Archives for February 4, 2013

Corbett Booze Plan Is the Ultimate Kludge

Keystone Politics visits the Op-Ed Page of the Patriot News today to drop an argument that Tom Corbett’s booze plan is way way more complicated than it has to be. To sum it up, we need to completely get away from regulating *who* is allowed to sell booze, and focus our harm reduction efforts on pricing, advertising and law enforcement:

The reason why this question is the most important issue in the alcohol reform debate is that if we don’t actually need to restrict who can sell alcohol, then we can reduce problem drinking with some very simple straightforward tools.

There is some good evidence that the factors problem drinkers are most responsive to are advertising and prices. So a better way to reduce harms might be to ban alcohol advertisements, and switch to a gallonage tax on volume instead of value. That would raise the prices of the cheap swill that alcoholics tend to buy.

There’s no question that Tom Corbett’s proposal to liberalize alcohol sales would increase consumer convenience relative to the current laws […]

The more interesting question is why Mr. Corbett has chosen to accept the basic logic of the Governor Pinchot’s complicated licensing cartel approach, layering kludge on top of kludge instead of just removing all the barriers to entry to selling alcohol.

The Local Political Coalition We Need

Bernie O’Hare sounds surprised that conservative Republican J.B. Reilly donated $1000 to Democratic Mayor of Easton Sal Panto, but I’m not. Reilly is a developer. He likes Sal Panto because under Panto’s administration, Easton is more pro-growth and pro-development than some other municipalities:

Speaking of Pawlowski, he gave Sal $1,000 last year. So did a lot of Pawlowski’s own crop of donors. NIZ developer J.B. Reilly, a conservative Republican, found it in his heart to give Sal $1,000. Robert Bennett of Bennett Toyota, located in Allentown, gave Panto $1,500. Alan Kessler, who is with the Duane Morris law firm, kicked in $2,500.

This is today’s reminder that the set of issues in the municipal issue space is different from the set of issues in the federal issue space. The issues around land use and development in particular tend to crack up the national party coalitions.

If you wanted to organize local political parties around the actual local issues, you’d have two coalitions:

In the anti-development coalition you’d have the Democrats who reflexively oppose new development for historic preservation reasons, or environmental reasons, or rich-guy-hating reasons, or anti-corporate chain reasons. And you’d have some Republicans who reflexively oppose new development for get-off-my-lawn reasons, or suburban tribalism reasons.

In the pro-development coalition, you’d have the Democrats like me who are pro-urban development for anti-sprawl reasons, or pro-agglomeration economy reasons, and for environmental protection/open space reasons. And you’d also have a bunch of Republicans who are pro-development because they support strong individual property rights, support economic growth, and take a live-and-let-live attitude toward other people’s business.

On Team NIMBY, you’d have politicians like Dennis Pearson and Bob Donchez and David DiGiacinto, and on Team Growth and Development you’d have politicians like Sal Panto, John Callahan, Percy Dougherty, Roger Ruggles and Ron Beitler.

If you ignore the nominal national party labels and view these local coalitions as the “real” parties, then it makes perfect sense for J.B. Reilly to cut Sal Panto a check.

I would like to see the local parties, and the Democratic Party in particular, make more of an effort to organize local politics around these divisions. You need to put together a coalition of labor + developers + real estate agents + environmentalists + open space NIMBYs to support an agenda for lots of new construction in the core cities, and no new construction on township cornfields. That’s the Growth Machine coalition. The real estate professionals and labor provide the fundraising, and labor and environmentalists provide the grassroots political machine.

In the last election you saw the LVAR do some mailers for Lehigh County Republicans + Geoff Brace, but it wasn’t clear what they were trying to get. I think my idea makes a lot more sense. There’s a common interest uniting a few of the different interests active in local politics – designating some areas where you’re allowed to build a whole lot of new construction. Putting together an informal party coalition to advocate for this interest would increase the likelihood of successful policy change.


Schools on Safe Routes

The Safe Routes to School program is one of my favorites from the Obama era, but this is a good point from Charles Marohn:

Where my concern lies is not in the goal but in our approach to meeting it. Today we spend money to study and then, in some cases, to retrofit existing school zones to accommodate bikers and walkers. There is an entire pyramid of bureaucracy set up around implementing the program, from actual government employees down through a chain of consultants and local implementation managers. I’ve interacted with all layers of this system in all manner of community and one thing has struck me as notable: I’ve never seen one of these people involved when a new school location is being determined […] We spend tens of millions each year (a ridiculously small sum given the size of the task) in an attempt to retrofit schools to be walkable. Would it not be far more effective to simply locate new schools in areas that are already “safe”? Of course it would be, so why is nobody advocating for this?

The big issue here is parking. Many municipalities require schools to provide enough parking spaces to accommodate all staff members and 12th graders, and many don’t charge for parking permits, or only charge a negligible sum. The requirement that schools provide a huge free surface parking lot precludes more schools from being built in denser walkable areas that neighborhood kids can walk or bike to, and forces districts to locate them in places that are more convenient for hundreds of people to reach by car.