Government Growing Wild: Is Sprawl Exacerbated by Jurisdictional Fragmentation?

June 23rd, 2014

By Bryan Grady, Research Analyst at the Ohio Housing Finance Agency

An underappreciated element of what can make a location a good place to live – or not – is the regional governance structure: the number and configuration of counties, cities, townships, and special districts that comprise a metropolitan area. Across the country, there are substantial differences worth noting. I began looking at these issues when I was an intern at Greater Ohio ten years ago and now, as a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University and a research analyst at the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA), I am studying the impacts that these forces have on housing outcomes. I worked with Judd Schechtman, a land use attorney and colleague at Rutgers, on developing some preliminary findings regarding the role of fragmented local government in generating sprawl.

Maps illustrating the correlation between sprawl and government fragmentation. Darker hues represent higher values.

 

To operationalize such an amorphous topic, we employed data published in Measuring Sprawl and Its Impact, which defined sprawl as a lack of four characteristics – residential density, mixed-use development, strong economic centers, and connected streets – and computed an index that incorporated all four elements. (A newer version, based on similar methods, was published earlier this year.) With regard to measuring regional governance, we used the Metropolitan Power Diffusion Index (MPDI). In short, MPDI encapsulates both the density of governments (e.g. how many incorporated areas and districts exist for every 100,000 people) and their relative budgetary influence, with a value of 1 representing a unitary regional government and increasing values indicating more diffuse political authority. A handful of other variables were included in the work as statistical controls, including population, manufacturing employment, per capita income, and educational attainment.

A quantitative analysis across 77 regions nationwide found that fragmentation and sprawl were directly correlated with one another at a statistically significant level. This was particularly true when evaluating the residential density component of the sprawl index, as well as the economic concentration component. Why? As Judd and I wrote,

Exclusionary zoning, as practiced by small municipalities, is specifically conceived to limit residential density in order to keep home prices and tax revenues high; reduced fragmentation would seemingly reduce the incentives to maintain such policies. Similarly, every city in a fragmented metropolis attempts to leverage agglomeration effects in office space and retail to their own advantage, whereas a single municipality that dominates a region would be able to channel development into a smaller number of commercial centers.

In short, in a region where dozens of localities are left to zone with only their own constituents in mind, land use patterns that are economically and spatially suboptimal are the direct result. A more regional approach to land use planning is necessary to ensure that money and land are not wasted chasing artificially-created shortages of various types of development.

The full study is available here. If you have any questions, feel free to email Bryan Grady. Please note that any opinions herein are the author’s, not those of OHFA or the State of Ohio.

Governing Magazine Article Cites GOPC

April 1st, 2014

Last week, GOPC was quoted in Governing Magazine on the topic of the country’s urban/rural divide and how that division is playing out in the 21st century. The article by Alan Greenblatt, titled “Rural Areas Lose People But Not Power,” details the ongoing struggle between urban and rural politics, despite shrinking populations in rural areas.

GOPC Executive Director Lavea Brachman was included in the article, saying:

“While it seems that the urban/rural divide is diminishing because of demographics—and there are certainly less purely rural districts—the ideology and the stances legislators take do reflect an urban/rural divide.”

Ohio, with its numerous urban areas and large rural expanses, exemplifies the current nature of politics in the United States.  The results of this evolution in politics are evident in our cities, which struggle to thrive after years of per capita under-investment. As Greenblatt’s article notes, cities are gaining numbers, and thus importance in regional and national economies.  GOPC’s work to advance sustainable development in Ohio is intended to strengthen our cities, which can work to enhance and expand the state’s overall economy.

Common Ground, Not Battleground

December 27th, 2012

By Lavea Brachman, Executive Director, Greater Ohio Policy Center

With the aftermath of the election barely behind us and the so-called “fiscal cliff” looming, political polarization seems unabated.  But beneath the surface and beyond the drama of the national election in “battleground Ohio,” Ohio is less divided in ways that matter to economic progress.  As a bipartisan state policy organization, we are privileged to observe the similarities of governing and good policies among policymakers of both parties.

First, the urban-rural divide characterizing Ohio for decades has quietly and gradually begun to fade away.  Seven major regions in the state exist now, centered around cities. Rural places are increasingly economically dependent on the urban areas and their satellites.  But benefits extend in both directions- for example, urban Columbus-ites enjoy the proximity of the Hocking Hills while those in the Appalachian region benefit from health care and spin off jobs from the city.

Second, for over a decade, policymakers have been turning these regions into the building blocks of the new economy.  Democratic and Republican governors alike embraced the concepts found in a seminal report completed in the mid-2000’s during the Taft Administration, identifying key economic regions in the state and critical industries. A regional economic development approach was initiated under Governor Strickland with now Governor Kasich working on economic redevelopment through on-the-ground regional organizations. While implementation scenarios vary, regional economic growth efforts – corresponding loosely to metropolitan regions — are starting to take hold.
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GOPC, “Across the Spectrum” Think Tanks Unite Again

September 13th, 2012

Greater Ohio Policy Center is again collaborating with Center for Community Solutions and the Buckeye Institute, two other think tanks that span the political spectrum, renewing the call to examine the issue of tax expenditures, commonly known as “tax loopholes.”  Last week, the three partners issued a Press Release once again advocating for a Joint House-Senate Tax Expenditure Review Committee to examine and vet tax expenditures and subject these loopholes to “sunset revisions,” which would allow certain tax expenditures to expire after several years unless re-enacted by the General Assembly and approved by the Governor. 
 
“In the absence of guidelines for demonstrating effectiveness, and a schedule for periodic evaluation, these cannot be considered good public policy”, the three groups said in their Press Release.
 
This unique tripartite partnership began during last year’s debate over Ohio’s 2012-2013 budget, when the groups joined together to propose ways that Ohio policymakers could address the issue of tax expenditures.  This partnership attracted extensive state and national attention and spurred the highly successful “Across the Spectrum” conference, raising the level of public discourse by facilitating thoughtful discussions that avoided partisan platitudes and instead explored a range of policy solutions available to the state and nation.
 
GOPC and their partners commend Governor Kasich for his recent comments on the need to examine expenditures and the Ohio House of Representatives for convening a tax review committee last year.  These policymakers have brought back into public view the importance of adopting a comprehensive process for assessing Ohio’s loopholes.
 
Evaluating the costs and benefits of specific expenditures will ensure a transparent and defensible decision-making process.  In improving Ohio’s competitiveness and quality of life, any future expenditures—new or renewed—must have transparent criteria that ranks projects and clearly demonstrates a net benefit to tax payers.
 
“Our organizations often take different positions on how best to raise and allocate public resources, but we share the common goals of eliminating ineffective, counterproductive or outdated tax expenditures, and assuring that those remaining in Ohio tax law receive periodic scrutiny.”

The collaboration between Greater Ohio and their partners have already received attention by Trib Today, Salem News, the Akron Beacon Journal, and been featured on WVIZ NPR.

Three Think Tanks From Across the Spectrum Renew Call for Closing Tax “Loopholes”

September 4th, 2012

PRESS RELEASE                                                                       
 
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information, contact:
Alison Goebel, Associate Director
E-mail: agoebel@greaterohio.org
Phone: 614.224.0187
 
 
September 3, 2012-COLUMBUS, Ohio – Three Ohio-based think tanks representing various public policy perspectives today are renewing a call they made last year to thoroughly re-examine Ohio’s myriad of tax expenditures, commonly known as “loopholes.”
 
The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, The Center for Community Solutions  and The Greater Ohio Policy Center  issued the following statement,
 
“Governor Kasich’s recent comments on the need to examine these expenditures bring back into public view the importance of Ohio’s adopting a comprehensive process for evaluating and, where appropriate, changing or terminating them.  We agree with the Governor that the time to be proactive on this issue is now, and urge leaders in the General Assembly to adopt legislation before the next budget cycle.
  
“Our organizations often take different positions on how best to raise and allocate public resources, but we share the common goals of eliminating ineffective, counterproductive or outdated tax expenditures, and assuring that those remaining in Ohio tax law receive periodic scrutiny. Our joint proposal from last year entailed terminating a group of these tax expenditures as part of the biennial budget legislation. We maintain this should be revisited by the General Assembly during its post-election session.”
 
The groups concluded that,
 
“We stand ready to assist the Kasich Administration and the General Assembly as they tackle this issue. However we may differ on the size and scope of government, all Ohioans would benefit from a system for monitoring taxes and expenditures that is as rigorous as the biennial budget process for programmatic expenditures. Support for this idea exists across the political spectrum. The time for  action is at hand.”
 
To view the statement in its entirety please click here.

Local Government Innovation Fund

December 23rd, 2011

By Gene Krebs

While Ohio’s tax obligation as a percentage of income is ranked 33rd highest of the 50 states, we are ranked a stunning 6th highest for local tax obligation.  This could be blamed on many things by many people, but there is another fact that also stands out.  Nationally, there are 27.9 local governments per county.  Ohio has 41.3 local governments per county.  This is driven not just by cost, but also a fractured governmental structure, leading to a cacophony of voices raised in economic development efforts. 

It is not that we have too little economic development in Ohio; we have too much economic development bureaucracy. Not only does this lead to churning and poaching of one business from a community to one just down the road (leading to no or little economic benefit to the community as a whole), the myriad rules and local regulations inhibit businesses from locating in those small box counties.

One of the solutions to this lack of coordinated economic development is something that Greater Ohio has been pushing for several years- a fund to encourage collaboration, sharing services and consolidation of back office operations. 

The Local Government Innovation Fund (LGIF) was created in the last budget to foster that change.  Many of our earlier language suggestions were adopted directly by the General Assembly, and for that we are grateful. The LGIF was established to provide financial assistance to Ohio political subdivisions for planning and implementing projects that are designed to create more efficient and effective service delivery within a specific discipline of government services for one or more entities. Projects are also expected to facilitate improved business environments and promote community attraction.

The LGIF program will award up to $100,000 in grant funds per feasibility study, up to $100,000 in loan assistance per entity for demonstration projects, and up to $500,000 in loan assistance for multi-entity projects to be used for demonstration projects. 

There are five scheduled five LGIF information sessions to explain the upcoming Innovation Grant & Loan Application and Program.  Please click here for additional information about the program and regional informational sessions; click here for more information on the application.   

The LGIF is managed by the Local Government Innovation Council; Governor Kasich graciously appointed me to serve on the council in the position as an advocate for the citizens of Ohio (I serve without pay, in case you were wondering).  I am looking forward to working with the rest of the council and the able staff of the Ohio Department of Development.

The Future of Ohio Lies in Regional Government

August 31st, 2011

Today The Columbus Dispatch ran Greater Ohio’s Letter to the Editor, which congratulated Central Ohioans on the governance reforms underway in the region and discussed the goals of our new Regional Governance Initiative.  As we note in the Letter, governance reform can help a region realize its shared identity.  We believe this recognition encourages regions to grow smartly as the individual cost of new infrastructure or government is assessed in light of the cost or benefit to the entire region, not just the individual community.

You can find the full text of the article here.  Let us know what you think by leaving a comment on our blog or Facebook page.  And be sure to keep an eye on our blog as the Regional Governance Initiative gets underway this fall.

Columbus Dispatch Discusses Governmental Collaboration

August 26th, 2011

By Lavea Brachman

An editorial in The Columbus Dispatch last week highlighted cost-saving initiatives underway in Franklin County, which we applaud as exciting initial steps toward greater operating efficiencies. Collaborative efforts, such as combining paper supply orders, foregoing separate postage meters, and setting up a multi-agency county employee health insurance pool, serve as important governance reform models for other local governments to follow throughout the state. Ultimately, we hope to see other local governments following Franklin County’s lead.

However, we believe that these measures set the stage for more dramatic reforms involving greater governmental integration down the road – such as regional governance, which might include city-county mergers or other joint governing, and regional revenue-sharing. We hope promotion of such reforms will be a priority for the Governor, his administration and the General Assembly. As Ohio continues to face severe budget cuts, incremental cost-saving measures such as those taken by Franklin County leaders, while necessary are not sufficient.  True governance reform of this type allows counties to get ahead of future budget cuts and leverage the state’s rich multiplicity of urban and metropolitan regions, thus transforming Ohio into a 21st century economy.  With seven of the nation’s top 100 major metros – and metro regions being critical economic drivers — Ohio can reap the benefits of being a “metro” state with the necessary policy tools to act regionally and promote vital land use and infrastructure redevelopment. Greater Ohio is launching a “regional governance initiative” to press these policies forward, in partnership with local and regional leaders.  Over the next several months, the Regional Governance Initiative will utilize research, outreach, legislative advocacy and education, to undertake an unprecedented statewide effort to promote and institutionalize regionalism, regional economic development and related new governance structures in Ohio.

Moving towards Regionalism: Greater Ohio visits the Dayton region

June 21st, 2011

Earlier this month Greater Ohio went to Montgomery County to participate in a day-long program: Developing the Miami Valley Region Together.  Sitting on the “The Current and Future State of Regionalism” panel, Greater Ohio discussed the recent history of Ohio’s governance and taxation structures and how these systems have given rise to fragmented and—at times—duplicative, costly governments.  As we pointed out in the discussion, excessive government layers often encourage urban sprawl, by seemingly making the edges of the metro cheaper.  Looking at a region—like the Dayton metro—as a whole, however, shows that sprawling infrastructure and governments weaken the overall economic power of the core and its suburbs.  Regional approaches, such as sharing service responsibilities between jurisdictions (such as using one parks and rec supervisor for two villages instead of each hiring their own), or even consolidations (as might happen among the city, county, and township fire departments) can reduce costs, maintain the same level of service, and encourage jurisdictions to more thoughtfully consider the addition of any new government layer on the edge of the region.

Greater Ohio was pleased to be invited to this public forum, as all of the day’s discussions sought to explain the different ways government cooperation can work, and what the benefits and disadvantages are to moving to more regionalistic structures.  As we recommended in our April Budget Analysis, budget cuts at the state and local levels must be accompanied by legislation and administrative policies that help smooth the belt-tightening transition by enabling and making permissive regional solutions.  The discussion underway in Montgomery County signals to us that local leaders have a real desire for governance reforms that will help them build strong metros in the future.

 

Greater Ohio, Buckeye Institute, Center for Community Solutions Call for Tax Reform

June 17th, 2011

A recent collaboration between Greater Ohio and two other high-profile research organizations, the Buckeye Institute and Center for Community Solutions, reaffirmed the old adage about “strength in numbers.”

By joining forces to help spread our message about the critical need for tax reform in the state, we attracted the attention of numerous state and national media. They reported on our efforts, which included sending a proposal to and meeting with state administrative and legislative leaders. We called on them to create a bipartisan State and Local Tax Study Commission to analyze the current tax structure and initiate efforts to make much-needed state and local taxation reform in Ohio a reality.

Our group message – and a recommendation of Greater Ohio for some time – is that without change, the prospects for positioning Ohio for regrowth in the future are greatly diminished.

Coverage included articles and editorials in The Columbus Dispatch, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Dayton Daily News, The Akron Beacon Journal, The Toledo Blade, and USA Today.

To read what the press had to say about our recent initiative, click on any of the links below:

USA Today

The Columbus Dispatch – Editorial

The Akron Beacon Journal – Editorial

Dayton Daily News – Editorial

The Columbus Dispatch

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dayton Daily News

Toledo Blade

The Examiner