More gas tax thoughts

Up in the 40th Senatorial district (new seat) we have Democrat Mark Aurand facing Representative Mario Scavello (R). Scavello voted for the gas tax increase as a representative. This has led to the campaigns sparring over the issue and as BOH points out a Republican defending a tax increase and a Democrat attacking it.

Failure to reform today will result in a bigger hole tomorrow.

Failure to reform today will result in a bigger hole tomorrow.

The issue however is more complex and in my opinion both gentleman are missing the mark. At least in terms of a long term solution.

As with most issues the transportation funding problem we face is not a revenue issue. It’s a reform issue. Like education, the solution isn’t raising more and more revenue. The end game is fixing a broke system. 

To accomplish this first we have to acknowledge the relationship between transportation funding issues and land use decisions. 

Most modeling exercises now take land uses decisions as an input and transportation “improvements” as output or a reaction. This is happening right now in LMT as we try to play a very expensive game of “catch up” resulting from decisions to let sprawling development get way ahead of our transportation infrastructure system. That system today is already failing to support it. This will get much worse in the next 10 years as we assume massive unfunded long term obligations and liabilities.

Today, we have localities making irrational land use decisions resulting in induced traffic. Next we have the bloated and super sized infrastructure. This of course will likely be paid for with “someone else’s money”. In addition to LMT also think Fedex and Rt. 22 widening. 

The whole system is so convoluted it’s really impossible to actually quantify real public costs when your constantly “playing the game from behind”. Pinpointing the actual long term costs of development projects is step 2. 

Back to funding, for now the best solution might be gas tax. At least that is a user fee. Since we have no idea the real big picture costs of infrastructure improvements I prefer those using the roads are the ones who pay for them. Use the roads more, pay more. Use them less pay less. But again, this is a bandaid.

In the end it’s not the long term answer. We have to reform a broke system or shortly after this tax increase we’ll need another. Just like school taxes the answer isn’t more revenue constantly. The solution is to stop what we’re doing that isn’t working. Evaluate. Reform.

So while I think both candidates are missing the mark in terms of addressing underlying problems right now the gas tax is paying the bills. Failure to reform today will result in a bigger hole tomorrow. Aurand, while attacking the gas tax proposes nothing in it’s place. . . As a campaign strategy this may work with low information voters but most will see right through it. 

Gridlock stymies both progress and reform

Most residents in PA support liquor store privatization andseverance tax on fracking. (both notions supported by polling)

Yet we get neither done. And barring a last minute effort by Gov. Corbett we once again kick the can down road concerning desperately needed pension reform.

Thank about it. PA remains the largest natural gas-producing state without a severance tax. We’re the only backwards state with full on state stores. Both very clear cut issues to most reasonable folks. But we get no action on either since neither entrenched side will ever blink.

Why? We have hyper partisanship and a special interest vice grip on PA politics.  Is it any wonder Independent registration is at record highs?

Shameful.

Moving forward the hyper partisan crowd will crow about “victories”. Meanwhile underlying issues worsen. No one really ‘wins’.

‘Progress’ for Democrats and ‘reform’ for Republicans are words associated with action forward. But because too many leaders are governed by self interest we again get neither. It’s a shame because basically we’re trying to get to the same place. That is a sustainable state budget not reliant on brinksmanship and games year in and year out. Whose gonna stop playing the games and lead?

 

Heydt right choice for Lehigh County Republicans

Former Allentown Mayor William Heydt was nominated for County Chair tonight at the LCRC organization meeting. At the June 24th election meeting he will replace outgoing Chair Wayne Woodman who stepped down in May.

This is a good move for the party. The fact it happened without any contention is important. In a time when partisan bickering has turned off voters from both parties particularly younger ones at a record clip a show of unity is refreshing. By nominating a consensus builder we can hopefully draw more talented people into a bigger tent. That is how you win elections.

Half of millennials now identify as independents up from 38 percent in 2004…….. highest levels of political disaffiliation the the Pew Research Center has recorded for any generation in its 25 years of polling. Read more

Its important voters in the city core have choices at the ballot box. This past November in Allentown the county party under Woodman failed to field a candidate for Mayor or Council. Many share a theory it was perhaps by design. I don’t know whether that’s true or not but regardless its bad for the city. Whether Republican, Democrat or Independent most reasonable people would agree choice and dialogue are valuable parts of a good democracy.

We simply shouldn’t have unopposed elections in a major city like Allentown. Regardless what you think of the Mayor there shouldn’t be Kings. The fact that an underfunded Independent candidate did so well relatively speaking shows people want the dialogue created by choice.

What better person to help identify and cultivate quality city candidates and bring right of center viewpoints and perspective into the urban conversation than the last Republican Mayor of Allentown? Great move by the LCRC.

Right of center ideas like the market urbanism concepts championed over at www.smartgrowthforconservatives.com are important for the dialogue in our urban cores.

The 1st Amendment.

The Duck Dynasty “controversy” is the hot button topic of the nation. To me it’s simple. Phil Robertson’s 1st amendment rights were not “violated” and to say so reflects a serious misunderstanding or worse blatant distortion of the constitution.

Let’s review: The gov’t did not arrest or restrict Robertson. The FCC didn’t fine him. He wasn’t prosecuted in a court of law for speaking his mind. What happened was an employer reacted to statements made in a public forum. This is fair since Phil is a public figure and A&E is a private company.

A&E paid (pays?) him handsomely to be in the public realm. It’s a choice to accept a job as a television personality. After his remarks, A&E made a business decision that his remarks could hurt their bottom line. Last I checked a cable network can’t restrict 1st amendment rights, they can only choose not to give that person a platform. When your in the public realm your subject to the free market. If your an athlete, television star, politician, musician ect. ect., your position hangs on public image. Those who support you and pay good money for a product have every right to choose not to support it based on your public persona. This has nothing to do with the 1st amendment.

It’s similar to the Gilberton issue. Yes, “Chief Kessler” has the right to make an ass out of himself on youtube. But the town, it’s residents and elected leaders have the right to not be represented by a clown. So they suspended him. They exercised their rights.

Time will tell if A&E made the right decision. In the end it may have been a bad decision, but it was their business decision to make. The government didn’t interfere with individuals deciding what they think is or is not offensive. The gov’t doesn’t decide who should be rewarded in the public realm. In this case viewers and sponsors do. The gov’t shouldn’t interfere with the market. If enough people were offended by Robertson’s remarks then A&E’s decision would prove correct. Only time will tell.

The 1st amendment protects us from the gov’t making laws that restrict free speech, the press and freedom of religion. A&E is a private company with the right to hire and fire.  Robertsons ‘rights’ weren’t restricted by Gov’t. Today, this very second Phil still has the right to say whatever he wants.

The storm of reactions implicating some sort of 1st amendment issue represents a lack of understanding about what the constitution is and isn’t. It’s alarming when politicians take part. People like Sarah Palin choose words carefully to strategically fan fires for gain. It’s pandering. I’ve come to expect that from Palin but was disappointed when someone like Bobby Jindal jumped into the fray

Someone nailed it in the comments in the Bacon’s rebellion post below… “How can you be an elected official who supports the Constitution and get it so seriously mixed up with free market businesses?”. To me that is scary. When we have issues where the constitution is slowly morphing (principles of federalism, the ACA, bottom up gov’t) we need Republicans who understand the document they claim to protect. When politicians choose to distort it and it’s principles for personal gain you hurt the Republican brand.

Other good reads on this topic:
Phil Robertson and A&E Fight Not About 1st Amendment, Expert Says

Bacon’s Rebellion

 

Thoughts on LV rail.

Every couple of months we see another article about the potential for passenger rail in the LV.

I am a big dreamer when it comes to potential rail service in the LV. To me it’s ridiculous we are the population center and the location we are and have no passenger connections to the rest of the NE.

The latest article in the Morning Call focuses on new leadership in the LVPC who may be interested in taking another look at rail.

“For some, Bradley’s arrival this month as the new  LV Planning Commission director also comes at a good time. Bradley succeeded Mike Kaiser, who directed the Commission for 45 years. Rail advocates frequently blamed Kaiser for not taking their pleas to bring passenger rail to the Valley seriously. Kaiser always explained that he liked passenger rail, but argued that the limited number of people it would benefit in the Valley didn’t warrant the more than $1 billion cost of building it.”

As I said, I’m admittedly a dreamer when it comes to the possibility of passenger rail.  I’m all for addressing the issue. BUT the key is building a true high speed rail (HSR) system. And the reason is to make the system financially viable. If we don’t truly commit to HSR then I tend to agree with Kaiser that the market just isn’t here. Why? The issue with Amtrak is profitability. Today with most destinations the bus network is a far better value then Amtrak. *And this is with Amtrak benefitting from massive gov’t subsidies. This won’t change until we unlock the potential of HSR. As a country we’re behind Laos, Thailand, Turkey, and Morocco in terms of HSR.

*You can make the argument that the bus system also benefits massive gov’t subsidies via highway funding. Though not the case in the Lehigh Valley where LANTA operates on a pretty streamlined budget.

Chinese Bullet train travels at over 300 mph. I’d love to see more train routes in the NE and specifically here in the LV. But the key is speed. 300mph bullet trains like this one here could people from the LV to NYC in less then an hour with stops. Speed is the key to making trains marketable and profitable.

It’s simple, until rail offers a significant advantage over buses and even goes so far as to compete with ‘short hop’ airlines there is no reason to make the investment and I wouldn’t support it. Once trains are getting people from Boston to DC in 3 hours then folks will pay a premium price and the critical mass of trains will run full. Just look to Acela, the train that runs by far and away Amtraks most successful route. Coincidently it’s the closest we have to true HSR. Even the most conservative estimates show a 20% profit margin with some bolder claiming upwards of 40%.

People will pay premium for convenience. With travel that means comfort and speed. Show me a rail plan that addresses these two critical goals and I’d be leading the charge. The economic benefits of HSR passenger connections for the LV would be tremendous.

UPDATE: Found this Express Times guest column which uses 2010 data from a study that was conducted. It supports my thoughts that anything “low speed” isn’t worth the investment. HSR would completely change the argument. The study cites a 2.5 hour train trip to NYC. The kind of HSR I’m talking about would get you to NYC in an hour. It’s interesting to see train supporters absolutely unload on this study in the comments which are worth reading. I tend to agree with many that the study seems seriously flawed and biased so look forward to tackling the problem from a more optimistic angle.

Here is a counterpoint in support – Kirk Raup has worked as an advocate for LV Rail for 2 decades makes a great case for the why. All of his logic on the ‘why’ I agree with.

With about 80 percent of our federal transportation dollars going to highways and aviation, we should have the best and least costly travel and commuting options anywhere. But we don’t, and there’s no excuse for it. Decades of widening roads, building new interstates and performing endless work on the Turnpike and routes 309 and 22 are breaking our backs; we all know this nonsense is unsustainable.

(Speaking of highway funding breaking our backs….)

His solution is a SEPTA like system connecting the valley to other lines. It’s an interesting proposal. I still think my argument that only higher speeds can change the games makes sense. People would pay double the projected price changing the whole base economics.

 

Do not politicize Ross Twp.

I didn’t want to write about this issue here on my blog. But again today I read extremely ignorant comments on articles about the Ross Twp. tragedy. To preface this, like most people I have the information I’ve read in articles. That is what I am basing my opinion on. Perhaps more information will come out at some point and the narrative on how and why this man lost his property will become clearer if there is missing information.

I’m very frustrated because there are people who choose to make this tragedy into political fodder. It disgusts me quite frankly. Makes me sick to my stomach. I see it in comments on every article about the issue by ignorant people trying to move forward mostly wing nut agendas.

This man who shot up a public meeting murdering innocent people is no “property rights martyr”. Saying this tragedy is about a twp. who “backed a man into a corner” by unfairly “taking his home” is insane and ignorant. Comments that imply the twp. schemed some wicked plot to take this man’s land and circumvent his property rights are way off base.

The facts as I understand them are this:

  • This man had 17 years of notices and warnings to deal with the issues he alone created. It’s clear this man never had any intention on remedying them. He had no regard for policy or procedure; or the same rules the rest of his community somehow manage to follow.
  • Really this goes back to 1990 when this man bought a property with a deed transfer that read: “The above described premises are considered wetlands, do not perc (for adequate septic disposal) and no building permit is obtainable for construction thereon.” He bought a property knowing he could not build on it but he did so anyway. Everything stems from this. Again, nearly 2 decades this has been an issue.

 

  • This man maintained a property in violation of rules and regulations setup to protect the health and well being of his community. The conditions are well documented. Property rights are a two way street. Yes, they protects your rights but also equally important your neighbors rights as well.

 

  • When neighbors complained the twp. had an OBLIGATION to react. Most twp’s for the most part don’t seek out ordinance violations they respond to complaints. That’s how it is for the most part here in Lower Macungie. The township responds to complaints. A complaint triggers action.
  • The twp. didnt “steal” this mans home. They didn’t “rob” him of his land. They followed procedures and the court system to the only logical conclusion after this man forced their hand and refused over work with them over 17 years to address the issues he created.

 

  • You cannot easily kick someone off their property. It’s a long drawn out process. Our system protects deadbeats. Ask any landlord if it’s easy to evict a deadbeat. The system protects the property owner or the renter in almost all cases.

 

  • It was not the intention of the twp. to “get” or “steal” the property. After sheriff sale proceedings, there were no bidders on the property so ownership transferred to the township, as the lien holder that filed the action.

If you want to argue against zoning ordinances in the United States make that silly argument. We’ve had zoning in the United states for nearly a century. Without it you have land use anarchy. For better or worse the property value of the biggest investment you make in your life is directly tied to your neighbors. Without zoning laws it’s a free for all.  I believe in bottom up gov’t, the rule of law and a communities right to enact a zoning ordinance. Conversely I also believe in a communities right to not enact a zoning ordinance if they so choose. (Houston, TX)

Bottom line do not politicize a tragedy. There is nothing more pathetic. Yes, this brings up conversations about security at municipal meetings and yes I have some thoughts. I would not support armed guards at township meetings. You acknowledge we live in a sometimes crazy world and you take precautions but you do not live in fear. We need to have these important conversations absolutely. But do not use this to push an agenda. That isn’t a conversation. That is standing on a soap box and this isn’t the time.

Op-Ed – Scott Alderfer Chair EAC – Residents didn’t cause polarization

Scott Alderfer chair of our townships EAC (volunteer position) wrote an op-ed last week about the perceived “polarization” of the township. Here’s the link.

I agree that Jaindl’s proposed Spring Creek development and questions surrounding the rezoning process have been polarizing. And Conrad seemed to try to vilify residents who exercised their First Amendment right to petition the courts for redress of their grievances relating to the township’s actions in rezoning Jaindl’s land. So it seems that the polarization has been created not by some residents suing the township but by the township commissioners preferentially listening to one powerful landowner to the exclusion of thousands of other township landowners who actually live in the township.

Further Scott gives more evidence to the fact that the Board solicited very little in terms of feedback from township volunteer bodies when negotiating the flawed plan “A”. I’ve also spoken to a former planning commissioner who expressed frustration at a lack of available information on exactly what was being negotiated in late 2009/early 2010 that resulted in the MOU to rezone hundreds of acres of prime farmland into industrial, housing and strip commercial.

I’m disappointed that these commissioners never asked their Environmental Advisory Council, on which I still serve, for its opinion on the rezoning. We would have advised that rezoning for development in the rural, western part of the township would be a catastrophic loss of open space and of the quality of life inherent in an agricultural district. We would have warned that removing the agricultural protection designation to allow development creates a dangerous precedent that could encourage other agricultural landowners to demand the same opportunity to cash in that was afforded to Jaindl. In fact, the township recently received a new request to do just that.