“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
— Edward Abbey
No political leader wants to be accused of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. To be blamed for doing anything, anything at all, that might so much as slow the economic growth of a community or a state.
But sometimes it is the greatest act of leadership to point out that, in addition to laying all those golden eggs, the damn goose is pooping all over everything and that it might be a good idea, not to kill the magic fowl, but to stop feeding it so much and to stop letting it wander anywhere it wants.
That time has come for Utah. It is just a question of whether anyone is going to offer any of the realistic leadership necessary to convince the rest of us that the mess being made is larger and more important than the accompanying benefits.
Just listen to many of the big issues that get talked about around here. The air is deadly. Traffic is growing so fast that it immediately expands to fill all the highway lanes we can build. Schools are so overcrowded that students can hardly turn around in the hallways, much less be seen and heard by their classroom teachers.
We are building, and planning to build, new housing at a rapid clip, but not quite rapid enough to keep up with the demand. In one ear, local officials hear that they need to bring more housing online, especially for those who have already been priced out of the market. In the other ear, they hear people shouting that this or that particular project would include way too many units and ruin the nice communities that newcomers, quite reasonably, want to join.
And those folks who still can’t afford to rent decent housing amidst a building boom, well, say hi when you step over them on the sidewalk.
But when anyone suggests getting a handle on the area’s growth — not slowing it so much as guiding it — the immediate and horrified reaction from so many in the political and business tribes is, “You can’t do that! You will kill our growth!”
Nothing short of a world-wide economic meltdown is going to “kill” our growth. The number of people who want to move here, on top of the number of people who are being born here, will remain staggering for years to come. So taking the steps to better handle that growth, even if it does amount to tapping the breaks a bit, won’t hurt anything.
We need to clean up our air. There is no single way to do that, but more mixed-use developments that make it possible to drive less — or not at all — is one way. So is making sure that nobody, here or in Washington, messes with auto fuel economy standards or rules that require cleaner-burning fuels.
The state should update building codes — or allow counties to update them — so that all new buildings are more efficient. Yes, even if it adds a little to the cost.
Go big on impact fees on all new development to pay for the things we need the most: Affordable housing and schools.
Raise gas taxes. Use that money, or more sales tax, to make it free to ride UTA buses and trains. The fare box only produces some 14 percent of the transit agency’s revenue anyway, so move it to 0 percent, save the cost of printing tickets and scanning passes and get us out of our cars and on the bus.
Utah’s unjustified affection for regressive taxes — the flat income tax, sales taxes, gas taxes — is a big problem. It is perhaps natural to think that way in a state where so many influential people pay another kind of flat tax — the 10 percent tithe that faithful Mormons pay. But it’s not good for supporting government in a fair and sustainable way.
Every time we need more money, we do something that hits the working class and basically exempts the wealthy. It is too light on the truly public-spirited business leaders who, quite rightly, call for more money for schools or infrastructure, but who know that the relative burden they will bear will be small compared to people who are just getting by as it is.
Our income tax should be progressive, with marginal tax rates that take a lot more from the second million you earn and less — or none — from the first 20,000. The federal government used that approach back in the day, with top tax rates that went as high as 92 percent. All we did with that was win World War II, rebuild Europe, build the Interstate Highway System, build schools and libraries, send a million former soldiers to college, create the largest and most productive industrial economy in the history of the galaxy and go to the freaking moon.
Taxes and regulations slow growth? It could happen. But, today in Utah, there is no cause to say that like it is a bad thing.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Tribune, has slowed his own growth by eating less pizza. email@example.com