Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Red State Blue City

United States Capitol Building
Washington D.C.
Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Before we get started on today's topic: Red State Blue City, a word about current events.  Last Thursday's Senate testimony by former FBI director James B. Comey was quite the spectacle.  For nearly three hours, the Senate Intelligence Committee listened to and questioned Mr. Comey on whether or not he felt pressured to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's interactions with the Russians.  The biggest revelations: Mr. Comey leaked non-classified memos to the press in hopes of getting an independent counsel appointed to oversee the investigation (done) and the White House lied about his dismissal.  This was followed by yesterday's testimony before the same committee given by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who appeared to convienently suffer from a memory lapse.  Not looking too good for the White House.  One more thing, best wishes for a full and speedy to Louisiana Representative  Steven Scalise and the brave Capitol police officers.  The Congressional Democrats are hosting a unity dinner this evening better get to know their colleagues on the other side of the aisle.  Sad that it took a shooting to knock some sense into Congress.  Alright, on to today's subject.

Red State Blue City
Today's shooting, at a baseball pitch where the Congressional Republican team was practicing for a charity game, was committed by a person extremely distraught over the election.  The horrific event serves as another reminder of the deep political divide that led to the election of President Trump.  This divide is further heightened in typically economically prosperous cities and urban counties-usually run by Democratic mayors-and state governments where Republicans control one or both legislative houses; or the governor's office.

 In his POV column for CityLab, "Red State/Blue City Isn't the Whole Story," Bruce Katz writes, "Increasingly, these electoral divisions are spilling over into open warfare as meddling states attempt to preempt or circumscribe the ability of their cities to reflect the views of their own residents.  It is a riff on the two sovereigns-the office of head of state can be delegated to several people (i.e. governors  who administer over territorial matters); a governor can delegate jurisdictional authority to several people (i.e. mayors).  Herein is where the conflict lies.

High rise buildings in Houston, Texas
Photograph by Mike Blake/Reuters
In a lot of states, the power struggle goes beyond the usual white hot cultural issues like transgender rights, guns, and abortion to the subject of basic economic competitiveness like affordable housing-a very big issue in California.  On February 22, 2017, the National league of Cities released a report that outlined preemption laws aimed at local minimum wage laws in 24 states, prohibiting local broadband services in 17 states, and curtailing jurisdictional regulation of ride-sharing in 37 states. (; date accessed June 14, 2017)

Mr. Katz writes, "Advocates of local control and the progressive resistance are rightly bringing attention to state-local preemption, but that focus gives on a partial picture of the complex structural relationship between the states, their localities, and their citizens."  This relationship is the forgotten part of federalism, which is often viewed as a conflict between Washington and the states.

The I-65 intersection the I-20/59 in Birmingham, Alabama
For example, what this push-pull means that states, and Washington, are the primary providers of the nation's safety net.  Mr. Katz cites the 2012 Supreme Court decision, National Federation of Independent Business v. Seblius.  This decision resulted in "19 states deciding not to expand Medicaid."  States wildly vary their support of welfare benefits, nutrition assistance, public health, and additional income for the working, to list off a few.

The individual states also decide how to apportion federal resources, sometimes doing so in a manner that undermines cities and urban counties.  One example is the state of Alabama's decision to go ahead with a major reconfiguration of interstate 20/59-that would expand the six-lane elevated freeway to a 10-lane beast; reducing access to downtown Birmingham from three exits to one. (; date accessed June 14, 2017)  Mr. Katz notes, "Clearly, 1960s-style transportation solutions are alive and well.  This is just one way out-of-touch-state interests can preempt local know-how and disserve quality of life."

Woman photographing the harbor
As the states usurp certain privileges, they mishandle others.  Traditionally, they were the epicenters of economic development, investing public universities, technology transfer, and trade-oriented initiatives focused on increasing exports and foreign direct investment.  However, in recent years, states like Pennsylvania have drastically pulled back from these efforts, prompting cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to take up the cause.

Remember during one of our discussions ("The Consequences of Being a Sanctuary City; Feb. 1, 2017) when yours truly quoted Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto, ...Cities exist at the right of the state.  Here is how: the states and state constitutions outline the fundamental rules for jurisdictional governance.  They determine the city boundaries and municipalities that fixed or flexible, curtailing not only land expansion but also the tax base.  Further, the states also determine what taxes cities can collect from their residents: "Currently 42 states constrain local fiscal authority through tax and expenditure limitation, which can sharply restrict a local government's ability to raise revenues."  Finally, the state have broad power to decide how much authority is delegated to municipal or regional governments.  They can exercise control over the quality of local economic growth through invests in primary through high schools. higher education, and workforce development.  Can you begin to understand what Mayor Peduto said about the cities exist at the right of the states?

Houston, Texas
However, once we move into the structural area, the tidy political divisions fall apart.  Try to follow along.  "Some red states have progressive governance starting points; for example, laws enabling their cities to annex suburbs and grow a robust fiscal base.  At the same time, many blue states have rules that keep cities and suburban municipalities small and weak-little boxes with limited horizons, in the memorable words of David Rusk."  (

In certain respects, red meat Texas is structurally more progressives than blue blood Connecticut.  How is this possible?  Texas's major cities have large footprints-"Houston's land mass is 610 square miles-and a broader tax base with more residents, more homes, more companies, and more consumer establishments.  Hartford, on the other hand, sits on jus 18 square miles and las a large concentration of poverty; it's literally too small to success."  Tis quite true in cities that are also state capital, like Hartford, dense with tax-exempt buildings and institutions.

Bushnell Park
Hartford, Connecticut
The realities of today requires a more comprehensive understanding of the connection between states and municipalities. Bruce Katz proposes one idea on how to start: "Convene an independent blue-ribbon commission to examine the status quo and champion reforms."

He also proposes that "These reforms should particularly focus on how cities and counties address the dramatic fiscal pressures that accompany the decline in federal discretionary spending and the rise in local pension and other liabilities." (; Jan. 18, 2017; date accessed June 14, 2017)  He points to the United Kingdom and Northern Europe as model for adapting these challenges.  "In Manchester, England, for example, community deal enable cities to move resources across siloed health and services.  In Copenhagen, public authorities like port authorities have been restructured to leverage the value of underutilized public land and buildings for infrastructure finance."  Denmark also established a negotiated budget-making procedure between state government and cities.

Bruce Katz also suggests, "Cities and localities' constituency groups could organize a commission to advance these kinds of reforms by seeking funding from philanthropy and participation by community leaders who have not succumbed to our current poisonous partisanship."  Easier said than done.

News break: the Washington Post  is reporting that President Donald Trump is under investigation for obstruction of justice by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Regardless, the United States needs to come to its senses and reclaim the center.  The forgotten side of the federal republic is a good starting point.


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