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Monday, December 23, 2002

Michigan Democrats and Republicans claim to agree that sprawl is bad. Let's hope they're serious about this: with the state, like every state, facing a budget crisis, I hope they use taxes to discourage sprawl. A big increase in the gas tax and hefty property tax surcharges on greenfield development could make existing communities relatively more attractive to developers and commuters.

At the root of the problem, as I see it, is that communities on just about every scale are in competition with each other, to just about everyone's detriment. Indonesia and Bangladesh takes jobs from Mexico which went there from the US fifteen years ago. Alabama gives Hyundai $126 million in corporate welfare so they'll locate a plant there instead of in Kentucky (Michigan? Forget about it!). People looking for a house are lured to new subdivisions in Livingston County because of low land costs, lower taxes, low gas prices, and no tolls on the highways, to the detriment of Ann Arbor and metro Detroit, despite their existing housing and infrastructure. Competition has its place, but the government must not only provide a level playing field (which it rarely does); it must prohibit competition which is generally bad for the public welfare. Sprawl is one such form of competition. While the farmer may get more for his land than he would otherwise, and the developer makes a lot of money, and many of the people who buy houses there will at least claim to be happy, the overall impact of sprawl on society is negative, so it should be stopped.