Before Oro Valley, Marana and Pima and Pinal counties do any more planning for all the population growth everyone either cheers or dislikes, decision makers should stop considering two long-standing myths: that growth will somehow pay for itself, and that impact fees will slow it down.
Growth hasn’t “paid for itself.” That’s blatantly obvious to anyone who’s ever read a property tax bill. Two factors stimulate higher costs. The first is obvious — infrastructure needs grow disproportionately higher the denser the population. That’s why it’s cheaper to live in rural Wyoming than New York City. I didn’t say “better” or “more convenient” — just cheaper.
Growth brings many things some prefer while eliminating others. Clearly, indoor activities are generally enhanced, while outdoor ones are reduced. Golfers note — many golf courses once existing elsewhere have gone the route of some rifle ranges when land gets more expensive and government pressures for higher taxes grow.
Unique to Arizona and many western states are the massive state holdings of millions of acres, here dedicated to K-12 education. The land is held in trust, sold to the highest bidder, and the funds pay the interest for funding schools. Nice idea back when K-12 took a few school buildings and teachers, but then we created the massive educational bureaucracy we have now. Unfortunately, the land sold off generates far more school costs than the interest paid. There’s a current ballot proposal to change this, but it’s clear that monies generated from the school trust fund pays few of the costs created by the need for more schools caused by selling and developing the land.
The other way growth raises governmental costs is less obvious.
The more people in a given governmental jurisdiction, the more individuals and groups will appear who want the role of government increased. Many can’t understand why we “don’t do it the way we did back home.” Some are the same folks delighted at paying lower taxes here than they did where they fled. They fail to grasp that they have brought the bigger government infection with them. Local governments listen to those showing up at public hearings, usually “special interests” wanting more money for whatever.
Impact fees have a shorter history and seemed reasonable at first. Time has told us otherwise. I admit to having been an advocate at one time myself, as I also was for term limits. As long-time California Democrat House Speaker Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh said “I don’t learn quick but I learn good.” Carve this one in stone. Impact fees do not restrain growth — they encourage it.
The avaricious maw of government does not look upon them as a growth tool. Governments see them as simply another revenue source not directly paid by current voters, making them a highly desirable alternative to raising taxes.
The evidence is present in communities that have run out of places to annex and in-fill. The desire for revenue so trumps any other consideration that we have thriving businesses and homes hit with eminent domain simply because governments want more revenue from something else. Worse, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Kelo case made their worst call since Dred Scott in sanctioning the practice. Thanks to the Goldwater Institute, Arizona courts ruled otherwise here but other states may continue this wretched ploy.
Eminent domain may have been limited here, but the desire for more revenue and new government programs motivating it continues unabated. In discussing or planning Arroyo Grande or anything else, please look askance at anyone telling you that growth pays for itself or that impact fees will control it.
Listen to Emil Franzi and Tom Danehy Saturdays, 1-4 p.m., on Inside Track, KVOI 690 AM.