A Note on Now-More-Than-Everism

One argument I’d like to preempt regarding my views on how Bethlehem and Easton should reorient their land use regulations in order to compete with low rents in Allentown, is that I was arguing for these parking reforms and zoning changes before the NIZ, so maybe I’m just being an opportunist.

Policy-focused political writers often have a bad habit of presenting policies they favored prior to a crisis as the One True Solution to the crisis, regardless of how weak the relationship may be.

That’s not what I’m doing here. I have been arguing for pro-growth, pro-density land use reforms for a long time now as a way for the core cities to reduce building costs and better compete with *the suburbs* for development. Now that the competitor is Allentown, nothing changes about the prescriptions – they just become much more urgent.

What the NIZ has done is clarify that cities are going to live or die by the principles of competitive markets.

This was already easy to see before the NIZ, but it has now been thrown into sharper relief. Anti-density zoning is a huge cost, and cities will increasingly bear it at their own peril as the commercial real estate market becomes more competitive.


  1. How in the world is the NIZ the free and competitive market?

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I didn’t say a free market, I said a competitive market. There’s nothing “free” about the market for land. Government policy has been heavily tilted toward making low-density subdivisions cheaper to build than urban infill. Now state government has lumped on to that an additional layer of subsidies for Allentown. I would prefer to see Bethlehem and Easton and all Third Class cities get the same deal, but if they don’t, the only way for them to compete is to lower building costs. There is no “protectionist” way to compete. Protectionist zoning is the problem.

  2. Here’s my problem with this- if all the subsidies were removed, would anyone want to relocate downtown in Allentown? I think the answer is likely no. Now, if you removed the suburbs advantages, I do think you’d see people want to build in Bethlehem, for instance, but still probably not Allentown.

    My second problem with this is, more people don’t live in Allentown, but live in this region, than do. This NIZ only benefits the city residents in the short and medium term, and possibly even the long term. Here’s the reality- taxes will rise for residents outside of Allentown, and tax revenues in those communities will fall. Now, you can say that they should consolidate, but that will not happen, nor necessarily should rather large townships have to consolidate because they are put at a disadvantage by the state. This is not what’s best for the most people.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      You need to distinguish between what’s good for people in their role as taxpayers, and what’s good for people in all their other roles – consumers, wage-earners, landowners, etc. What happens to the tax base of the municipality where a person lives is not the only determinant of their well-being. I think the fractured tax bases are really confusing everyone about the net effects. The net effect is going to be to make everyone better off. If Allentown’s economy improves, life improves on net for Bethlehem residents and suburban residents. The governments they pay taxes to may be worse off, but again, that’s because people are choosing the luxury of having a too-small tax base. They could choose, via the political process, to support a regional tax base and be no worse off in terms of taxes or public services. If people decide that they value having a too-small tax base more than a larger tax-base with lower rates and more public services, that’s their choice. I don’t see why we should feel bad for them when other options are available.

  3. Rich, all the things you’re pointing out are benefits to Geeting. He wants to decimate the suburbs and destroy businesses and lives – and in his mind, that’s fine because the end justifies whoever has to suffer to get there. He has openly advocated for a sinkhole to swallow a commercial building on the southside Bethlehem, he openly told farmers “they could just keep farming instead of retire,” he openly hoped for suburban office buildings to be bulldozed, etc.

    So unfortunately where you care for people and want to pursue regional approaches, Geeting and wants to see them suffer enormous amounts of pain.

    Makes it tough to have a reasonable discussion with him.

    Hey there Junior, you might have missed it but I asked last week – what charitable work do you do? I don’t mean canvassing for Pat Slattery, I mean directly helping poor and children and others who need help?

    You’re lucky to be able to sit around day blogging and getting paid by George Soros. Are you giving back?

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I am for the most regional approach. Regionalism is about eliminating competition for businesses within regions. The best way to do that is to regionalize the tax base. As I keep pointing out, there would no problem – no problem at all – if there was a County tax base or a bi-County tax base. No problem at all. No need to raise taxes or cut public services in the suburbs.

      • Eliminate competition for businesses, and put them all downtown in Allentown? Frankly, I think that about 575,000 people in the Lehigh Valley would say we don’t want them there.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          Read Bush advisor Greg Mankiw’s NYT column on competition between local governments and see how much you like that idea. He touts competition between governments for businesses and residents as a way to prevent progressive taxation at the local level, and he’s completely right. A regional tax base allows you to fund public services with progressive taxes without as much exit pressure.

          I don’t think “all” businesses would choose downtown Allentown as a location, even with much lower rents, but the hope is that most new professional businesses and a lot of existing ones will choose downtown locations instead of office park locations. What would it matter if Allentown got most of the new professional jobs in Lehigh County if other areas of the County did not have to worry about funding a local government?

  4. There would be a huge problem because everyone knows services to the burbs would be cut as part of your plan. The whole purpose of it is to funnel money to the cities – that by definition means cuts in the burbs.

    Come on, stop making shit up.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      There’s no reason that a regional tax base would mean service cuts for the suburbs.

      • Yes there is- cities use more services.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          It doesn’t have to mean townships get less services than they do now. It all depends on what the tax rate is, and how progressive the taxes and distribution of services are.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          The politics of regional tax base and regional public services is really a fight about the merits of progressive taxation. Do wealthier township residents have a responsibility to pay for better public services in the cities like police, education, etc?

          • Rich, this is all code-speak for you’re right.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            I’m being very clear – it depends on the tax rate, and what kinds of taxes are levied, and that all depends on politics. I can’t claim to know how it would shake out. That’s up to the voters.

            If the regional tax rate looked like Allentown’s tax rate, that would mean township residents would pay more taxes to maintain the same level of services. If it was more like Lower Mac’s tax rate, there’d be a lower overall level of services.

  5. Rich, forgive Jon – he has no experience to fall back on to help him understand how things work in the real world.

    What will happen is taxes will increase and services will also be cut.

  6. Suburban taxes and suburban services.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      There definitely would be more redistribution of wealth from wealthier households to poorer households. But what is wrong with that? Especially on education, there’s a strong case for redistribution. However, with Lehigh County being more Republican, I would expect the County government to choose lower taxes and less services overall. The virtue of all this is that no one would actually be able to justify screwing over Allentown on services and infrastructure maintenance as badly as they get screwed right now. Once people actually saw those disparities in the budget, the unfairness would jump off the page and the current distribution of revenues would become politically unacceptable.

      You like that inequality, and you know you’d lose that fight, which is why you don’t want regional budgeting. But it’s a real injustice and it needs to be corrected.

      • Until Allentown takes steps to fix its own problems, no. And fucking over the entire LV with the NIZ is not fixing its own problems, it’s creating an even larger one.

        I feel no moral or ethical compulsion to help flush even more money down the liberal toilet of ineffectiveness. Show me you’re serious, then I’ll help all I can, including supporting more tax revenue flowing into Allentown.

        Since you’re on your moral high horse, maybe now you’ll answer the question on what charities you volunteer for, and how much you give back? Are you slimy like Al Gore and Joe Biden, who are miserly with charities? Are you reasonably ok but should do more, like Obama?

        • Jon Geeting says:

          We’re going to go around in circles on this, but the biggest problems I see are, in order of severity:

          1) The city has been bleeding tax revenue since the 1965 township tax grab through no fault of its own
          2) Terrible labor contracts and legacy costs pre-dating Ed Pawlowski’s administration
          3) Shortage of police officers
          4) The high cost of maintaining old infrastructure
          5) Too many tax-exempt non-profit and government properties on useful downtown land
          6) Higher proportion of low-income residents who require more government services

          The solutions to 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are clear – Allentown needs a greater share of the tax revenue produced by the region’s economy. 2 is an awful problem, but I do not know what the solution is, and I don’t think you do either.

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