Archives for August 13, 2012

Charlie Dent Goes All-In on Paul Ryan

Charlie Dent had already cast his lot with the Jacobins in the House GOP by voting for Paul Ryan’s budget twice, which famously included Ryan’s plan to scrap your guaranteed Medicare benefits and replace them with an ever-shrinking coupon and a wish.

But now he is pretending to be happy that Mitt Romney picked a far right lightning rod to join him at the top of the ticket, rather than an ignorable backbencher like Rob Portman.

Charlie Dent:

“Governor Romney made a smart choice by selecting Paul Ryan to be his Vice Presidential running mate. Representative Ryan couples a warm personality and manner with a keen intellect. He has focused on bringing America’s debt under control so that it won’t continue to impede economic growth and job creation. And, he’s done this in a bipartisan manner, incorporating ideas to deal with our structural debt crisis that prominent Democrats have suggested. Paul Ryan has offered serious suggestions and solutions that address the enormous fiscal and debt issues confronting our nation, and that is in stark contrast to President Obama’s appalling lack of leadership on these matters.

“On a personal note, there’s no doubt that he’ll be an energetic campaigner. I’ve done enough P90X workouts with him to tell you that he’ll hit the campaign trail on his feet and running.

Where Are City Tax Bases “Eroding” To?

Robert Swift says the state legislature will take up a few different bills to help PA’s struggling cities:

A bipartisan group in the Senate and House is working on a host of related issues, including an overhaul of the Act 47 program for fiscally distressed municipalities, municipal pension benefits, collective bargaining for public employees and the role of nonprofit institutions clustered in cities.

Since four legislative committees held joint hearings last fall on the future of Act 47, lawmakers involved in the effort to find solutions to the problems cities face with eroding tax bases and increased demand for services have emphasized its bipartisan nature.

I think the key question lawmakers need to be asking is “where are city tax bases eroding to?” It’s not like the tax revenue is just vanishing into thin air. It’s going somewhere.

Most of the time, the money is just moving around within the same county or metro region. To the extent that is true, that tax revenue is just following people when they move from cities to the suburbs, then there is a very simple solution: county tax bases.

With a county tax base, it wouldn’t affect city or township revenues at all when people move around within regions. There’d be no “erosion” of city tax bases, and cities alone would not be on the hook for clusters of tax exempt properties. All county tax payers would share that burden equally.

Regionalizing the tax base for local government is especially important right now as economic segregation is on the rise. In other states with county tax bases, it doesn’t really matter that much that rich people don’t want to live near the poors, since they’re still helping pay for the higher level of public services that low income areas require.

In PA it’s not like that. With 2500+ municipal governments, when people move across municipal boundaries from cities to townships, their income tax dollars follow them. This is the major reason why you see so many distressed older core cities in PA.

Regionalizing tax bases really should be the marquee issue for people who want more progressive taxation and less inequality at the local level, and this needs to be at the center of state reform efforts for these other bills to have any chance of working.

How to Make Musikfest Parking Convenient

Musikfest is an excellent example of why Bethlehem needs variable pricing for parking.

Most of the time, there’s enough parking downtown for everyone who wants a space to get one, and then at certain busy times of the day there are not enough curb spaces for everyone who wants one.

But during Musikfest, demand is really high the whole time, and this makes curb spaces and garage spaces closest to downtown especially hard to find. This creates a larger market for parking spaces, and so people start renting out spaces in surface lots around town. Some people are willing to pay higher prices to park really close, and others value their money more and choose to park further away and walk further.

Bethlehem could make this market work better through variable pricing. Instead of choosing a price, the city would choose an occupancy rate – 2-3 open spaces per block. Then the meters would raise and lower prices to hit that occupancy rate.

This would enable the same kind of market choices people are already making, but for curb parking. People who really value parking very close would be able to do so, but it would be pretty expensive. People who prefer to pay less and park further away could continue doing so. Variable pricing would simply offer a new a win-win choice that does not currently exist – parking very close for a premium price. Many people would like to choose this option, and the Parking Authority and the city would like to collect more revenue from Musikfest.

It would also cut down on traffic from people cruising around for parking spaces. The difference in pricing would sort drivers, such that those who want to pay more know to look for spaces closer, and those who want to pay less know to look for spaces further away. There would be less competition for spaces between the price-sensitive drivers and the time-sensitive drivers.

And then, when Musikfest is over, the prices would *automatically* lower, since the price needed to achieve the 2-3 space vacancy rate would be lower.

The new electronic meters make it possible to do variable rate parking. Hopefully the city will move in this direction, and at the very least, stop doing economically-insane things like giving away the garage parking closest to downtown.


WFMZ: Commercial Space Around Allentown Arena “Just About Gone”


Developers say space around the arena is filling up quick.

For 28 years Joshua Tucker has owned JaeTees Wicker on Hamilton street. You can even see the hockey arena site from his showroom.

“I think it’s changing for the good,” said Tucker, “I think you are seeing investment come in. I think you’ll see more investment come in.”

Tucker says he would like to be part of the downtown revitalization, but he also owns a prime piece of real estate that could fetch him big bucks. “We could possibly move somewhere else. We have been looking,” added Tucker.

Ha, thought I kept hearing from the nabobs that there was no demand for space in downtown Allentown. This is a good example of why Allentown School District needs to adopt the city’s land value tax. Land inside the NIZ is in demand. There’s a lot of speculation happening. By taxing land, the school district can tip landowners toward selling to developers who want to replace shorter buildings on Hamilton and 7th with taller buildings.

Economic Policy Is All About Congress

Harold Pollack:

In our increasingly parliamentary political system, the most basic domestic policy question this November concerns whether Americans wish to hand the federal government’s car keys over to a stridently conservative House Republican caucus. On health reform, taxes, and many other matters, a President Romney’s personal policy views would be less determinative than the views of his GOP allies exemplified by the Tea Party.

Americans have a President-centric view of the government, but the fact is that there’s very little the President can do on his own about the economy aside from his Fed appointments, and some executive branch policies that can make a small difference around the margins. All the major macro policy decisions require support from Congress. If you’re not happy with the economy the past two years, you need to junk your Republican House rep.

Americans Don’t Know What the Deficit Is

Larry Bartels:

Of the 1000 respondents in the survey, 93 provided answers to these questions indicating that spending would be higher and that their own taxes would be lower if Barack Obama is reelected; but only 15% of those people drew the conclusion that the federal budget deficit would be higher under Obama, while 55% said it would be higher under Romney. Conversely, 49 respondents indicated that spending would be higher and that their own taxes would be lower if Romney won in November; but only 3% of them inferred that the deficit would be higher under Romney, while 94% said it would be higher under Obama!

I don’t know how useful it is to point out that Paul Ryan has no credibility as a deficit hawk when most Americans don’t understand what the deficit is. The deficit is spending minus tax revenue. It’s the difference between what we are spending and how much we are taxing. But whatever Americans think the deficit is, it is not that.