Monday, February 02, 2009

Monday Recession Blues

Hot on the heels of Homer's succinct summation of Arizona's new all-Republican state government on, well, the state of Arizona, we learn this morning that a Tucson city councilman has proposed a one-year waiver of impact fees for developers in an attempt to jumpstart the construction industry in the area.
The money that would be given up is funding that would pay for infrastructure and services around the new commercial and residential developments.

[Rodney] Glassman's proposal has broad support from the development and construction sectors. In fact, Glassman said he crafted it after meeting with several commercial and residential developers.

In fact? I'm sure he did. Glassman claims that allowing developers to forego impact fees would foster more urban infill development and curtail sprawl into the few outlying areas that remain untouched by the housing boom of the early '00s. Considering that the impact fees were instituted in the first place to rein in that sprawl, wherein developers were allowed to cram as many crackerjack houses onto lots as they could without being liable for the resulting exponential increase in demand for high-volume roads, utilities, public safety, and schools, this argument sounds just a wee bit counterintuitive to me.

Also confusing my limited brainpower this morning is the continuing connection of a metropolitan area's economic health to new housing starts. I understand that guys in construction need to build houses in order to get paid, but has anyone noticed how many houses in fairly new developments are standing vacant? Or vacant and unfinished? Or how many houses in established neighborhoods are for sale? Who exactly is supposed to buy and live in all the new houses Councilman Glassman is hoping to help build? It's not a big Habitat for Humanity project he has in mind.

It's a similar boggling argument to the one made by Representative Don Manzullo (R-IL) on Rachel Maddow Thursday night, in which he insisted that a better use of stimulus money than infrastructure improvements would be subsidizing new car loans so that American auto manufacturers would get the new orders they need to stay in business.

You take a $5000 voucher, you go to your Chrysler dealer or dealer of your choice, you buy the car, you knock 25 percent off that car, then you could buy a nice Jeep Patriot for less than $300 a month!

Well, okay. Buying that nice Jeep Patriot with government help still means I'm out, what, $299 a month, and that I've helped keep a couple hundred Illinois GM workers on the job for an additional couple of months before the company folds. The end result is that they're still out of work sooner rather than later and I'm stuck with a shiny new SUV I can't afford to make the payments on or keep in gas. Take the cash for those umpteen million $5000 vouchers you want to hand out and pour it into rail upgrades and bridge repair and updating the electric grid, and while it still may be only a few thousand workers here and there whose jobs are being preserved--likely none of them in the auto industry--in return for those continuing individual paychecks and individual boosts in buying power we get something concrete to show for it. We get infrastructure improvements that ultimately benefit everyone. But the Republicans somehow think it's socialism when government money is used for public works rather than for individual conspicuous consumption.

Pulling back to Tucson, now, the question remains of who benefits from impact fee suspensions besides Pulte Homes and Diamond Ventures when the rest of us are stuck with the bill for the new roads, sewers, and gas lines that will be run to the new houses. And what, exactly, is supposed to make infill more attractive than blade 'n' grade when the cost to the builder is all the same.

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