I guess I did a bad thing at Friday's Economic Development Commission (EDC) meeting, if the article in the Herald-Times is any guide.
In fact, it must have been really bad because the story actually appeared on the H-T's website no more than a couple of hours after the meeting. I made somebody type, and type furiously.
What had I done? I said "no" to a tax abatement, and no one had ever said no, before.
Not too long ago the IU Alumni Association (not to be confused with Indiana University) sold a nice little piece of land out by Lake Monroe to an out-of-town developer. It's a beautiful spot, and the developer, who got it for a song, naturally wants to subdivide it into the most profitable configuration possible, which means the largest number of lots.
Ever since the purchase, the developer has been going back-and-forth with the county planning bureaucracy over the land, known as Shawnee Bluffs. Nothing really new here, except for a little snippet that appeared in last week's Herald-Times on the matter. A snippet that made me think it might be time for a CIVITAS exclusive, in-depth look at how land use issues really work.
Buying low and selling high
Land entrepreneurs (developers) make their money the old fashioned way: they buy low and sell high. Nothing wrong with that, but it means that a developer's success is measured by the difference between what he pays for a piece of land and what he eventually sells it for.
Every year the Census bureau estimates the city of Bloomington's population. In every year since 2000, the city's population estimate has been less than the year before.
In other words, the Census estimates that Bloomington's population has been declining since 2000. This leads to hand-wringing in some corners and scolding accusations in others.
The hand-wringers caution us to "not take the reports too seriously" because, after all, the numbers are just estimates, while the scolds posit that the city's loss of population is real and the inevitable result of liberal city government driving people out.
Both positions are, of course, wrong.
I guess I haven't really been paying enough attention to what's going on at the state level. I got pretty shook up by a couple of events this week but, when I discussed them with friends, the general reaction was "Greg, this is news to you now?"
What shook me up? Well I should be really careful because if I just blurt it out, I'm going to lose a lot of readers right off the bat. So let me try and bring you into the fold, nice and slow.
Mr. Daniels comes from Washington
What's the most salient feature of our federal government? Piety. Dogmatism as policy creating an agenda informed by primarily religious, not rational, tenets.
The Bloomington city election of 2003 and the Monroe County election of 2004 delivered a one-two punch to the area's economic speculators, liquidators, and rentiers (a fancy French word for land entrepreneurs, which is itself a fancy French word for weasel). In the city, for the first time since the 1970s, and for the first time ever in the county, the electorate is represented by progressive economic thinkers instead of the business-as-usual Republican cabal and their enablers, corporatists masquerading as Democrats.
I don't know if it will last (i.e. who can guess what will happen in 2006 or beyond?), but I plan on enjoying the show while it's on. And the show is all about watching the growth machine, which has never before been anything but the driver of its own destiny, suddenly having to preach pavement-as-progress not from the front, but from the back of the civic bus.
I caught some grief for the last issue's column ("Sodrel sillyness"), especially with regard to my employment figures. I don't agree with the criticism itself, but it was enough to get me thinking. Thinking that, perhaps, a column on the fundamentals of employment economics might be in order.
Apples and oranges
A quick recap: in the last column, I took Ninth District Congressman Mike Sodrel to task for a number of things, particularly his claim that the unemployment rate is "at its lowest point since September 2001." This is true, but my beef with the congressman was his insistence that this not only bodes well for the American Economy but for Republican economic stewardship.
My point was that, because of population growth, every single second of every single day, new workers come into the workforce and need to find jobs. Since September of 2001, roughly six million additional workers have come looking for work yet the economy has added only one million new jobs in the same time. In other words, how can the unemployment rate of 2005 be the same as that of 2001 if, as the Census tells us, six million more people were added to the labor pool yet only one million more jobs were generated? Might there be something, umm, fishy about the official unemployment figures?
Silver-spooned trucking everyman Mike Sodrel had an interesting column a couple of weeks ago. In fact, if I had been off my meds and feeling a little paranoid, I might have thought that the Congressman had been handed a piece of Democratic agit-prop, disguised as GOP talking points, and bitten at the bait. But something inside makes me think it was the genuine article.
It was just this side of "too bland" to be the handiwork of Democrat counterintelligence efforts. Typically the Democrats play their hand in that kind of thing by over-intellectualizing the opposition and finessing the other side's arguments in a way of which the other side isn't capable -- thus betraying the actual source of the missive. But, upon examination, I had to conclude that this was the real thing, namely the kind of thing you'd expect in a GOP welcome packet to freshmen legislators. Sodrel had merely taken what his party gave him and spammed it out to the masses.
I was going to write a boring history of community planning and zoning today, but that plan got hijacked when I got an e-mail from the news department of a local radio station. It seems that I'd been a topic of discussion at the April 29 Monroe County Commissioner's meeting and the station wondered if I might be available for comment?
I said "of course," but I needed some background on what had transpired, as I was out of town when it "went down."
What "went down" was my appointment to the Monroe County Economic Development Commission (EDC), a three-person body that has some oversight over the county's issuance of "Industrial Development Bonds" and advises the County Council on tax abatements.
What also "went down" was a whole lot of discussion about why I am not the kind of person who is fit to serve on the EDC.
Monroe County is one of approximately 13 "donor" counties in Indiana. What's a "donor" county? A donor county is one that supplies jobs, recreation, services, and/or retail to other counties. In Monroe's case, we do all four. People come from the surrounding counties, such as Owen, Lawrence, Greene, Brown, and Morgan, to Monroe to take advantage here of what they don't have at home.
In the vernacular, Monroe unwittingly serves as the life support system for other counties. In technical terms, you'll hear Monroe County referred to as a "Regional Employment and Retail Center." Again, the translation of that phrase means that people come here, from "there," to do "stuff."
A couple of things happened last week that illustrate nicely differences in our thinking about the future. In the first thing Dave Rollo, a Bloomington City Councilman, ran a guest editorial in the Herald-Times on the subject of energy availability and the impact that an increasingly constricted supply of oil might have on our society's development and that, maybe, we need to "think different" about the character of future economic development as a result.
The second thing was an optimistic news piece chronicling Monroe County's imminent remaking as a shining biomedical city-on-a-hill. A city where lab-coat befrocked "knowledge workers" will toil happily in a new local economy made of the "life sciences" churning out biotechnological wonder-upon-wonder. And, as I read about this wondrous transformation, I began to think. Was there a relationship between the two views?