Rejecting the right on growth and planning

Rejecting the right on growth and planning

- in Fitzsimon File

It’s still early in the fall local election season, but Tuesday’s results in Cary and Raleigh and the findings of the latest Carolina Issues Poll seem to indicate that people are no longer buying the line from the market fundamentalists that the free market alone should govern the state’s growth.

Cary Mayor Ernie McAlister, a friend of developers and real estate interests, was defeated by challenger Harold Weinbrecht, a proponent of managed growth for the city.

And it wasn’t that close. Weinbrecht won with 58 percent of the vote after a heated campaign in which McAlister spent five times as much as his challenger. The results in city council races in Cary and Raleigh were similar, with candidates who campaigned on more controls on growth doing well, defeating incumbents in several cases.

Wake County voters also overwhelmingly approved bond issues for Raleigh parks and for new libraries, community college improvements, and open space in Wake County. All the bonds passed with at least 67 percent of the vote.

Seventy-one percent of voters supported the bonds for open space, just a few days after one of the think tanks published a column that called the open space initiative a “government land grab” that would put the American dream out of reach for many people. It appears that many people believe the American dream includes parks and open spaces for their children to enjoy.

The latest Carolina Issues Poll from N.C. Policy Watch shows that the Wake County results are in line with the views of the majority of people in the state on growth issues.

The survey asked if local government officials should coordinate new housing and commercial developments with transportation routes or should the matter be left to the free market. Sixty-eight percent of those responding preferred more planning while just 24 percent wanted to let the market decide where things should go.  

The poll asked several questions about transportation policy and there too the positions of the anti-government forces were soundly rejected. Sixty-nine percent of those responding said they favored a combination of roads, buses, and light rail to address the state’s transportation problems, while 19 percent supported a roads-only solution.

The messages this fall from the state’s leading market fundamentalists are that transit and light rail are a waste of money, counties should not approve an increase in the local land transfer tax or sales tax because they claim counties don’t need the revenue, and growth left to the market will pay for itself and doesn’t need to be regulated.

The poll shows the public doesn’t buy the transit argument. A vote next month in Charlotte will be the next test as voters will decide if they want to repeal a half-cent local sales tax increase passed in 1997 for mass transit.

The referendum comes as the first segment of Charlotte’s light rail system is set to open and more than $2 billion of private investment has already been made along the rail line. The Raleigh right-wing think tanks leading the fight to repeal the tax may not think that transit is a good idea for Charlotte, but it is clear that the business community there supports it.

It also shows how transportation policy can help communities manage growth and influence investment and development, ideas that the market fundamentalists can’t stand, government playing a positive role in people’s lives.

As for the fight against the transfer tax, the strategy is a series of misleading cookie-cutter reports issued in every county with a tax referendum, complete with flawed assumptions and methodology, as Rob Schofield with N.C. Policy Watch explains in his latest Weekly Briefing.

Supporters of keeping Charlotte’s light rail on track with the local sales tax believe the voters will agree with them and the momentum is on their side.  It’s a safe bet that some counties will approve new local taxes to pay for schools and other costs of growth and that some counties will defeat them.

But overall it seems the anti-everything rhetoric is wearing thin. People want livable communities, enough schools for their kids, and parks and open spaces to enjoy. And they increasingly want Realtors and developers to pay for part of the costs of the growth that brings them their billions in profits.

They must be getting nervous over there on Right Wing Avenue.