Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Just Wondering

Among the many differences between a citizen and a city is the fact that the citizen will someday die. I have not truly come to grips with this verity in my own case but, alas I know it to be true. New Albany will exist when each and every one of us is literally, or figuratively for those choosing cremation, six feet under.

All of us profess hope that the future will be better, brighter, more prosperous for our children. What about our progeny ten or 15 generations hence? There our concern gets a little fuzzy. Who will those people be? Go back ten or 15 generations, and those people, though indispensable to our present adventure, are a little fuzzy also. Without them, we aren't here, and yet they don't really mean too much to us, do they?

Except, if they had been so consumed with living in the now, which was then, they wouldn't have provided us with a good then, which is now.

Which leads me to wonder, what would be the future value of money, which we extract from the commons today, to those who follow us many generations down the road? Specifically, if the current Youth Shelter is sold for the siting of a big box retailer, and the money is funneled into salaries, gas for municipal vehicles, or, perhaps cell phone minutes, is that a timed-release plunder of our descendants' rightful inheritance?

New Albany is a small city hemmed in by state boundaries, political boundaries, hills, and economic necessities and uncertainties. Unlike sprawl giants like Dallas, Texas or Phoenix, Arizona where the physical horizon is pretty much unlimited, we have cards from another deck. To be sure, we can grow to the horizon, but the horizon here is within easy walking distance.

Since we must be careful with our land resources because of land's relative scarcity, and because our limited horizon is not going to produce a bonanza of newly incorporated land to fuel future growth, I believe we need to explore a different model.

If New Albany owns land which is suitable for industrial or commercial development, we should lease that land to industrial or commercial users rather than sell it. The leases would be of an extremely long term nature, perhaps 99 years. That term is daunting for mortals, but the City is, for all practical purposes, immortal. It can look at arrangements on a scale beyond our normal grasp. It must do so, because it is not handling only the day-to-day business of its citizens, but the generation-to-generation business of its citizens and its citizens-to-be.

Land leased to industrial or commercial users would still generate funds into the current account of the City or County, but the underlying asset would be preserved for future generations. The future generations of political leaders could continue the arrangement as it meets their needs, at that time, or they could alter it because conditions have changed. Leased land users would make payments in lieu of taxes, and they would make lease payments.

Modern building construction is not undertaken with the idea that a Butler Building will one day become a piece of architectural heritage. On the contrary, such buildings are given a death sentence upon construction, when the structure's pre-ordained date of obsolesence is written on the project's cost estimates. Therefore, it does not serve the timeless needs of the City to pull a scarce commodity from its larder, and turn it over to a commercial enterprise in the hopes of simply collecting taxes for a relatively short while.

The long view need not cause a burden for us in the here and now. A short term gain from a sale of property will not have a sizable impact on the City's finances for more than a couple quarters, while ongoing ownership will produce continual, though lower in the short run, dependable funds which will support City services year in and year out. More importantly, we can make decisions today which will benefit not just ourselves but those who follow us, so those who attend the Quadra (?) centennial celebration will have something valuable to pass on to their heirs.

Some say it's always about the money, but I believe, and I hope, it's really always about the future.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'll See You and Raise

Looking through a couple internet news items today I ran across this story. It is a brief article and it has definite applicability to our situation in New Albany, and obviously the nation.

"Debate" on local issues sometimes escalates into irrational hateful name calling.

Attacks such as those mentioned in the Talking Points article poison the well. And, it makes one wonder, what can be the logical outcome of such bilious, hateful speech? Where or when does it end?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hope Springs Ephemeral?

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, so says the ancient Chinese proverb. The vote for health care reform Saturday night is, I believe, just a first step. Where the next thousand miles takes us is still an open question. I must admit to a nagging sense of trepidation that the bill passed was such a watered down version of what is truly needed that it could be counterproductive in the long run.

On the other hand, I feel that if something positive is done now, it sets in place a line of forward progress from which retreat is less likely. One of the most beneficial features in the House's bill is the ban on pre-existing conditions. Another beneficial beachhead is the simple notion that the government needs to be in the business of ensuring human rights to its citizens.

In some distant year, will citizens still complain that we, as a nation, have a dysfunctional health care system? Will the cause of that dysfunction be seeds that were planted by this legislation, or will it be merely the playing out of an intractable greed-fueled status quo which stigmatizes the U.S. as an outlier, vis-a-vis the world, in matters of health care?

President Obama has won an important victory for his agenda, but the House's product seems greatly diminished by its comparison to Candidate Obama's lofty campaign rhetoric on the issue of health care.

I remain hopeful that something will emerge from the legislative Cuisinart which can be seen as true progress, rather than a simple fig leaf to distract people who feel real pain and financial consequences from the current system. If Obama's push to simply get a bill on his desk by some target date is the sum and substance of his once-lofty goals, I feel he may be back in the community organizing business come January 2013.

Hope springs from the knowledge that nothing, absolutely nothing, would have been done without Obama's push and the sense of possibility inherent in majority control of government. But hope alone won't address greed-bloated insurance costs. Hope alone won't lessen the catastrophe of medically induced bankruptcies, which now account for the majority of personal bankruptcies in this country. Hope alone won't let us join the rest of the industrialized world which treats health care as a right of citizenship rather than a commodity doled out by a sacrosanct marketplace.

As I said, I remain hopeful a bill of real substance will make it to the President's desk. I remain hopeful that Evan Bayh, when the Senate takes up this legislation, will surprise me by proving that he is, in fact, a Democrat.

But someone who is less sanguine about the future of health care in America is the estimable Dennis Kucinich, of Cleveland, he cast a principled NO vote Saturday. This link lays out his compelling reasons why.

Me? I'm still hoping.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

220 and 51 is OK By Me

Sincere thanks to Representative Baron Hill, and 219 of his House colleagues, for standing up for meaningful health care reform last night. Saturday's vote is just the beginning of the process, but it's a good beginning.

H.R. 676 was the vehicle for truly revolutionary health care reform, but the climate of fear cultivated by opponents of that legislation's goal of people over profits left a second choice, H.R. 3962, as the only game in town.

And the vote was even bipartisan.

Now, it's on to the Senate.