The Tax Grab Game

Source: Josh Goodman, Governing, Vol. 20 no. 7, April 2007

Cities are finding ways to raise revenue from suburbanites, without actually calling the levy a commuter tax.

Talk about a politically charged phrase. “Commuter tax” is such a loaded term that people who support one often try to find some other way of saying it. Alice Rivlin, who’s spent much of her professional life managing or overseeing federal budgets and helping to rescue local finances, steers clear of the phrase–even though she’s a firm believer in the idea of her hometown, the District of Columbia, taxing the income earned in the city by people who live in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. “I never use the term ‘commuter tax,'” she says. “That’s anathema.” It’s also the fastest way to doom a city’s attempts to raise money from suburbanites. At the heart of the commuter-tax debate is this question: Do the millions of people who enter cities to work each weekday cost more than they contribute to the urban center? Suburbanites almost always answer “no” and they’ve made sure their representatives in elected office agree. For years, central cities have been learning that this is a fight they can’t win as, time and again, their efforts to tax the wages of suburbanites have failed in the face of political tension and economic reality. Often, cities also face the opposition of their own business communities, which believe that such a tax could drive employers away. No city, after all, can be a center of economic activity without its commuters. But there may be an end run around the commuter-tax dilemma. Quietly, a number of cities are figuring out ways to raise revenue–without also raising the spectre of a commuter tax–from workers who commute to the city. Cities in Ohio and Texas have found success by casting inter-jurisdictional taxation as an alternative to something suburbs and their residents fear even more: annexation.

The Retail Chase

Source: Christopher Swope, Governing, Vol. 20 no. 7, April 2007

Cities will do almost anything to land the store of their dreams.

Next month, legions of retailers, developers, bankers and brokers will descend on Las Vegas for one of the biggest schmooze fests in the world. It’s the International Council of Shopping Centers’ spring convention, and to anyone who hasn’t been there, the scene — literally a city under a roof — can be a bit overwhelming. Exhibitors set up booths as wide as office buildings, and the aisles are platted into a sprawling street grid. At the corner of “38th Avenue & Q Street,” mobs swarm the Cold Stone Creamery booth for free ice cream; a “block” away, they get free pretzels from Auntie Anne’s. But the real business happens behind closed doors, where the bigwigs of chain retail shake hands on hundreds of deals that decide where America will shop and eat for years to come. Because the commercial stakes are so high, the ICSC conference isn’t just an affair for the industry anymore. It’s a big event for local government as well. Mayors, city council members, city managers and economic development officials have become regulars at this annual carnival of deal-making. Some 4,000 public-sector people are now members of ICSC, and they are one of the fastest-growing segments of the association.

Fouling An Attack

Source: Robert Barkin, American City & County, Vol. 122 no. 3, March 1, 2007

Preparing for emergencies is nothing new for Patricia Bean, Hillsborough County, Fla., administrator. After all, hurricanes are a way of life in the Southeast, and readiness for the next storm is at the top of every official’s list of essential tasks. But, anticipating an influenza pandemic is different. “We’re used to dealing with a situation that we see coming and then passes,” she says about hurricanes. “But this situation is very different. We may have 30 to 40 percent of our staff out of work. How can we cover that?”

Hillary Was Right: The Health Care Plan That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Source: Jonathan Cohn, New Republic, Vol. 236 no. 4814, June 4, 2007
(subscription required)

More than a dozen years later, Hillary Clinton wants the world to know that she has seen the error of her ways. That health care plan–the one that was supposed to revolutionize the medical industry and guarantee every American insurance–wasn’t such a hot idea after all. “I think that both the process and the plan were flawed,” Clinton admitted in an interview with The New York Times, demonstrating a level of contrition more fitting for an Iraq war architect. “We were trying to do something that was very hard to do, and we made a lot of mistakes.”…

Should Unions Play Golf With Republicans?: Labor PAC Support Across Political Parties

Source: Roland Zullo, Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, Vol. 10 no. 2, June 2007
(subscription required)

This essay examines the strategy of political voluntarism, defined as a neutral political affiliation, by testing whether or not union political action committee (PAC) donations to congresspersons in the 2000 election cycle affected their roll call votes in subsequent years. Results indicate that overall, the Republicans became more antilabor in their roll call patterns after the election of George W. Bush, and that labor PAC donations did not moderate this shift. Democrats, however, became more prolabor in their roll call voting, and this trend was likewise independent of labor support. Finally, there is no evidence that congresspersons retaliated against labor when an electoral rival was supported. These findings underscore the importance of political parties in shaping public policy and challenge the utility of a labor political strategy that is party neutral. A strategic alternative, political idealism, is discussed.

Fishing in Different Ponds: Union Organizing Across Industries

Source: Timothy D. Chandler and Rafael Gely, Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, Vol. 10 no. 2, June 2007
(subscription required)

A major complaint of the Change to Win Coalition (“Coalition”) is the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations’ failure to “follow the work” and allocate sufficient resources to organizing, particularly in industries experiencing job growth. Our article uses industry-level data from National Labor Relations Board-supervised elections from 1970 to 2000 to evaluate the validity of this criticism. We find support for the Coalition’s claim. Most industrial groups faired better than manufacturing in election outcomes. Yet union organizing activity was lower in other industries. Moreover, declining organizing activity within manufacturing suggests that other industries, most notably services, account for an even greater share of new entrants into the labor movement.

“Why Unions Matter” An Orientation for Oregon Legislators, Candidates, and Their Staffs

Source: Robert Bussel, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 32 no. 2, June 2007
(subscription required)

…To be sure, many legislators exhibited an appreciation of the union movement’s political role, especially its fundraising ability and capacity to mobilize volunteers for electoral activity. However, members of the United Labor Lobby believed that the focus on specific pieces of legislation and the logistics of campaign support tended to obscure political leaders’ understanding of the underlying values and motivations involved in shaping labor’s political priorities. As a result, the United Labor Lobby and LERC agreed to develop an educational program that would address this knowledge gap and provide Oregon legislators with a broader perspective regarding unions’ fundamental beliefs and their larger social role.

Pay for Performance: A Public Sector Puzzle

Source: Dick Grote, IPMA_HR News, March 2007
(subscription required)

True or false: Good workers should get paid better than bad workers. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the apparently obvious concept that those who do better work should receive better pay underlies one of the most puzzling public sector performance management issues: the notion of pay for performance. Before a pay for performance system can work, the tool to measure performance must be solidly in place. That’s why it’s a good idea to develop a good performance appraisal system before you tinker with the compensation system. But the conventional appraisal system used in most cities and state agencies doesn’t have the horse power to drive an effective pay for performance effort. The system has to be scrapped and recreated so that the city’s mission statement and vision and values are clearly linked to individual performance.

Public Safety Concept in the Post-9/11 World

Source: Leonard Matarese, Kenneth Chelst, Gayle Fisher-Stewart, and Albert Pearsall, Public Management, Vol. 89 no. 4, May 2007
(subscription required)

More than 15 years ago, authors Kenneth Chelst and Leonard Matarese described in an ICMA report the efficiencies and successes gained by the consolidation of police and fire departments. They defined the issues surrounding a police-fire merger, identified the key decisions that had to be made, developed a process to assess and overcome environmental barriers to a merger and presented a mathematical model for predicting the impact on costs and performance of a proposed police-fire merger. Specifically, they were addressing mergers where police officers and firefighters routinely worked together, rather than just administrative consolidations. Yet, in a post-9/11 environment, does consolidation continue to make sense? Is it an efficient use of human and financial resources? As this “age of terrorism” forces local governments to assess issues of interoperability and emergency management, while still competing for scarce resources, should emergency response organizations become combined under one public safety umbrella?