Archives for January 9, 2013

Balkanized Local Government and Political Inequality

All of you who are concerned about growing inequality in Pennsylvania really must read Cities Without Suburbs and Little Boxes, Limited Horizons (PDF) by David Rusk. But in the meantime, you should read this pair of articles in Governing magazine, How Well is Power Spread Across Metro Areas? and Governments Resisting the Urge to Merge.

The political cost of PA’s balkanized system of 2562 municipal governments (not even counting school districts or special authorities) is severe segregation by race and income, huge disparities in public service quality and access, and an unequal distribution of political power:

But are all these distinct units of local government necessary? Myron Orfield, who leads the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School, doesn’t think so. Divided regions often experience disparity in quality of services. One of the most prominent such examples is the long-running statewide battles over education that pit cash-strapped school districts against their more affluent neighbors. Similarly, government fragmentation contributes to racial segregation in urban areas, Orfield says.

Another consequence of fragmented government is that competition among municipalities potentially hinders land use and economic development. “You have a lot of warfare between units of government to move shopping centers,” Orfield says. “They spend a lot of time fighting with each other.” By comparison, consolidated governments, such as the city-county systems of Indianapolis and Lexington, Ky., create more effective incentive packages to lure employers.

David Miller of the Center for Metropolitan Studies at University of Pittsburgh has created a Power Diffusion Index to measure how fragmented political power is within metro regions. In this post, there is a table ranking 942 metro areas by diffusion of political power. Four of Pennsylvania’s top 5 largest metros were in the top 20 (bad!), and when you include Harrisburg, all 5 are within the top 30.

Balkanized local government isn’t just a government efficiency problem, it’s also a huge problem for equality.

The Best Argument for Public Financing of Political Campaigns

Ryan Grim and Sabrina Siddiqui:

For an incoming member of Congress still basking in the glow of electoral victory, it’s a message that hits those in both parties hard — the most direct indication that time in the people’s chamber will be a bit different from the version taught in civics classes.

For new Democrats, that message was delivered on Nov. 16, barely a week after the election, at an incoming-member orientation held by the House campaign arm.

The amount of time that members of Congress in both parties spend fundraising is widely known to take up an obscene portion of a typical day — whether it’s “call time” spent on the phone with potential donors, or in person at fundraisers in Washington or back home. Seeing it spelled out in black and white, however, can be a jarring experience for a new member, as related by some who attended the November orientation.

A PowerPoint presentation to incoming freshmen by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, obtained by The Huffington Post, lays out the dreary existence awaiting these new back-benchers. The daily schedule prescribed by the Democratic leadership contemplates a nine or 10-hour day while in Washington. Of that, four hours are to be spent in “call time” and another hour is blocked off for “strategic outreach,” which includes fundraisers and press work.

Instead of expecting members of Congress to spend half their days begging rich people for money, the taxpayers should just pay for all the campaigns.

Why Willie Can’t Go Wobbly on the Single Trash Hauler Plan

Willie Reynolds hit all the right notes in his Mayoral announcement, but I thought this was a little off-message:

Reynolds has said he is humbled by Callahan’s past support, but that doesn’t mean he supports everything the mayor proposes.

He pointed out that he voted against Callahan’s proposal to include $500,000 for contract trash hauling in this year’s budget. Hiring one hauler to collect everyone’s trash has been a hot-button issue in a city where residents can pick their own hauler and fashion their own contract based on their needs.

Now, if you read carefully, Reynolds is leaving himself plenty of room to vote for the Callahan proposal. He told Lynn Olanoff that every idea has to be on the table, and in the graf above he’s only saying he disagreed with the inclusion of the $500,000 in the budget. This could easily be explained away as a disagreement about the wisdom of counting the garbage savings chickens before they’re hatched, rather than the merits of the single hauler plan.

Supporting the Callahan plan is the right move. If the message is that you’re the only guy willing to lead decisively in the face of tough choices, then I think this is the wrong issue to pander on.

Whatever you think about the merits of the single trash hauler plan, John Callahan is clearly the man showing real political leadership in this debate. He proposed an idea that he determined would save residents money, even though it would be unpopular with a vocal political minority of residents.

The politically easy thing to do on this issue is pander to the people making the biggest fuss, in this case the opponents, and avoid ruffling any feathers.

Showing decisive political leadership here means braving the fuss from the people with the worse side of the argument, and doing the best thing for most residents – saving people money and improving service quality, even when the politics are less than ideal.


Willie Reynolds’s Campaign Will Focus on Strong Neighborhoods

Good theme. I’ll be looking forward to engaging with some of the ideas in the Winning Our Neighborhoods plan this Spring:

Standing in front of his home decorated with poinsettias and American flags, Bethlehem City Councilman J. William Reynolds promised strong neighborhoods will be the centerpiece of his campaign as he became the first to officially declare a run for mayor.

While rising pension and health costs are big challenges for the next mayor, Reynolds said the key issue will be retaining and attracting middle-class families to neighborhoods like his own on W. Elizabeth Avenue. He said he will release the details of his plan, dubbed Winning Our Neighborhoods, next month.

“If we want to live in a progressive city, we need to take a progressive leadership,” Reynolds, a Democrat, told a couple of dozen family members and neighbors who gathered for the announcement. “Above all else we need leaders who aren’t afraid to stand up and not sit on the fence and make decisions that many in the city have been afraid to make for years.”

(Thanks: Nicole Radzievich)