Thursday, October 25, 2007

Correctly diagnosing Maine's tax problem

Personally, I’m weary of much of what passes for policy dialogue in Maine. Going back to 2004 and before, when the champion of “slash-and-burn” tax cap referendums, Carol Palesky, foisted her referendum on the Pine Tree State, we’ve had a steady bleating coming from all corners that Maine’s taxes are too high. Rarely in that discussion are causes for these higher taxes ever addressed. Ah, actually, if cause-and-effect does get raised, the cause is always those “lazy people on public assistance,” or some variation of Maine as welfare kingdom.

While looking up a former client on LinkedIn and reviewing his contacts, I got directed over to a very interesting blog, by a gentleman in Wisconsin named John Michlig. I’ve had sprawl on my mind since last week’s GrowSmart Summit and have been doing quite a bit of reading on the subject. I found Michlig’s blog right up my alley. In fact, Michlig’s fully articulated writing style and variant takes on sprawl were refreshing. Rather than the usual wonkish, or condescending missives that too often pass for commentary, when it comes to smart growth and sustainable urban planning, Michlig’s writing is smart, original and makes real sense.

Take for instance, his post titled, “Sprawl-based Growth is EXPENSIVE.” Referencing Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, by Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck, Michlig clearly delineates an issue that no doubt is affecting our tax situation—the much higher costs associated with the primary means of development that Maine, particularly rural Maine, is experiencing—that being suburban sprawl.

Maybe this helps define what was gnawing at me most of the day, last Friday and after, sitting through a variety of workshops, in Augusta. To hear presenters sit and tell Summit participants that all we need to do is cut the size of state government, is a misrepresentation of the values that I think GrowSmart Maine is trying to perpetuate (unless I’m totally off track).

Michlig's posts that I’ve read thus far, clearly indict much of what is currently being foisted on residents of our state by developers. Rather than drink the Kool-Aid of the “slash and burn” crowd, let’s begin to address our zoning policies and not weaken our environmental regulations (which is another point that David Flanagan intimated during his presentation, by using the code words, making Maine more “business-friendly,” which always means making it easier for “pave and park” types of development projects).

Speaking of Flanagan, he’s managed to garner another invite as a panelist, this time for a symposium of business leaders and economic development “experts,” hosted by Mainebiz and MPBN, addressing the supposed “Pessimism” that exists in Maine’s business community. Maybe Alan Caron should be a bit more careful who he chooses to model smart growth for Maine.

I don’t know about pessimism in Maine’s business community, but Maine’s legacy of feudalism that passes itself off as economic development brings out the pessimist in me.

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