One of the first books that I chose to reread is one I cited a few weeks ago on this blog. "Better Not Bigger" by Eben Fodor is a resource geared towards community activists, politicians and planners to educate them on how to take control of urban growth and improve your community. It is a great read, and I am going to be using some of its lessons here on SDW to try and debunk a lot of the long-held myths about the urban growth machine. "The Twelve Big Myths Of Growth" is one chapter that our city councillors need to know, so over the course of the next month, you will get the chance here.
Myth Number 1
Growth Provides Needed Tax Revenues
Reality check: Growth tends to raise local tax rates. The direct and indirect costs of urban growth place new demands on local resources and divert money away from other important public services.
We hear that the more people and businesses we attract to our community, the more tax revenues we will have. Supposedly this will generate surplus funds and enable us to get more public services or pay for a new library or concert hall we couldn't have afforded otherwise, without increasing our individual tax burden. Citizens hoping for a tax windfall from new development are likely to be disappointed. While growth does result in a larger overall tax base, it usually costs more money than it generates, resulting in a net fiscal drain. Harvard economists Alan Altshuler and Jose Gomez-Ibanez report that:
"The available evidence shows that development does not cover new public costs; that is, it brings in less revenue for local governments than the price of servicing it."Read the rest of the argument against Myth Number 1 here.
In spite of the available evidence, there is an astonishing lack of awareness about the relationship between urban growth and local taxes. One possible reason is the number of good studies looking at this relationship is still quite small. While our local governments spend billions of dollars every year on new infrastructure to serve growth, few have deemed it worthwhile to examine how much it costs, and who pays for it and who benefits from it.