Published in The Enterprise, 3-30-98
The "Flat" Tax Proposal: Unfair, Deceptive, and Fiscally Irresponsible
So what's wrong with a "flat tax" system that would tax everyone at the same rate, without all the complications of the present tax code? After all, it sounds simple and fair.
It is simple. After all, it would abolish almost all tax deductions (including deductions for charitable contributions and for mortgage interest), credits, and exclusions in both personal and corporate income taxes. But the proposed tax is not "flat". And it is not fair.
The Grand Tetons would be "flat" if we decided not to take into account any of their peaks. So, too, the so-called "flat tax" would be "flat" if, as "flat" tax advocates propose, we took into account only earned income (that is, income primarily earned from one's labors) and ignored investment income (such as interest and dividends), capital gains and inheritances.
Anyone seriously advocating a "flat" tax must explain why a woman who cleans Steve Forbes's house should pay 20% of her income in taxes, while Forbes would pay no tax whatsoever on his millions in income from trading in stocks and bonds, sale of real estate, and interest paid on investments. Why should the cleaning woman be burdened with far more than her share of the cost of roads, law enforcement, military defense, deposit insurance, and the many other things our government provides, while Forbes gets a free ride because he doesn't perform labor for his income? (A February 1998 analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice found that, under his "flat" tax plan, Steve Forbes personally would save a total of $1.9 billion over the remainder of his life.)
One of the seeming attractions of a "flat" tax is that loopholes will be eliminated, making certain the rich will pay as much in taxes as the average taxpayer. However, the fact is that, generally, the wealthy already pay more in taxes than others. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, those who are among the top 1% in income in this country pay over 27% of their earnings to the IRS, compared to the 5% in taxes paid by those earning the median income. Notwithstanding those averages, it is true that enormous loopholes allow some of the wealthiest to avoid taxes. To solve that problem, Congress could simply close the loopholes - after cleaning up our campaign finance system, which has allowed campaign contributors to buy the loopholes in the first place.
Under the "flat" tax proposals now being touted, corporations would no longer deduct fringe benefits like health care. And workers would be taxed on them. So what can we expect? Either less health care coverage for employees, or a reduction in wages over the long-term. A bad deal for working men and women - but that would be only the beginning.
Under Steve Forbes's "flat" tax plan, a family earning $1 million a year would have saved $168,836 in taxes - a reduction of 68%. According to the "flat" tax advocates, everyone will receive a tax break.
"Just wait a minute," you say. How can we balance the budget, begin paying down our horrendous accumulated debt, and reduce taxes for everyone?
We can't, of course. Instead, the "flat" tax would throw future federal budgets out of balance, increase our nation's accumulated debt (as well as the interest payments on that debt), and increase the tax burden for the middle class. According to a 1996 analysis, the "flat" tax plan of House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) would have reduced federal revenues by $38 billion. In his recent constituent mailing, Rep. Merrill Cook asserts that the "flat" tax proposal he advocates would cut federal revenues by "about $30 billion." Citizens for Tax Justice estimates the Armey 20% "flat" tax proposal would add about $49 billion to the annual federal budget deficit, with the loss in revenues increasing to $156 billion annually at the 17% rate contemplated to commence three years after the "flat" tax is implemented. Anyone advocating such a plan cannot seriously be interested in long-term tax relief, which will be possible only if we maintain a budget surplus, pay down our accumulated debt, and significantly reduce the colossal interest burdens our nation now carries.
And what about the added burden upon the middle class arising from the huge tax breaks to the wealthiest under the "flat" tax plans? The gurus of the "flat" tax, Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka, who developed a revenue neutral "flat" tax proposal, noted that "it is an obvious mathematical law that lower taxes on the successful will have to be made up by higher taxes on average people." A recent analysis of Armey's "flat" tax plan by the Treasury Department found that under the proposed 20 percent tax rate, taxes would increase by an average of about $1,000 or more for families with income under $200,000. Families with incomes over $200,000 would enjoy an average of 50% tax cuts.
We would expect no less from Dick Armey, an extremist who has advocated an end to minimum-wage laws, abolition of the earned-income tax credit for the working poor, the elimination of environmental regulations, and an end to Medicare and employer-paid health insurance. However, this country cannot afford - and should not tolerate - a return to the voodoo economics of the trickle-downers, who would shift the tax burden further from the wealthiest few to the middle class and drive up our nation's annual deficits, accumulated debt, and wasteful interest obligations.
Certainly our tax code is far too complex, replete with loopholes and, in many respects, unfair. However, further burdening the middle class and creating one huge loophole, such as the exemption of all unearned income from taxation, is not a solution. We can create a simpler, more equitable, and less onerous tax system, and be fiscally responsible at the same time, by cutting out unwarranted loopholes, maintaining progressivity in tax rates, and re-writing the tax code so the average taxpayer can read, understand and apply it.
Published in The Enterprise, 4-6-98
Substitute Simple, Non-Regressive Sales Tax for Outrageous Income Tax System
April 15th is approaching.
Sounds like the title of a horror film, doesn't it? "Psycho." "Friday the 13th." "April 15th is Approaching." Which strikes more fear and loathing in your heart?
But it doesn't have to be like this. A government should never be allowed to intrude in our personal lives the way ours does in relation to income taxation.
We are required to keep detailed records, sometimes on a daily basis. We have to wade through unintelligible forms and instructions, never coming close to understanding the underlying laws. Many of us have to hire lawyers, accountants or other tax-return-preparers, spending large sums of money and many hours in the process of filling out forms and schedules. (Americans spend an estimated $300 billion on taxation compliance – an amount equal to a full year's economic growth.) And our privacy is breached in many ways that are rendered no less offensive because we are repeatedly subjected to these unnecessary abuses.
Our tax laws, comprised of thousands of pages of an incomprehensible tax code and regulations, are largely a grab-bag of favors for those who, through their campaign contributions, have purchased exemptions, credits, deductions and other assorted loopholes. A supposed fair, progressive tax system has deteriorated into an abusive, inequitable system that causes us to perceive our government more as a diabolical Big Brother than as an amiable Uncle Sam.
Everyone seems to agree that our system of taxation is outrageously intrusive, arcane and oppressive. And it discourages savings and investment, at a tremendous cost to our economy.
A solution to most of what is wrong with our current income tax system would be to tax consumption only – and in the process abolish the Internal Revenue Service. A national sales tax would certainly simplify most of our lives. And it would provide a means of collecting a fair share of taxes from those who currently do not report income.
A transition from an income tax to a sales tax would strengthen our economy and offer important freedoms most of us have never known during our adult lives. The present tax bias against working, saving and investing would be obliterated, providing significant new capital for business growth – and significantly lower interest rates for everyone. And we would all be spared the annoyance and inconvenience of having to maintain detailed records and suffer through the annual torture of tax preparation.
While extolling the virtues of a national sales tax, however, we must be careful to attend to the details – and to the equities. Regressiveness in any tax system should never be permitted, yet that is exactly what would result from many of the sales tax proposals currently being bandied about.
Assume a 23% sales tax applied to all retail items, including food. And assume two people, Jane, who earns $45,000 a year, and Margaret, who earns $250,000 annually. They each have three children at home and each spends $10,000 a year on food. Each would pay $2,300 in sales tax on the food, but the tax would equal 5.1% of Jane's income, while it would only be .92% of Margaret's earnings. In terms of their percentages of income, Jane would be paying about 5 ½ times more than Margaret.
That is a regressive tax. And it is unfair – at least at certain levels of income.
Such regressiveness can be ameliorated in several ways. We could exempt sales tax from food, medicine and rent. Or we could, through more complex means, rebate to lower-income families the taxes they are likely to pay for life's necessities.
While we are at it, we should abolish the astoundingly regressive Social Security payroll tax, and more fairly – and honestly – include Social Security obligations to our senior citizens in our nation's general budget.
If we want an end to the I.R.S., if we want an end to income taxes, and if we want the most equitable system of taxation, a non-regressive sales tax is the answer. Under such a system, each of us can decide what and when we will be taxed, according to our consumption decisions. If we want to save or invest, we won't be taxed on the money saved or invested. When we decide to spend, we will be taxed. It will be that easy – and that liberating.
And just imagine. When you hear the words, "April 15th is approaching," you will be thinking only of such things as flowers, romance, and spring skiing.
Published in The Enterprise, 9-15-97
The Bigotry du Jour - Arabs, Muslims and Terrorism
Most of us do not like to think of ourselves as bigots. We know of the horrendous damage done to so many people throughout the centuries because of bigotry. The Roman oppression of the Jews and Christians, the Inquisition, the Crusades, Slavery, the Holocaust, Ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and now Kosovo. Bloodbaths in Rwanda, the Ku Klux Klan, the list goes on and on.
Bigotry seems to be ubiquitous - always with irrational, cruel, tragic consequences for huge numbers of innocent people.
Bigotry raises its ugly head in many ways. It arises from unfamiliarity with - and, therefore, fear of - those who are different from us. (See, for instance, Pat Buchanan's characteristically racist column in the August 25, 1997 issue of The Enterprise, in which he laments that, as Americans, we are no longer a "people of a common heritage, history, language, faith, culture, customs and heroes," but that we are letting immigrants enter our nation who are shrinking "our European ethnic core.") Bigotry is also promoted by a sense that our nation or religion is the best one, or the only "true" one, and others who are not a part of it are mistaken, inferior and perhaps even an obstacle to the will of God. Finally, the flames of bigotry are stoked by much of our press and many of our politicians.
We each may think we rise above those influences. However, we are all affected to some degree. For instance, ask yourself: What image first comes to mind when you hear the word "terrorist"?
Do you think of the CIA agents who counseled the Nicaraguan contras during the 1980's how to kill and kidnap government officials and instill terror in the civilian population? Does the word "terrorist" first bring to your mind Menachem Begin and his followers, who, in 1946, blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people, and two years later massacred 254 defenseless Palestinian civilians (including about 100 women and children) in the peaceful village of Deir Yassin? Is your first association with the word "terrorist" the Christian Phalangists in Beirut who, in 1982, butchered hundreds of helpless Muslim men, women and children in the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps? At the mention of the word "terrorist", do you picture in your imagination the FBI agents who unnecessarily and sadistically pumped a debilitating, and often fatal, chemical (O-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, not tear gas as the press misrepresented following the debacle) into the Waco Branch Davidian compound, where 76 Davidian members, including 25 children (17 under the age of 10) and 30 women, were killed?
No. I would wager that your first association with the word "terrorist" would be either "Muslim" or "Arab". The truth is, many of us have become terrible bigots toward Muslims and Arabs. And, inexplicably, such bigotry has not yet attained the status of being politically incorrect.
As should be obvious, only a relatively few Arabs or Muslims are "terrorists". There are roughly one billion Muslims throughout the world, most of them law-abiding, peace-loving people who work and care for their families and friends like most of the rest of humanity. Further, with approximately seven million Muslims in the United States, Islam is the second largest religion in the United States after Christianity. If we are searching for shared traditions, most of us need look no further than to Abraham and Sarah, forebears of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
To smear all Muslims and Arabs with the perception that they are "terrorists" or supportive of terrorism is no more justified than saying that all Christians are terrorists because some of them engage in terrorism in Ireland, or asserting that all Jews are terrorists because of the shelling of innocent civilians in Lebanon by military personnel from Israel.
We would all be better served to portray Arabs and Muslims as the vast majority of them actually are - people of high values, huge accomplishments and rich cultures. And we should keep in mind that bigotry is harmful to everyone, creating unjustified misery for its targets and diminishing the humanity, and destroying the souls, of the bigot.
ENSURING VICTORY FOR COMMUNITY TRANSPORTATION
Address of Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson
The Community Transportation Association of America
Salt Lake City, Utah
Tuesday, May 22, 2001
Three and a half years ago, University of Utah Professor Mark De-Saint Aubin sold his car and committed to use mass transit for all of his commuting needs. Since then, Mark has saved more than $4,000 per year on car payments, insurance, gas, taxes, registration fees, and maintenance, and has avoided countless hours of traffic frustration and tension by working, reading, or relaxing while someone else drives.
As he has traveled all over the city, Professor De-Saint Aubin has found that his greatest joy in using transit has been the people he meets and the friendships he has made by riding with people he would otherwise never have met. From African-Americans to Hispanics, and Finns to Somalis, Mark has made friends with people from all sorts of backgrounds, including one of his closest friends, a Kenyan whom he just happened to meet on the bus ride to work.
Professor De-Saint Aubin's story is not a one-of-a-kind fluke. The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported on "The Friendship Express." Describing a group of regular bus riders, writer Brandon Loomis noted, "The 48 West Jordan Express bus...isn't so much about mass transit as it is mass gossip, mass mirth and mass friendship." Loomis explained how a group of nearly a dozen strangers, ranging from their early twenties to their early eighties, who know each other only from the bus, are now planning a group vacation to New York.
These stories display the power of mass transit to bring people together and illustrate the reasoning behind naming your organization the Community Transportation Association of America: public transportation helps build community. Public transit brings equality to our transportation system, giving everyone opportunities for transportation freedom. Public transit connects communities, instead of constructing walls of asphalt between them. And public transit brings us face to face with other members of our community, building trust, cooperation, understanding, and friendship.
These community-friendly qualities, along with the benefits of mass transit to the economy and the environment, are being recognized by more and more of the American public. People, frustrated by hours wasted in traffic, stung by the exorbitant costs of auto-centered travel, and concerned about the future of their neighborhoods, are turning to mass transit as a solution. In fact, figures released by the transit industry last month show that while the number of miles Americans drove last year held steady at a staggering 2.7 trillion miles, transit ridership rose to the highest level since 1959, increasing by more than three and a half percent. A nationwide survey conducted for the US Conference of Mayors, released in January, shows that 80% of those surveyed expressed a desire for expanded commuter and light rail services to give them an alternative to driving in traffic, and 66% said that they do not think building new roads will help with congestion or their commute.
In Salt Lake City, we are experiencing these national trends first hand. Our first light rail line, which opened in December 1999, is now carrying some 20,000 trips per weekday, and more on Saturdays, removing 18,000 vehicle trips a day from our roads. Parked end to end, that's enough cars to stretch for 51 miles. Ridership on that line has exceeded the most optimistic projections by over 50%, and, now, we are only months away from opening our second light rail line, to the University of Utah.
All of these developments are positive trends, trends that are carrying us toward a turning point for quality of life in the United States. However, despite the growing frustration with clogged highways and sprawled cities, the future of transit is by no means guaranteed. Here in Utah, our legislature recently appropriated $451 million for the 12-mile sprawl-inducing Legacy Highway, while appropriating only $15 million for commuter rail. Just last week, the Bush Administration announced its energy plan, calling for more oil exploration and factory building, without even a mention of the energy savings that could result from expanded transit systems. And, around the nation, cities are ramping up for another cycle of road building and rebuilding that will once again compound our addiction to the automobile, put more cars on the road, and create complacency about the need for more public transit options.
Clearly, we are at a critical crossroads, and it will take a concerted effort to make sure we move in the right direction. We must do everything we can to influence the future friendliness of our transportation system.
Tonight, I suggest three fundamental keys to our success. First, we must break through our culture's automobile-only mentality, getting people to truly understand how our auto dependency impacts the quality of our lives, and severely limits our transportation freedom, especially for those who need mass transit the most: the disabled, the poor, the young and the elderly. Second, we need to make it easy for citizens to get hooked on transit. And, finally, we must fight for balanced transportation funding.
It's one thing to support transit when asked in a survey, and quite another to change behavior dictated by an institutionalized car culture. The automobile industry spends $14 billion every year on advertising. From every angle, our citizens are bombarded with the message that the automobile is the only way, the only cool way. A perfect of example of this came from an Infiniti advertisement, ironically launched on Earth Day in 1997, which bragged of its newest model, "It's not a car. It's an aphrodisiac."
This sort of message, repeated over and over, compounded by government gas subsidies and spending priorities, and multiplied by sprawl development, has virtually eliminated the thought of other transportation options from the minds of many Americans.
It's time for an educational and media campaign of our own. Drivers need to be confronted with the hard facts about the impact of their auto-dependency on their quality of life. When drivers realize what they are missing by spending an average of 55 eight-hour workdays behind the wheel each year, the glory of the automobile will start to fade. When commuters realize that recent studies have shown that multi-year construction projects, like our recent four-year expansion of I-15 through Salt Lake City, often end up costing drivers more time in the long run instead of saving it, the lure of the road will be lessened. And, when the word gets out about the many thousands of dollars a family can save a year by using transit, instead of maintaining two, three, or even four cars, incentives will be created for people to explore mass transit options.
For mass transit to succeed, we must get these messages out there, clearly, concisely, and persuasively. We need images and messages that rival the shock value of the anti-smoking campaign, "The Truth," with its images of destroyed lungs and blackened airways.
I realize campaigns take money, and unlike the anti-smoking campaign, transportation and quality of life were not even mentioned by the presidential candidates last year. However, we can start by raising these issues every time we interact with the public, and we can start with the advertising available to us in and on our busses and trains, and through public service announcements, flyers, and promotional events.
If we can get people thinking about the downsides of over-reliance on cars, we will be headed in the right direction. However, to raise public awareness on transit issues to the critical level, we need to do something more. We must give a voice to those who need mass transportation most, those who often are heard the least in our political system—the poor, the disabled, the young, and the elderly.
Jane Holtz Kay observes in her excellent book, Asphalt Nation, that nearly 1/3 of all Americans face severe transportation limitations due to our car-centered system. This system traps the elderly, who can no longer drive, in their homes, depriving them of social interaction and friendships. Our car-only system prevents youth from getting to enriching activities, like after-school programs, because parents are still working and feasible transit is not available. Those who cannot afford the astronomically high costs of owning a car are often limited in the jobs they can find and the educational opportunities available to better themselves. And, without adequate, accessible transit systems, the disabled are rendered virtually immobile.
These compelling reasons all cry out for better mass transit systems. But as long as the fight for public transit remains a battle between auto industry-funded politicians on one side and people viewed as leftist, environmental activists on the other, our cause will be doomed to the obscurity it experienced during the last presidential campaign. The history of social change in the United States shows that if we can give a voice to those numerous, but unseen, casualties of our auto-only culture, we will see change. Just as Martin Luther King Jr. helped our nation face its demons in terms of race relations, vocal leaders giving a voice to those most affected by a lack of transportation options can bring this issue to the forefront of national awareness.
Once this is accomplished and people are at least willing to experiment with transit, we must make it easy for people to get hooked. We need expanded service and schedules, friendly and efficient customer service, and incentive programs to get people started.
If people have to walk long distances to catch a bus, they'll keep driving their car. If they have to wait long periods between trains, they'll jump in the car and drive. But, if their employers offer a free or reduced-price transit pass on a transportation mode that is convenient, that will save them money and allow them to relax while riding to work, people will rush to join the growing crowd of transit faithful.
Of course, much of this is limited by funding, but we can maximize what we have. Instead of trying to cover too large a geographic area with widely dispersed service and schedules, we should devote our limited resources to providing excellent service in a smaller area, gaining momentum, and then expanding. It is largely because of the huge success of our 14-mile north-south light rail line that we now have tremendous public enthusiasm for mass transit—so much so that voters in three counties approved a referendum last November providing for a transit sales tax increase.
We should also remember that riders are not the only ones we must convince with convenience. When expanding our transit services, the business community can either be a strong ally or a fierce enemy. Businesses afraid of the impact of construction projects near their operations will oppose transit expansion. On our TRAX extension to the University of Utah, however, Salt Lake City and the Utah Transit Authority have implemented cutting-edge collaborative strategies to lessen the impact of construction on businesses and residents.
In addition to the low interest loans Salt Lake City has made available to businesses struggling because of construction, the City and UTA have worked tirelessly to respond to the daily concerns and problems of businesses and residents along the construction route. Salt Lake City employs a full-time project manager to oversee the work of the construction crews, and respond immediately to construction-related problems.
We have also developed Community Coordination Teams and given them extraordinary influence over the contractor. These teams, comprised of residents and business owners from every block along the construction route, make a recommendation on the approval or denial of large quarterly incentive bonuses, thus giving the contractor a tremendous incentive to keep the residents and business owners happy. For the first two quarters of project construction, the contractor received bonus approval ratings of 83% and 88%, respectively. For the first quarter of 2001, the CCT recommended a 94.7% payment of the bonus available for that quarter. I know of no other construction project in the country that can boast such high levels of satisfaction from those parties being most heavily impacted.
We are hearing that this approach is generating a great deal of interest around the country, and may be used as a model for other projects. In addition to the high satisfaction rates, by the way, this project is likely to be finished in November of this year, nearly a year ahead of the contractor's required completion date.
Businesses can and should be great supporters of transit. Instead of the congestion, parking problems, and headaches brought by more auto-driving customers, transit-riding buyers are a great boon for local business. One of Salt Lake City's downtown malls has reported a 16 percent increase in foot traffic and a significant increase in sales since our light rail line began running in 1999. Roughly 15 percent of mall shoppers now arrive by light rail. When businesses see these benefits, they become valuable allies in our efforts to expand transit and lobby for funds.
The reality is that, in the end, our success comes down to dollars, cents, and more balanced governmental spending priorities. Proponents of highway building argue that drivers pay for these costs through gasoline taxes. This could not be further from the truth. For example, gas taxes and vehicle registration fees only cover 19% of the money allocated to Utah's Centennial Highway fund. The rest of highway funding comes from other sources, such as sales taxes and bonding, meaning that, in Utah, we all subsidize 81% of the highway system, whether we use it or not. But, when it comes to transit, many expect operators to cover all their costs and expansion through fares and transit sales taxes. This sort of double-standard must be changed.
We must convince our state legislatures that transit is at least as worthy of our public investment as highways. We must persuade Congress to drastically increase the funding for new starts in the 2003 reauthorization of TEA-21. And we must demonstrate to our citizens that transit service will enhance the community as a whole and improve the mobility of all residents whether they use transit or not.
This is the key—transit helps everyone. Even automobile drivers benefit from increased mass transit because of decreased traffic congestion. We know that mass transit is a win-win solution to our current transportation woes, but, to ensure its success, we must fight to break the stereotypes and engrained behavior caused by our car culture, we must give a voice to those who need transit the most, we must make turning in car keys for transit passes easy, and we must influence the distribution of transportation funds and balance the scales.
Spending more time with our families, having more money in our pockets to do the things we like to do, saving our citizens from the dangers of traffic and pollution, and making our communities more friendly, interactive, and inclusive is what mass transit is all about. This vision of community transportation is no illusion--it can be a reality. Given time, effort, persistence, and foresight, we can provide better options and continue with the momentum we have already created. And, if we do things right, we will all have the chance to make life-long friends on our ride to work on the "Friendship Express."
Stop Sanctioning Workers and Employers: Ditch the Payroll Tax
When we speak about excessive and inequitable taxation, most of us complain about income taxes, property taxes, and sales taxes on such things as food. But what is the most oppressive tax, the tax that creates the greatest burdens on the middle class and small employers, the ever-burgeoning tax that significantly reduces wages and salaries while letting investors entirely off the hook?
It's the payroll tax. Presently, the total payroll tax is 15.3 percent - 12.4 percent Social Security (FICA) tax and 2.9 percent for Medicare. The payroll tax is split evenly between employers and employees - 7.65 percent from wages and salaries; 7.65 percent from employers. Although there is now no cap on Medicare payroll taxes, the Social Security tax, applied only to the first $68,400 of earnings, is tremendously regressive.
Social Security and Medicare are headed for disaster, but seldom do we hear anyone - particularly politicians - talk about real reform of those programs. And almost no politician will dare speak of reducing or eliminating the payroll tax. Yet that is exactly what Congress should do: phase out the payroll tax and fund Medicare and Social Security from the general tax fund.
Our politicians are fond of speaking about the virtues of work and high employment, yet they sanction us severely for working - and for providing jobs. Seventy-five percent of the nation's federal tax load is placed on the backs of workers and their employers. And the worst part of the work-tax is the payroll tax, which, unlike the income tax, largely comes from working and middle class employees and their employers.
If you're disgusted with high income taxes, let this fact simmer in your tax-consciousness for a while: The payroll tax rate of 15.3 percent is more than the effective income tax rate paid by 95% of Americans. That's right; only the wealthiest 5 percent of taxpayers in this country pay a higher percentage in income taxes than workers and their employers pay in payroll taxes. If a family of four has earnings of $40,000 a year, it will pay almost twice as much in payroll taxes as income taxes. And keep in mind that those who live off capital gains and other types of investments - that is, those who do not make a living from working for a wage or salary - pay no payroll taxes.
Payroll taxes should be eliminated for several reasons. First, they are unfair. Why should middle class workers and small employers bear the brunt of our ailing Social Security and Medicare programs, while there is no Social Security or Medicare tax on dividends, interest or profits from the sale of stocks and real estate?
Second, they are "hidden" taxes that we hardly notice and which creep ever upwards without much notice by anyone. Since the Social Security tax was enacted, it has crept up steadily from 2 percent of wages in 1937, to 6 percent in 1960, to the present 12.4 percent.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Social Security tax helps provide cover for a massive fraud being perpetrated upon the American people. We are led to believe that we are paying into a program so that money will be there for us when we retire. However, all that is "there" is a bunch of government IOUs, which can only be paid off by taxing us - or our children - more in the future. And, most deceptively, the so-called Social Security Trust Fund - which is no such thing - has been raided for many years in order to conceal the true size of the federal deficit and to justify the transfer of income from working people to the very rich.
As Deep Throat said, "Follow the money." A worker and her employer pay 12.4 percent of wages in Social Security taxes. Part of the money goes into the "Social Security Trust Fund" as "surplus". The government grabs the money and spends it. The President crows about how the deficit is lower than it really is, without disclosing that Social Security taxes have been used to pay government bills. Then, with the deficit "reduced," Congress decides it's time to once again reduce capital gains, which benefits mostly the wealthy. And, when it comes time to pay back the IOUs to the "Trust Fund," the government raises the money by taxing us and our children even more.
The first step toward fundamental reform of Social Security and Medicare is to include those programs in the general budget and finance them the same way we fund other government programs. Either raise the individual income tax or, better yet, scrap the income tax entirely and finance our government by a national sales tax so that working and saving are no longer penalized.
Much remains to be done to save our Social Security and Medicare systems - particularly since 76 million Baby Boomers are approaching retirement. The solution, however, should not burden primarily working people and their employers. Neither should the solution perpetuate the fraud that we are all building up some kind of fund for our retirement. We can bring these programs into demographic and economic balance by fairly spreading the burdens and being honest in the process. But we'd better elect people who will do the job - and do it now.
FROM ISOLATION TO INCLUSIVENESS: BALANCING THE TRANSPORTATION SCALES IN SALT LAKE CITY
Address of Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson
The Transit Alliance Leadership Forum
Friday, April 13, 2001
Three and a half years ago, University of Utah Professor Mark De-Saint Aubin sold his car and committed to use mass transit for all of his commuting needs. Since then, Mark has saved more than $4,000 per year on car payments, gas, and maintenance, and has avoided countless hours of traffic frustration and tension by working, reading, or relaxing while someone else drives.
As he has traveled all over the city, Professor De-Saint Aubin has found that his greatest joy in using transit has been the people he meets and the friendships he has made by riding with people he would otherwise never have met. From African-Americans to Hispanics, and Finns to Somalis, Mark has made friends with people from all sorts of backgrounds, including one of his closest friends, a Kenyan whom he just happened to meet on the bus ride to work.
Professor De-Saint Aubin's story is not unique. The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported on "The Friendship Express." Describing a group of regular bus riders, writer Brandon Loomis noted, "The 48 West Jordan Express bus...isn't so much about mass transit as it is mass gossip, mass mirth and mass friendship." Loomis explained how a group of nearly a dozen strangers, ranging from their early twenties to their early eighties, who know each other only from the bus, are now planning a group vacation to New York.
These stories illustrate the power of mass transit to bring people together. They show, on a personal level, what Salt Lake City is seeing system-wide - our focus on improving mass transit options and smart growth is making Salt Lake City a safer, friendlier, more vibrant place. These anecdotes are a far cry from the stories of road rage - everything from people flipping each other off to people shooting to kill someone who may have made a reckless lane change.
Over the last few years, we have seen remarkable progress. Mass transit ridership continues to increase; the success of our new light rail TRAX line is exceeding all our expectations; transit-oriented developments are popping up all over; last November our citizens approved a transit tax increase that will help us continue to add transportation options for our citizens; and we have even seen some improvement in our air quality.
The effects of auto dependency and sprawl on community
To motivate a community to support mass transit, people must understand how the absence of transportation balance undermines a sense of community - and creates more personal isolation. As our cities have sprawled, people have been trapped in a pattern of living farther and farther from where they work, where their kids go to school, where they shop, and where they play.
For example, a primary justification for the proposed Legacy Highway between Davis and Salt Lake Counties is that half of Davis County residents drive to Salt Lake City for work every day. These commuters need to understand the truth of the German transit campaign slogan: "You're not stuck in a traffic jam, you are the jam." The solution isn't building a new highway; it is providing opportunities for more of the people who work in Salt Lake City to live in Salt Lake City, and incentives for those who choose to live elsewhere to utilize mass transit.
In pressing the case for expanded mass transit, we can get people to think about how much time they spend alone in their cars commuting. The average American driver spends 443 hours per year - the equivalent of 55 eight-hour workdays - behind the wheel. All this time could cut a full workday off of the normal 5-day, 40-hour workweek. If we are truly committed to increasing personal freedom and quality of life, as well as encouraging civic participation, we must provide options that will let people escape the confines of their cars and enjoy life more fully.
While our cars separate us from other drivers, causing us to view them as abstractions and obstructions instead of people, our highways erect nearly impenetrable physical divisions of our community. In Salt Lake City, I-15 separates our West and East sides in ways that make community interactions very difficult. Instead of neighbors conversing over the backyard fence, ten lanes of speeding cars now serve as huge barriers to personal interactions.
These divisions deprive us all of even casual social interactions with people from different ethnic, social, and religious backgrounds. Such interactions are critical to breaking down stereotypes, finding new perspectives to old problems, and building healthy, inclusive communities.
Costs of driving
Unfortunately the cycle of segregation in our communities is amplified by the astronomically high costs of auto-oriented transportation. The report, "Driven to Spend," prepared by the Surface Transportation Policy Project, details these impacts:
For most Americans, transportation is an expense second only to housing. The average American household devotes 18 cents out of every dollar it spends to getting around. In some metro areas, households are spending more on transportation than on shelter. The vast majority of that spending, 98 percent, is for the purchase, operation, and maintenance of automobiles. Most American families spend more on driving than on health care, education or food. And the poorest families spend the most - sometimes more than one-third of their income goes to transportation.
These staggering costs erect an institutional barrier to upward class mobility for those who cannot afford to drive to a good job or to school.
Our lack of affordable mass transit also impacts those who cannot drive: our elderly, our disabled, and our youth. Jane Holtz Kay notes in her book, Asphalt Nation, that with our growing elderly population, our disabled, and our children, more than 1/3 of our population faces severe limitations in mobility because they cannot drive and do not have access to adequate public transportation. A full 9% of U.S. households have no car. Describing what she calls our drive-fly-or-rot culture, Kay demonstrates that our elderly, who often must live alone, can become prisoners in their own homes with no one to talk to and nowhere to go because of our lack of transportation options. In effect, a single-minded focus on auto-oriented transportation wastes great resources in our community, forcing many skilled, energetic, and experienced residents to stay at home.
To put the societal cost of our auto-dependency in perspective, federal, state, and municipal governments spent a staggering $93 billion on highways during the mid-1990s. Proponents of highway building argue that drivers pay for these costs through gasoline taxes. This could not be further from the truth. For example, gas taxes and vehicle registration fees only cover 19% of the money allocated to Utah's Centennial Highway fund. The rest of highway funding comes from other sources, such as sales taxes and bonding, meaning that we all subsidize 81% of the highway system, whether we use it or not. What's worse, because highway users don't pay their way, highways are competing with other worthy state programs, such as education and mass transit, for general fund revenues.
Health and Safety
The Surface Transportation Policy Project found that drivers in metro areas with low transit use were 61 percent more likely to die in an aggressive driving crash than people who live in areas with high transit use.
The STP project also found a high correlation between spread out, sprawling cities with low transit use and higher rates of pedestrian fatalities.
The improvement of transit options and pedestrian safety are initiatives that must go hand in hand. Since March of 2000, we have taken an aggressive approach to pedestrian safety in Salt Lake City. We've put brightly colored flags on street corners and mid-block crosswalks for people to carry across the street to increase visibility and driver awareness. We've stepped up enforcement of pedestrian safety laws, and are strengthening our city code to require a higher duty of drivers to yield to pedestrians trying to cross city streets. We are adding pedestrian-actuated signal lights to our crosswalks, some of which hang over the crosswalk and some of which are mounted in the pavement like runway lights, to make drivers more aware of pedestrians who are trying to cross. And we are aggressively pursuing ordinance changes to require walkable shopping areas and gathering places so that people will want to proceed on foot after they get off the bus or light rail. Since the commencement of our pedestrian safety initiative, we have not had one pedestrian fatality, and in the downtown area, where we have focused our efforts, we have seen a 26% decrease in accidents involving pedestrians.
Are highways a real solution to traffic congestion? In Utah we have been expanding I-15 to 5 lanes in each direction to relieve congestion in the Downtown Salt Lake City area. However, the Wasatch Front Regional Council estimates that, at current growth rates, the highway will again be filled to capacity in a brief 2 or 3 years. What will we do then? If we follow the current path, we'll build more roads, create more sprawl, pollute our air more, and have more deadly accidents.
Highway proponents argue that we must build new roads to keep up with population growth. What they do not realize is that building more roads just spreads us out more, making it more difficult for us to interact with each other and driving up the monetary and societal costs of driving.
What can we do to end the cycle of sprawl and make our cities more livable and safe for the future? The answer lies in a comprehensive set of smart growth policies. We're illustrating in Salt Lake City that making our streets safer and more exciting for pedestrians, encouraging infill and transit-oriented development, and shifting our resources away from a disproportionate emphasis on roads can make our cities more livable and safe. However, this comprehensive approach will fall flat without vast increases in the transit options available to our communities. We need a balanced transportation plan that provides more options across the board, not just more options for drivers. We will never reach balance if we continue to build highways at our current rate, while slowly, almost imperceptibly, working on mass transit. When you build a new highway, most people do not have a sufficient incentive to use mass transit until that highway is congested once again. Sometime, somewhere, mass transit must come first, or we will never break the cycle. Now is the time for a commitment to a transit-first policy.
The Salt Lake City area's public transportation system has had many successes in recent years. Although the Utah Transit Authority has existed since the early 1970s, providing bus service in six counties with a ¼-cent sales tax, public transportation has gained tremendous popularity since the opening of our first light rail line. That 15-mile north-south line, from downtown Salt Lake City to Sandy, opened in December 1999, and is now carrying some 20,000 trips per weekday, and more on Saturdays, removing 18,000 vehicle trips a day from our roads. Parked end to end, that's enough cars to stretch 51 miles.
The success of this line has made believers out of many cynics. Critics who said no one would ride light rail now must confront the fact that ridership exceeds the most optimistic projections by over 50%. Downtown business owners who bemoaned the removal of traffic lanes on Main Street and suffered through construction are now seeing increased patronage in their stores. One of the downtown malls has reported a 16 percent increase in foot traffic and a significant increase in sales since the trains began running. Roughly 15 percent of mall shoppers now arrive by train.
The success of the north-south line, and its ultimate endorsement by business owners, has helped pave the way for a 2.5-mile extension from downtown Salt Lake City to the University of Utah campus. This new extension, along with the completion of the north-south light rail line, however, would have exhausted much of UTA's operational budget, leaving no remaining funds to construct or operate the expansions envisioned by the Long Range Transit Plan. The current plan calls for light rail extensions to the Airport and several other Salt Lake County cities, expansion of bus service, and a high-speed, 100-mile regional rail line along the Wasatch Front from Brigham City to Payson.
In 1992, Salt Lake County placed on the ballot a measure to increase the tax levy to ½-cent. In the face of intense anti-transit lobbying, the measure failed at the polls by 57% to 43%. In spite of the 1992 loss, however, the recent success of TRAX, the growing frustration of drivers faced with construction delays on I-15, and the critical groundwork laid by Envision Utah seemed to suggest that the time was right to try again.
Davis and Weber Counties, both north of Salt Lake City, organized early, securing resolutions from most of their city councils and mayors to place the tax increase measure on the November ballot. Salt Lake County activists built on this momentum, and in August 2000, I obtained the signatures of 11 of the 15 Salt Lake County mayors on a letter to the Salt Lake County Commission requesting that the issue be placed on the ballot. Ultimately, the County Commission, by a 2-1 vote, agreed.
To coordinate the efforts of all three counties, representatives from each county formed a campaign committee called People for Sensible Transportation (PST). Polling commissioned by UTA before the vote showed that people in all three counties supported better public transportation, but that support for a tax increase was weakest in Salt Lake County. To ensure victory in all three counties on November 7, PST developed a campaign strategy that called for a high-profile public campaign presence, going against the advice and experience of other public transportation tax referenda proponents across the U.S. This campaign called for strong grassroots organization, high earned media exposure through press conferences and other media events, radio advertising targeted at drive-time commuters facing traffic congestion, and targeted direct mail to areas that would likely have convenient access to the proposed new light rail lines.
While PST organized volunteers and covered the valley with thousands of lawn signs, we took every opportunity to make the case for County Measure #1. Throughout the fall, we publicly emphasized the need for more balanced transportation planning, and the fact that we would be ineligible for significant federal dollars if we did not show a local commitment of revenues.
An important factor in the success of County Measure #1 was the positive support it received from a broad coalition of community, business, political, environmental, and labor organizations, and community leaders. The Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Alliance, the Utah AFL-CIO, the Utah NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club, the ARC of Salt Lake, and Catholic Community Services all publicly endorsed the measure. County Measure #1 also received the support of the three major newspapers along the Wasatch Front as well as television and radio personalities.
Of course, opposition emerged to try to stop the ballot initiative from passing. Groups like the Utah Taxpayers Association attempted to scuttle support by making claims that the transit tax would disproportionately hurt low income Utahns. They argued that low income Utahns would be hit the hardest by the tax. However, our arguments that low income Utahns would benefit the most from transit improvements seem to have carried the day, thanks to important data about the high costs of auto-related transportation and its impact on low-income residents.
County Measure #1 passed in all three counties, creating a mechanism to generate $42 million per year for transit operations and local matching money. We were one of only four cities nationally that passed such a transit tax.
Besides the success of the ballot initiative, Salt Lake City's emphasis on transit development has contributed to some very positive trends for the City. In addition to the success of the TRAX system and the positive impact it has had on downtown businesses, infill and redevelopment are rapidly rejuvenating the City. Small and large transit-oriented developments are appearing throughout the City, and many are planned along the north-south light rail line. We will also be bringing 550 new housing units on line in the next year, all of which will be within two blocks of an existing light rail station, and within two blocks of what we plan to be our future Intermodal Hub, which will accommodate commuter rail, light rail, Greyhound, Amtrak, taxis, and bicycle rental. These new housing units are a reflection of the commitment of our Redevelopment Agency and Division of Housing and Neighborhood Development to transit-oriented development.
Our efforts have borne other fruit as well. Last summer, through an extensive educational campaign, we were able to convince many of the residents of Salt Lake City to oppose a massive, 1.3 million-square-foot mall, in the undeveloped outskirts of our city. The "sprawl mall," surrounded by 11,000 parking stalls, would have consumed $9 million in state highway subsidy and $14 million in local tax increment financing. At full build-out, it would have generated some 54,000 vehicle trips, and an estimated one million vehicle miles traveled per day. Under pressure from my administration and many of the residents and businesses of Salt Lake City, the City Council finally declined to act on the developers' zoning request, effectively ending the mall's prospects in Salt Lake City.
We are working hard to improve bicycle lanes throughout the City, and the reconstruction of I-15 will also bring Utah's first HOV lanes into existence.
We learned of a related success last month when the new census data became available. For the first time since the 1950s, Salt Lake City saw a "back to the city surge," growing by more than 14%. The higher density associated with this surge bodes well for increased transit use and shows that at least some city workers are realizing the quality of life benefits of living close to work. Quoted in The Salt Lake Tribune, D.J. Williams, a downtown attorney, explained why he traded his 45-mile commute from Provo for central city living last year, "It puts me close to work. Young lawyers tend to work hard, but I wanted to spend more time with my family," he said.
Spending more time with our families, having more money in our pockets to do the things we like to do, saving our citizens from the dangers of traffic and pollution, and making our communities more friendly, interactive, and inclusive is what transit is all about. The passage of our transit tax initiative shows just how many people on the Wasatch Front are realizing the power of mass transit to rejuvenate our area and provide an alternative to hours trapped in a car. We can and will break the cycle of sprawl and congestion. Given time, effort, persistence, and foresight, we can provide better options - and a better quality of life for all in our communities.
Address to the Downtown Business Association
Ross C. Anderson
June 1, 2000
I've been told that speaking to the Downtown Merchants Association regarding the topics I intend to discuss is basically preaching to the choir. If that is so, let me exhort you to sing as loudly - and convincingly - as you can. Much is at stake.
We are at a pivotal time in the history of Salt Lake City. It is a time of opportunity, promise and choice.
- We stand poised to host the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
- Our city has been distinguished in the most recent edition of the Places Rated Almanac as the best place to live in the United States. Salt Lake City was also recently selected as one of the top 20 Best Places to Live & Work in America by Employment Review magazine and BestJobsUSA.com.
- The opening of the North South Light Rail line has provided a crucial component of a comprehensive mass transit system for our valley. And the prospect of additional spurs presents the promise of convenient mobility for all in the Salt Lake Valley.
- Where architecturally atrocious court buildings and a jail once stood, soon a magnificent new main Library, surrounded by gardens and gathering places for our community, will be under construction.
We have the tools to further strengthen our city and, depending on the choices we make, to create an urban renaissance.
- We can choose to build a city that allows people to live in close proximity to their workplace, that has clean, green open spaces for recreation, and that has an interesting, bustling, vibrant downtown containing a wide variety of businesses, restaurants, and offices.
- We can work diligently to create opportunities for needed businesses to locate in west side neighborhoods.
- We can make choices now to create a city that has life on the street and that has interesting places for families and friends, young and old, to play together.
- And we can bring people together to live life in our community joyfully.
The resources available to us include: deeply committed, caring citizens and business owners; a lovely and dramatic geographical setting; a rich history and culture; wonderful old buildings that can be renovated to add further charm and uniqueness to our community; and, if we use them wisely, the financial resources to provide efficient, high-quality municipal services to our citizens.
Now is the time to thoughtfully consider where we are and what we hope for the future of Salt Lake City. The questions loom: How will our community look and what will our city become? Will we fall into the trap of further suburbanization, look-alike chain-store developments (with all profits and support expenditures flowing out of state), greater sprawl, traffic congestion, crowding and air pollution? Or will we plan wisely and for the future, with support for those who would help revitalize our downtown and west side, with friendlier, more livable communities?
There is good news. As a city, we are back on solid fiscal ground. This is in stark contrast to this time last year, when the City Council and former Mayor Corradini were engaged in a protracted battle over budget priorities, with a budget shored up with one-time money by the sale of a portion of Main Street for $8.2 million. The City Council had grave concerns that the Corradini Administration was delaying repairs on streets, parks, sidewalks and other critical elements of the City's infrastructure. After conducting an audit, which determined there was a $150 million backlog in infrastructure needs, the Council determined that 9% of the general revenue fund should be directed toward infrastructure and capital improvements. However, the Corradini Administration proposed that only 3.8% of general fund revenue be allocated to our long-neglected capital improvement needs. Ultimately, the Council adopted a budget that dedicated 6% to capital improvements.
This year, our Administration is proposing that almost 10% of the general fund budget be dedicated to addressing capital improvement needs. We submitted this unprecedented balanced budget proposal without proposing any increase in property taxes. The proposed budget was crafted after a comprehensive analysis of service levels and staffing issues throughout City government. Our budget proposal, which recommends many major cuts in expenses, maintains the current staffing level of the Police Department, except for one unnecessary Assistant Chief, and increases the number of fire fighters within the Fire Department. We have the resources we need to meet our obligations to provide high quality, efficient services to citizens and business owners in this city, and we can provide these services in a fiscally responsible way, using thoughtful long-term planning and analysis.
The budget process allows us to explore the opportunities that exist and decisions that need to be made. The choice between alternatives helps us define our values and the direction we will pursue. In the next few weeks the City Council will adopt the budget. The Council will also be deciding whether to support a proposal to build a one million one hundred thousand square foot mega mall at 5600 West and I-80.
I call it - for good reason - the "sprawl mall." Support for this proposal will undermine the potential of many of the opportunities before us today. I will describe what is at stake if the Council supports the sprawl mall, but first I would like to describe several of the other challenges we face now.
Main Street and Downtown
My Administration has established the revitalization of Main Street and the rest of our Downtown as a top priority. The basic principles of urban design, related to invigorating a streetscape by bringing life to the street, demand that you create lively storefronts, with doorways accessing the street, and buildings and sidewalks that have "human scale" proportions so people don't feel isolated or lost.
In order to accomplish this goal we need to mitigate the impact of several obstacles, including:
- The creation of two large indoor malls across the street from one another, with very little active store front "street life" across from each other.
- The widening of the sidewalks on Main Street - so wide that you can park a small airplane on them, thus magnifying their incredible emptiness. If you crave solitude, try walking up Main Street on a Sunday, or for that matter almost any evening.
- The existence of boarded-up buildings, old and in need of repair, which will be developed into new offices, retail stores and restaurants if our City's leaders commit to what it will take to revitalize our Downtown area.
We have been developing a strategy to address these issues, which includes implementing many of the recommendations contained in the Downtown & Main Street Retail Strategy Study by Thomas Consultants. The study describes the national "return to Main Street" trend and identifies specific steps we can take to enliven our downtown, including:
- Working with property owners to create a more interesting streetscape by opening up storefronts in the malls so they face the street and working with business and property owners to improve the street presence of facades and frontages throughout the downtown.
- Opening up vending opportunities so that more kiosks and carts are on the street.
- Relaxing our outdoor dining policy and actively encouraging restaurant owners to have sidewalk seating
- Emphasizing local tenants as 60 - 80% of the street-front retail.
- Encouraging, rather than penalizing, street artists.
- Programming more activities for the downtown, such as First Night and the Twilight Concert series at the Gallivan Center.
The relationship between the development of the Gateway area and our Downtown is critical. I have serious concerns regarding the impact of the retail component of the Gateway Project on the economic vitality of our downtown retail market. Shortly after taking office I worked with the City Council and the developers to scale back the commitment of City resources to the project. The negotiations with the developers were intense, but mutually respectful, and we were able to arrive at reasonable compromises. In addition to creating limits on the type and size of retail development in the Gateway project, the result was a savings of about 8 million dollars in public funds. This money will now be available to facilitate the development of more downtown housing, to improve infrastructure, and improve the connection between the Gateway area and Downtown, thus enhancing the synergy between these retail areas. In spite of my concerns, there is no question that we must do all we can to make certain that both our Downtown and the Gateway Project succeed.
Fostering the development of neighborhood retail on the west side of the city is a priority for our administration, along with working to invigorate west side neighborhoods. The city has the ability to offer incentives to businesses interested in locating on the west side. However if the sprawl mall proposal is approved, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to attract those businesses.
The mega mall epitomizes urban sprawl. It heads us in entirely the opposite direction that we should be taking in our long-term planning. It has the potential to undermine our efforts to revitalize downtown and the west side. It has the potential to undermine small locally owned businesses in Salt Lake City, in West Valley City and beyond. The sprawl mall has the potential to undermine the economic viability of the Gateway project, a project to which we have already committed a tremendous amount of city resources. And the sprawl mall has the potential to further deteriorate the air quality - and, generally, the quality of life - in our valley.
- The mall project would create several serious obstacles for our efforts to revitalize downtown. The prospect of the sprawl mall, coupled with the Gateway Project, has already impeded the ability of downtown developers to attract tenants. Downtown developers have reported great difficulty finding tenants due to competition from the Gateway Project and the mall developers. Imagine what will happen to the Crossroads and ZCMI malls, as well as other downtown developments, with prospective, and perhaps current, tenants being lured away by the sprawl mall.
- The sprawl mall would require a tax increment subsidy of $20.5 million, with $14.5 million coming from Salt Lake City and $6 million from the state. If the project fails, the citizens of Salt Lake City will not be paid back for their investment and face the prospect of an enormous empty building at 5600 west and I-80. The failure of this project is a real possibility, considering that the developers have never built a mega mall and this kind of project has never been constructed in an area with such a relatively small population base.
- We don't have a good sense of the "life span" of a project like the sprawl mall. These types of malls are becoming a thing of the past. What happens to a sprawl mall that has lost its allure with consumers? In terms of sales tax revenue, the full financial benefits of the sprawl mall project won't be realized for 20 years. Can a sprawl mall be successful for 20 years? And if it is, at what cost to the rest of our retail market?
- The mega mall represents the ultimate in sprawl-generating development. It is 40 blocks away from the nearest west side communities of our city. In light of the tremendous attention that has been given to "smart growth" concepts in Utah over the last few years, it is curious, to say the least, that some policy-makers who give lip service to the need for transit-oriented development and livable communities are even considering the sprawl mall project. The success of this development is entirely dependent on a huge volume of automobile traffic. The developers plan approximately 11,000 parking stalls and anticipate people driving for long distances, generating millions of miles of additional automobile traffic in our valley each week. At full build-out, the mall is projected to generate 71,600 new auto trips per day.
- We have the opportunity now to choose what kind of community we want to be. Do we want to be more like so many look-alike communities, with door-to-door national chain-stores? Or do we want to go the way of communities like Boulder, Colorado, which have committed themselves to smart, quality growth? Boulder was recently honored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of twelve communities that, as described in an editorial in the Boulder Dailey Camera, "worked hard and smart at preserving their sense of place and character, cities that have not surrendered their heart and soul to the lure of growth and wealth...These towns epitomize the flip side of sprawl..." Salt Lake City will only be described in such glowing terms if we have the courage to oppose sprawl-inducing, soulless projects like the mega mall.
The mall developers are trying to hold Salt Lake City hostage in a sense by threatening to take their mall proposal to West Valley City if Salt Lake City rejects it. Several people, including a couple editorial editors, have asked the question: "If the mall will go to West Valley City instead of Salt Lake City, shouldn't we just take it and reap the tax revenue benefits?" My response is: "If West Valley City wants the sprawl mall, let them have it."
I've been quoted as saying the sprawl mall represents the retail equivalent of a toxic waste dump. What I mean by this is that some communities will do just about anything for more tax revenues. They will jeopardize the quality of life in their community for a risky, or potentially short-term revenue gain. And they will ignore the pleas for better long-term planning.
We need to consider several factors in response to the "It's-going-to-West-Valley-City-if-it-doesn't-go-here" argument:
- We have made significant commitments to developers in the Downtown and Gateway areas that we will work to revitalize those parts of our community. We should not stab these developers in the back by subsidizing the sprawl mall, thus undermining the potential success of those retail projects to which we have already made commitments.
- Imagine being a developer who has taken huge financial risks, with assurances from our elected officials that we are committed to revitalizing downtown. Then, imagine that same developer unable to find tenants for his or her project because our City's policy-makers have decided to support a project like the sprawl mall. We should be supporting, not undermining, those who have made enormous efforts to help build up our community.
- If the mall is located in West Valley City, it will not detract as much from the success of our Downtown and Gateway businesses. That much is made clear by the fact that the 5600 West and I-15 location within Salt Lake City is clearly the developer's first choice of locations.
- We are not so desperate for additional revenue that we should compromise the values we hold as a community. Salt Lake City has demonstrated that with solid, responsible, fiscal planning, current revenue sources are adequate and will allow us to provide quality services and meet our infrastructure needs.
- Finally, West Valley City is a very different kind of community, perhaps far more suited for a mall of this type. We can't let the threat of what West Valley City might do decide for us our long-term urban planning and decision-making processes. We are committed to building a sustainable community, with a focus on transit-oriented development, support for locally owned businesses, the protection of open space, and a commitment to the revitalization of our Downtown. The sprawl mall takes us in the diametrically opposite direction.
Boulder Colorado would never decide to approve the development of a sprawl-generating retail mall like the one now being considered because an adjacent community was threatening to do it. The reason Boulder is a charming, award-winning city with its tremendous charm and unique identity, where people love to live, work and visit, is precisely because the leaders of that city have had the courage to say "no" to developments like the sprawl mall, and "yes" to smart, community-enhancing, livable development.
We can choose to forgo the principles of wise urban planning and, at the expense of our current business community, allow the mall to be built. Or we can urge the City Council to do the right thing and commit itself not to the sprawl mall, but, rather, to commit to reducing automobile traffic, enhancing the charm and appeal of our entire community, revitalizing our Downtown area and the City's west side, and planning for a future community that will be more livable in every way for all of our residents, workers, and visitors.
Together, we can build the kind of community of which we are all proud. Now is the time to make certain our City's elected leaders help set us on that course. And they will, I am confident, listen to you if you will let your feelings be known to them. Ultimately, the course of our City's future is in your hands. And in your voices!
I implore you, be a good choir!
Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Conference
Ross C. "Rocky" Anderson
Mayor, Salt Lake City
March 20, 2000
Guten tag. Good morning. On behalf of our citizens, it is my pleasure to welcome you to Salt Lake City. I am especially pleased to welcome our colleagues from Germany. This conference presents an important opportunity for us to learn from each other about innovative ways to create more vibrant, sustainable communities.
In the last hundred years our cities have undergone rapid transformation stimulated by technological change. Two examples of this change, the industrialization of urban areas and the proliferation of automobiles, have had a profound impact on the health of urban communities. Cities around the world are now faced with vast expanses of urban land, which were once a hub of industrial activity, that now lie abandoned and fraught with potential, or real, environmental challenges. Often, as in the case of Salt Lake City, these tracts of land are immediately adjacent to the center of the city. Left as a 'Brownfield,' this land is not merely a lost opportunity for development, but also detracts from the vitality of the urban core of the city. In Salt Lake City, as is the case in many other cities, our Brownfield area contains rail road tracks which act as a 'no man's land' between the affluent part of our community and the less affluent community on the other side. One of the major benefits of Brownfield reclamation is the potential for it to link neighborhoods, thus increasing their vitality. We are redefining our cities and creating an urban renaissance by reclaiming Brownfields.
I was recently elected Mayor. During my campaign I spent hundreds of hours talking with the citizens of this City. Many of the individuals with whom I spoke expressed concern about the fate of our downtown, which was once an active, bustling core of our city and now is scattered with vacant storefronts. Many expressed concern about the rapid growth we are experiencing and the potential for urban sprawl that frequently accompanies such growth.
My administration is committed to revitalizing the downtown core of Salt Lake City and to preventing the sprawl that accompanies growth and detracts from our urban core. I believe that one important way to enliven our downtown is to establish a 24-hour population by creating new housing opportunities downtown and in the areas adjacent to downtown. The creation of these housing opportunities is perhaps the most important element of Salt Lake City's Brownfield reclamation project, in an area we refer to as the Gateway.
The Gateway is comprised of approximately 640 acres on the western edge of our downtown. Until recently, it contained extensive railroad yards and was zoned for industrial and light industrial uses. Interstate 15 defines the Gateway's western boundary. The name 'Gateway,' is derived from the fact that this area is indeed a gateway into our downtown, by virtue of the exits from the highway that pass over it and now through it. In fact, it was the reconstruction of Interstate 15 that was the catalyst for the decision to redevelop the area because the construction project allowed for shortening of several of the highway viaducts.
Our Gateway redevelopment effort contains a strong transportation component. We are working to create an inter-modal hub in the project area that will link together an interstate train system, a 3-county-wide commuter rail system, an expanded light rail system, buses, cabs, bicycles and even, perhaps, horse drawn carriages.
Brownfield reclamation is not easy. The Gateway project has been subject to a great deal of public scrutiny and debate. The City created a master plan for Gateway after an extensive community process and in a separate process two sections of the Gateway were designated as Redevelopment Agency Project Areas.
The Gateway redevelopment project has involved a complex network of partnerships between many levels of government and the private sector. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has provided Salt Lake City with extensive assistance and information in support of our Brownfield redevelopment effort. We are fortunate to have been designated a Brownfield Showcase Community and welcome the continued support. Other agencies involved with this project include the Utah Department of Transportation, the Utah Transit Authority, the Federal Transportation Administration, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee, the Department of Commerce, the Army Corps of Engineers, and private developers, to name a few.
This project has also created a healthy dialogue in our community regarding the appropriate role of government intervention. One of the tensions involved with our project is the potential for the planned retail uses in the area to detract from the vitality of our downtown. We are now very close to reaching a decision on a compromise proposal that allows the reclamation effort to proceed while protecting to a large extent, the interests of business owners in our core downtown area. The compromise also calls for scaling back some of the immediate infrastructure improvements in the area to accommodate our City's budget constraints. The key to this compromise has been to leave many options for redevelopment open in the future, while addressing the most significant environmental concerns as quickly as possible.
I have described just a few of the elements involved in our Brownfield reclamation project. Alice Steiner, Director of Salt Lake City's Redevelopment Agency, will be speaking to you in greater detail regarding the Gateway project and you will have an opportunity to tour the site on Wednesday.
Once again, wilkommen! I hope you enjoy your stay with us and I hope you leave this conference with new ideas and enthusiasm for the important work you're doing.