What do our cities mean to the Lehigh Valley? — PA House Transportation Meeting tomorrow
As mentioned by Beata on our blog last week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Transportation and Policy Committees will hold a public hearing tomorrow, June 3 at 2 p.m. in the Commonwealth Room at DeSales University (University Center, 2755 Station Ave, Center Valley.)
This hearing — announced on May 11th by House Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph Markosek and Republican Chairman Rick Geist– is the third of seven hearings scheduled across the state. The purpose of these meetings is to allow community members the opportunity to weigh in on the transportation budget crisis facing the state and their regions.
Please come out and share your thoughts!
Something to think about in anticipation of the meeting tomorrow afternoon: Steven sent me an article yesterday about an initiative in Atlanta, Georgia, that allows the city, and regions throughout the state, to generate additional revenue for transportation needs.
In the article, Georgia’s Metro Breakthrough: Self-Tax Power, Region by Region, author Neil Pierce, outlines the troubles facing Atlanta:
With its spectacular economic growth of recent decades, the area has been convulsed by world-class traffic gridlock. The region’s roadway and anemic public transportation systems lag so seriously that Metropolitan Atlanta is becoming three or four “truncated” labor markets, very difficult to commute in or among. The situation threatens to trigger some corporate move-outs and represents a red flag for potential new employers.
And the solution?
With strong bipartisan support from a conservative Republican governor and a liberal Democratic mayor, and with a determined chamber of commerce president leading the campaign, the Georgia Legislature has finally agreed to let the Atlanta region — and in the process others around the state — to vote on whether they want to add a penny sales tax for transportation improvements.
This means that each region will have the opportunity to vote– by referendum– to implement a penny sales tax designated for local transportation improvements.
Pierce discusses the importance of acting diplomatically and working for a bi-partisan solution, and the strengths that go along with regional thinking. Pierce also mentioned the struggle Atlanta faced and it is one that is all too familiar in the Lehigh Valley.
The story’s not totally unique: there’s perennial suspicion, especially in rural and small town areas, of America’s top cities and metropolitan regions — even as these “citistates” become the engines of creative activity that drive entire statewide and U.S. economies.
Pierce refers to this as the “Atlanta vs. the rest of the state issue.” He also discusses the government’s former inaction as “a reflection, it seems, of its rural, anti-Atlanta prejudices.”
This recognition of the struggle between cities and rural/small town areas seems to be the main obstacle for regionalism here in the Lehigh Valley. Too often we are confronted with the sentiment that it is an ‘us vs. them’ situation. If the cities benefit, the rural areas lose and visa-versa. Atlanta seems to have found a way to solve this problem.
In the Atlanta model, a regional referendum is required to approve the sales tax increase. This referendum will make people within Atlanta, and those in the metropolitan region, decide whether or not the city’s transportation struggles are also their struggles. It will place individuals face-to-face with the question: Do Atlanta’s problems actually affect me and if so, am I willing to be a part of the solution?
Whether in Atlanta or the Lehigh Valley, regional cooperation is necessary because it forces us to rethink the real question of where we live. Without the regional component, those who live outside of city lines but within the metropolitan region, are naturally going to do whatever they can to keep the city’s problems from affecting their wallets. With regional decision making, there are two options– we’re either all fixing this together or it’s not going to be fixed. This situation should make everyone within the region ask the question– So what do the cities do for me?
How many of my neighbors, despite where I live in the valley, work in the cities? How many people, including myself, travel into one of the cities for dinner, sporting events, nightlife, or business? How many businesses in the rural areas benefit from close proximity to the cities?
How much of my municipality’s tax-base goes to infrastructure costs necessary to accommodate new housing developments and department stores located in the middle of nowhere? What is the current and future cost of the land consumption associated with it all?
When we start to answer these questions, the justification for regional cooperation become much more clear. Atlanta, and the state of Georgia, have found a way to allow individuals to decide what drives their region’s successes and failures without a forced tax-increase.