.3% 1.5%
31  Iowa        3,046,355     3,075,039     3,090,416         44,061 0.5% 1.4%
32  Kansas        2,853,118     2,885,398     2,893,957         40,839 0.3% 1.4%
33  New York      19,378,102   19,576,125   19,651,127       273,025 0.4% 1.4%
34  Indiana        6,483,802     6,537,782     6,570,902         87,100 0.5% 1.3%
35  Kentucky        4,339,367     4,379,730     4,395,295         55,928 0.4% 1.3%
36  New Mexico        2,059,179     2,083,540     2,085,287         26,108 0.1% 1.3%
37  New Jersey        8,791,894     8,867,749     8,899,339       107,445 0.4% 1.2%
38  Alabama        4,779,736     4,817,528     4,833,722         53,986 0.3% 1.1%
39  Wisconsin        5,686,986     5,724,554     5,742,713         55,727 0.3% 1.0%
40  Missouri        5,988,927     6,024,522     6,044,171         55,244 0.3% 0.9%
41  Mississippi        2,967,297     2,986,450     2,991,207         23,910 0.2% 0.8%
42  Connecticut        3,574,097     3,591,765     3,596,080         21,983 0.1% 0.6%
43  Pennsylvania      12,702,379   12,764,475   12,773,801         71,422 0.1% 0.6%
44  New Hampshire        1,316,470     1,321,617     1,323,459           6,989 0.1% 0.5%
45  Illinois      12,830,632   12,868,192   12,882,135         51,503 0.1% 0.4%
46  Ohio      11,536,504   11,553,031   11,570,808         34,304 0.2% 0.3%
47  Vermont           625,741        625,953        626,630              889 0.1% 0.1%
48  Michigan        9,883,640     9,882,519     9,895,622         11,982 0.1% 0.1%
49  West Virginia        1,852,994     1,856,680     1,854,304           1,310 -0.1% 0.1%
50  Maine        1,328,361     1,328,501     1,328,302              (59) 0.0% 0.0%
51  Rhode Island        1,052,567     1,050,304     1,051,511         (1,056) 0.1% -0.1%
 United States  308,745,538 313,873,685 316,128,839    7,383,301 0.7% 2.4%


Srirachagate Gives a Window Into California’s Business Climate Problem

I love Huy Fong Foods’ Sriracha sauce as much as the next guy, which is to say a lot. The red hot sauce with the rooster on the bottle has a cult following across the nation. So unsurprisingly it made national news when the city of Irwindale, CA sued to shut down production at the company’s processing plant there. The processing of the hot peppers, done during only a limited time of year because Huy Fong only uses fresh peppers, was alleged to be causing a noxious odor in the town.

This looks like a pretty garden variety dispute between neighbors and an industrial business. Clearly industrial odors can be a problem. I don’t know how long they’ve been in Irwindale, but Sriracha has been around a long time so I’m a bit skeptical something changed just this year. Regardless, I don’t think odor complaints are necessarily evidence of a bad business climate as there could be a legitimate problem.

Then came the state order to stop shipping the product for 30 days. The state of California decided that to reduce the risk of food borne illnesses, the sauce had to sit for 30 days before it can be shipped. Keep in mind, this is for a product that has never had a complaint against it for making someone sick.

How many businesses can afford to halt shipments for a month and survive? Sriracha has a cult following and so they’ll likely overcome it. But many businesses wouldn’t have this luxury. When their customers can’t get product, they lose the business. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if restaurants do turn to alternative suppliers. At a minimum, Huy Fong is going to lose a lot of sales.

Who in their right mind would want to do business in a state like this? And this is far from the worst case. It just so happens that because this is such a popular consumer product, it’s visible. If even these types of companies get shut down, how much more so a firm where this wouldn’t create an avalanche of bad publicity?

Urbanists put way too little thought into business climate, which can sound like such a shady way of saying cut services and taxes. But taxes are often the least part of it. It’s the regulatory apparatus that makes doing business in many places too painful to contemplate. This even affects city-suburb investment patterns. I’ve observed that in many places, the urban core is a flat out terrible place to do business, unless you’re very politically wired up.

This doesn’t usually bother urbanists all that much until a trendy business they like gets affected. For example, an urban farming supply shop in Providence called Cluck got sued when they tried to open. The beautiful and the bearded were outraged and the shop was ultimately approved. But there’s no similar visibility or outrage when a Latino immigrant runs into the red-tape buzzsaw when he tries to open a muffler shop.

If we want to promote investments in our cities and states, we need to be focused on basics like an objective, predictable regulatory framework that operates in the timely fashion and in which arbitrary denials, rule changes, and such are minimized. This is way more important to attracting capital investment than sexier items like streetcar lines.

This piece first appeared at The Urbanophile.

Court Rules Against California High Speed Rail

California Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled against the California High Speed Rail Authority in two decisions announced on November 25. In the first, Judge Kenny ruled that the Business Plan failed to meet the requirements of the voter approved referendum under California Assembly Bill 3034 (2008), in not identifying sufficient capital funding for the first segment. As a result, the Business Plan needs to be redrafted. In the second decision, Judge Kenny declined to issue a conformity ruling that would have paved the way for $8 billion in bonds that had been approved by voters, which were also subject to same Assembly Bill 3034.

Judge Kenny declined to stop construction of the project, which is scheduled to start in the Spring. However, the Authority only has federal funds for that segment, and which would require, in the longer run, matching state funds (which were to have been from the bonds).

According to the San Francisco Chronicle , Kenny's found that the California High Speed Rail Authority "abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of law."

The Undead Suburban Office Market

The restoration of central city living and working environments has been one of the more important developments in the nation’s metropolitan areas over the past two decades. Regrettably, a good story has been exaggerated out of all proportion in the print, electronic and online media.  

Exaggerating Core Population Increases: The rise of population in urban cores has been important, but it has too often been used to suggest the apparent, but fallacious opposite, suburban decline. In fact, the suburbs are hardly in decline, with 93.5 percent of major metropolitan area growth outside a 10 mile radius from city hall between the 2000 and 2010 censuses (See: Flocking Elsewhere: The Downtown Growth Story).

Exaggerating CBD Office Space Gains: Similar misinformation had been circulating about office space outside the nation’s CBDs (central business districts, or “downtowns”). Commercial real estate information company Costar’s Randyl Drummer recently described suburbia’s improving fortunes (See: Once Left for Dead, Suburban Office Making a Comeback).

“Some analysts wrote the obituary of the suburban office campus as downsizing companies shed millions of square feet, in many cases consolidating into buildings closer to public transit in urban centers.” 

It’s just not happening, according to Costar research:

“Overall, the suburbs have garnered more than their usual share of leasing demand over the past two years, according to an analysis by CoStar real estate economists. Since the beginning of 2012, suburban markets have accounted for a whopping 87% of office demand -- which is 13% more than their 'fair share' based on the total market size compared with CBD office markets, according to data presented at CoStar’s recent third-quarter office review and forecast.” 

Indeed, CBD leasing, at 13 percent of the total, is a full 50 percent below their current share of inventory (Figure 1). As of mid-2013, the suburbs accounted for nearly three quarters of the nation’s office inventory (Figure 2).

Costar cites strong suburban development in Raleigh’s Research Triangle, and further notes that:

A diverse set of markets that include Sacramento, San Jose, Austin, Kansas City and Charlotte have posted some of the strongest net office absorption among suburban markets.

This is despite the glowing publicity being given to core area development, especially in places like Charlotte and Austin.

The reality is that the monumental CBD towers dominating metropolitan skylines do not indicate downtown dominance. In fact, throughout the high income world, most metropolitan employment is outside CBDs. In the United States, typically 90 percent of employment is outside the CBDs. The suburban employment (outside the CBD) share is a bit smaller in Western Europe, Canada and Australia, but still averages approximately 80 percent or more.

The good news is that neither suburbia nor downtown is dead.

Can the Rust Belt Learn From Dixie?

Aaron Renn's recent piece on the Rust Belt has some formidable strengths that can be the foundation of its revitalization, but it has a set of structural problems that must be confronted to achieve true revitalization.  Current revitalization strategies, he suggests, are outside of each city's system or fail to bring the appropriate heft to lift all those who need lifting -- largely because they only obliquely address the structural challenges.  The challenges:

  • Racism
  • Corruption
  • Closed societies
  • Two-tiered environment and resulting paralysis

I won't rehash Aaron's assessment, but I do agree with it.

What occurred to me is that, if you think about it, the South's cities were in the same position following the Civil War -- and faced the same obstacles -- until after World War II.  Racism clearly plagued Southern metros and hindered growth during that era; many places were well known for their corruption.  The South certainly had a reputation for being a closed society, unwelcome to outsiders, and its history of reliance on low- and moderately-skilled labor made the South perhaps more skeptical of highly educated labor, just like in the Midwest.

Following World War II, however, Southern metros began to make great strides to catch up with and even surpass Northeastern and Midwestern cities.  I'm no scholar on post-war Southern growth, but it appears Southern metros took on these strategies to move upward and onward:

Tolerate Newcomers.  After World War II Southern cities realized that they could no longer rely on intra-region growth if they were going to prosper, particularly during a period with widespread migration of blacks to Northern cities at the time.  Southern business leaders rightfully recognized opportunities to bring businesses and residents to the South from other parts of the country.

Seeing education as an asset.  It's no coincidence that the Southern metros that have developed the strongest post-war economies -- Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Raleigh, Nashville -- are home to significant educational institutions.  After the war the colleges and universities of large Southern metros became integral to their growth.

Becoming a low-cost alternative to the rest of the country.  Prior to their turnaround Southern cities probably described themselves in terms of what they lacked in comparison to Northern cities.  They did not have the impressive skylines, the classic neighborhoods, the exceptional park systems or the infrastructure that were the legacy of Northern cities.  However they did have cheap land and cheap labor, and those factors became the driver that facilitated the development of what they lacked.

The above strategies, combined with the widespread use of air conditioning that made the Southern climate more tolerable, allowed for the growth of Southern metros. 

The Rust Belt should take note.  While the South only address race as the federal government made them, perhaps the Rust Belt can become a leader in addressing race matters.  If the South can learn to become more tolerant of outsiders, the Midwest can as well; it does have a legacy of immigration that can serve as a foundation.  Advocates of the Rust Belt Chic movement may turn the low-cost strategy on its head -- the Rust Belt has a unique physical and social legacy that those who've grown up in places with less would welcome.  And the Rust Belt has perhaps the greatest collection of public research universities in the nation (even if most are located in smaller metros and not the big cities), and they could be a huge driver of revitalization.

Clearly, the South did not get everything right.  But when faced with an existential crisis not unlike what the Rust Belt faces today, they adapted.  The Rust Belt must find its strengths and play to them.


Well-Heeled in the Windy City

A couple weeks ago, noting the apparently immunity of global city Chicago to problems elsewhere in the city, I asked the question: What happens when global city Chicago realizes there’s a good chance it can simply let the rest of the city fail and get on with its business?

I’d argue we’re seeing the results right before our eyes.

At the same time murders in significant parts of the city are even higher than during the peak of the crack epidemic, when the city says its too poor to hire more cops, when 54 schools are closed and a 1000 teachers laid off, half the mental health clinics closed, libraries cut back, etc., Chicago has found a nearly limitless stream of money for elite amenities, most recently – and appallingly – $50+ million in TIF subsidies for a new DePaul arena. There’s also been hundreds of millions of dollars more in corporate welfare under Daley and Rahm.

Investing in success is a great idea – if you plan to harvest a return on that investment to fund city services and your safety net. It’s clear there’s no intention of doing this in Chicago. I discuss this in my most recent City Journal piece, “Well-Heeled in the Windy City.” Here’s an excerpt:

Clearly, cities like Chicago must retain a substantial portion of upscale residents and businesses. Detroit and other cities show the results of failure on this front. Yet the moral case for elite amenities has always rested on the assumption of a broader public good: what benefited the wealthy would also make life better for the rest of the city….Under Emanuel’s leadership, though, Chicago has made peace with a two-tier society and broken the social contract. Rather than trying to expand opportunity, Chicago has bet its future on its already successful residents—leading some on the left to call Emanuel Mayor 1 Percent. The Windy City isn’t alone in following this strategy. Detroit has gone bankrupt, but that hasn’t stopped city government from lavishing $450 million in subsidies on a new Red Wings arena.

Since I critique bike infrastructure as part of Chicago’s splurge for the elite, I want to clarify that point here where there are lots of bike advocates. I strongly support bike infrastructure. In fact, I once gave a presentation where I said protected bike lanes and bike share should be Rahm’s top two transport priorities on taking office because they are cost-effective and can leverage outside funds. However, even the most passionate advocates must admit that the optics are bad on making a full court press on bike lanes when cutting core services elsewhere. More importantly, Rahm’s explicit rationale on bike infrastructure has been luring talent for the tech economy, thus it is an elite focused venture. For example, the Sun-Times reported:

Emanuel called protected bike lanes central to the city’s sustainability plan and his efforts to make Chicago the high-tech hub of the Midwest. Chicago “moved up dramatically” in the list of major cities whose employees bike to work, he said.

“It’s part of my effort to recruit entrepreneurs and start-up businesses because a lot of those employees like to bike to work,” he said.

“It is not an accident that, where we put our first protected bike lane is also where we have the most concentration of digital companies and digital employees. Every time you speak to entrepreneurs and people in the start-up economy and high-tech industry, one of the key things they talk about in recruiting workers is, can they have more bike lanes.”

I’m simply taking the mayor at his word. (See also here and here).

This piece originally appeared at The Urbanophile.

Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago More Violent than Al Capone’s Chicago and the Old West

Since Rahm Emanuel entered the political scene years ago, he’s been a master at manipulating the press to his benefit. A pliant media has largely gone along with whatever talking point Emanuel desired. Lately, some of the media has begun to put the spotlight on violent Chicago with its rather high murder rate. Banning or restricting handguns has not been very successful in combatting violence in Chicago.  The website Big Government reports the bloody details:

After Chicago recorded a terrible homicide total of 53 in August, September wasn't much better for Rahm's "world class" city. The city suffered 41 homicides, 30 of which resulted from 184 total shootings

September brings more bad news for Chicago residents. While Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and the Chicago media have continued to hammer the point that the "crime rate is down," and "murder is down," as of September 22, the homicide total for 2013 now exceeds the rate up to the same date in 2011 by two percent at 350, according to the Chicago Police Crime Data Portal.

How does today’s Chicago hold up at the violent memory of Al Capone’s Chicago of the 1920s? Not very well.  WLS-TV investigated the data and the evidence is rather stunning report in February:

Let's compare two months: January 1929, leading up to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and last month, January 2013. Forty-two people were killed in Chicago last month, the most in January since 2002, and far worse than the city's most notorious crime era at the end of the Roaring Twenties.

Even though the image of Chicago, perpetuated by Hollywood over the years, was that mobsters routinely mowed down people on the streets, the crime stats tell us that we were safer under Capone than Emmanuel. In January 1929 there were 26 killings. Forty-two people were killed in Chicago last month, the most in January since 2002.

Even though the image of Chicago, perpetuated by Hollywood over the years, was that mobsters routinely mowed down people on the streets, the crime stats tell a different story. The figures from January 2013 are significantly higher than the January of Al Capone's most famous year.

It’s not just the Capone era violence that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Constantly we hear from the media and advocates of gun control that we don’t want things to become “the Wild West”. In the last several years, historians have begun to look at this long time legend that was promoted by Hollywood movies.  As Ryan McMaken explains:

Historian Richard Shenkman largely attributes this to the legacy of those reliably-violent Western films. "Many more people have died in Hollywood Westerns than ever died on the real Frontier…[i]n the real Dodge City, for example, there were just five killings in 1878, the most homicidal year in the little town's Frontier history: scarcely enough to sustain a typical two-hour movie."

The old West with its minimal government and armed populace has never been too popular with progressives. But, the reality is it was never really violent according to Terry Anderson and Peter Hill. So, the murder rate of the Capone era and Dodge city of 1878 would be a major improvement for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Note: This post was originally incorrectly attributed to Wendell Cox.

Congratulations Senator Bob Day

Congratulations to Bob Day, who was elected as a federal Senator from South Australia. Day was one of six Senators elected from the state in the September 7 election. While most of the seats in the lower house of Parliament were quickly decided, the Senate seats too considerably longer under Australia’s preferential voting system. According to the Australian Broadcasting Company, Day’s election and that of the other five Senators was confirmed on October 2.

Day is an ultimate entrepreneur, having founded Home Australia and related companies that has emerged as a leading home builder across the nation. He served a term as President of the Housing Industry Association. Day has also been a author, writing a piece on one of his passions, the importance of restoring housing affordability in Australia (see The Land Premium that’s Punishing Property).


Our Federal Government: "There You Go Again!"

Remember this?

The fact remains that Congress has not passed a real federal budget since 1997 (“the first balanced budget in a generation”.) An “omnibus spending bill” was passed in April of 2009 but that is not technically a budget.

Congressional inaction has left the federal government running on extensions (“Continuing Resolutions”) of a budget that was passed when Bill Gates was still CEO of Microsoft, NASA landed the first spacecraft on Mars, and Google was working out of a garage. The last federal budget is from the time before iPods and iPads, before SPAM e-mail exceeded legitimate email, before Facebook, YouTube and Twitter – and before the global financial crisis that sent the world into recession and US federal spending into the stratosphere.

(“This is Your Government on Crack,” by Susanne Trimbath 02/12/2013).

As one very famous Republican President said (repeatedly in his defeat of Jimmy Carter): “There you go again!”

And, sure, this isn’t the first time the federal government has shut down for lack of spending authorization. I remember when my elderly mother and her sisters – first generation Americans eager to see the place where their parents disembarked after their long ocean voyage from Sicily – were so disappointed to find Ellis Island and the Status of Liberty closed that October of 1996.

The big difference this time is the way government is spending – which I discuss in detail in the article quoted above. USAToday has an article that summarizes just how different the government operates today than it did 17 years ago. There is a big reason Republicans might want to re-think shutting down the government. According to USAToday, gun permits cannot be issued while the federal government is closed.

Let’s hope one thing is the same in 2013 as it was in 1996 – when they re-opened the government Congress passed a real budget.