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Fooled once...

Cuomo and taxes

I just finished reading Jeremy Moule's excellent article, "Cuomo's Blame Game" (News, February 15). I am left with a strange disconnect between this report on Cuomo's autocratic governorship and a suspicion that the author and most of CITY's staff voted for him twice and probably will again. Appeasing a bully never works. Second- and third-time Cuomo voters should not be surprised when he steals their lunch money.

JIM HARTE

A better way

to reduce taxes

The combatants in the battle over blame for high property taxes – the governor and local governments – do have something in common. ("Cuomo's Blame Game," February 15). They're both failing to address a key cause: inefficient land use and development.

Surely, shared services and equipment can save money for governments and taxpayers. But can sharing snowplows be a viable solution when there is more pavement to plow? Can local governments expect to reduce taxes when much of the development they allow and encourage demands more public infrastructure (roads, pipes) and service expenditures (schools, police, fire) than it generates in tax revenue?

These rhetorical questions are not to say that all development is net loss. But governments unwittingly allow a lot of it – such as many kinds of housing development – and then have to raise taxes to try to cover the eventual deficits. Ironically, many municipalities try to develop their way out of these development-related problems with more of the same net-loss stuff.

The governor is rightly pushing local government consolidation to cut costs and taxes, but he isn't talking nearly enough about the massive inefficiency of municipalities doing land use and economic development planning in competition rather than in coordination with one another. When one town opens a big-box retail store in a region that doesn't have any more overall shoppers, a store (or more) in a nearby town – or within the same one – is likely to close.

Is this really "economic development"? In the absence of inter-municipal and regional development planning, we get redundancy, inefficiency, higher costs to local governments, and – you guessed it – higher property taxes.

A few wise governments have hired fiscal impact planners to scrutinize land use policies and development proposals to ensure that development creates more revenues than it costs over time –without sacrificing affordability and equity.

Lower public costs and thus lower taxes can happen only when local governments coordinate rather than compete, and when they overhaul land use plans and policies that produce costly development patterns. While this makes it sound like the burden is entirely on local governments, the state can do much more to incentivize and even (gasp!) require "smart growth" and regional planning.

EVAN LOWENSTEIN

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