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A Plot Against the Suburbs? Dismantling the Right's New Conspiracy Theory

The National Review has decided that efforts to improve local governance is ... something bad.

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It’s true that voluntary tax-sharing agreements have been promoted by regional leaders in Northeast Ohio, most notably the Regional Prosperity Initiative, which — radical left-wing organization that it is — receives financial support from the regional chamber of commerce.

William Currin, the mayor of Cleveland exurb Hudson, is a leader of the Regional Prosperity Initiative steering committee, which helps promote tax-sharing agreements. He pointed out that these agreements are only undertaken voluntarily, and “everything they propose is of mutual benefit to the communities involved.” Currin, who is a political independent, said he was disgusted by Kurtz’s article.

“[Kurtz is] trying to politicize a nonpartisan issue: reducing the cost of government and protecting the sanctity of local government by collaborating with each other where we should collaborate,” Currin said. “It’s just laced with failed ideologies. It’s fear mongering. They’re trying to connect it to Obama. There is absolutely no connection at all. There is no grand conspiracy here under any circumstances.”

Currin said his organization looks at examples like Louisville — with its merged city-county government — as a model as much as Minneapolis. He added that, as tax-sharing agreements have evolved in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis has become the biggest contributor.

If you actually examine the way money flows in Ohio, you might notice that suburbs and rural areas are often beneficiaries of “redistribution.” Over the past few decades, for example, the state of Ohio and local governments have  provided tax incentives for 14,500 jobs to move farther from the city of Cleveland.

Ironically, Kurtz holds up poor victimized Avon, Ohio — an affluent Cleveland exurb — as an example. Leaders of Northeast Ohio’s metropolitan planning agency, NOACA, forced Avon to agree to tax-sharing in exchange for a brand new interchange that was designed to spur private development, not solve any pressing transportation need. Numbers from the Ohio Department of Transportation, however, reveal Avon to be more a beneficiary of redistribution than a victim.

Source: ODOT


This chart shows shows per capita transportation spending in Avon (median household income $81,000) versus Cleveland (median household income $27,000) in 2009. It shows the direction that redistribution has long flowed in Northeast Ohio: out, out, out — away from the central city.

According to a 2003 study by  Brookings: “In Ohio, however, urban counties consistently took home a smaller share of state highway funds than suburban and rural counties relative to their amount of vehicle traffic (vehicle miles traveled), car ownership (vehicle registrations), and demand for driving (gasoline sales). On the flipside, rural counties received more dollars for each indicator of need than did urban or suburban counties.”

What I want to know is, where were Kurtz and his friends at the National Review when that report was released? Did they decry “redistribution” from cities to rural areas? Of course not. The truth is, writers like Kurtz don’t really have a problem with “redistribution” when it benefits their constituencies.

At its core, Kurtz’s article isn’t about policy. What he’s is setting up is a discussion about identity — suburban versus urban. And in many regions, including Cleveland, where the central city is 53 percent African American, Kurtz’s ideas amount to a thinly veiled appeal to racial identity. You don’t have to strain your ears too much to hear the sound he’s making… it’s a high-pitched whistle.

Angie Schmitt is a newspaper reporter-turned planner/advocate who manages the Streetsblog Network from glamorous Cleveland, Ohio. She also writes about urban issues particular to the industrial Midwest at Rustwire.com.

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