Stanley Kurtz, author of the new book Spreading the Wealth, has written a case study of recent efforts to implement regionalism in Ohio. This plan would raid suburban tax money for the benefit of urban areas while also intentionally limiting the growth of suburbs. The success of the regionalism agenda in Ohio could rise or fall on who is elected to the White House this November.
If you haven't heard of regionalism that's because it has been put into practice in a few places around the country, at least so far. Examples include Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota which has instituted a regional tax plan in which suburbs "share" their money with the cites, and Portland, Oregon which has created a boundary which limits the growth of suburbs. Both cities are considered models by progressives who would like to see this regionalist agenda brought to their states.
There is an ongoing battle over this agenda taking place in Ohio. In 2007, regionalists in Cleveland used their control of a transportation funding agency to withhold highway funding from a growing suburb called Avon. Avon would not get money for a new interchange unless it agreed to share it's tax base with Cleveland. Avon's Mayor felt strong-armed but had no choice but to go along.
The success of Democrats in Ohio's 2008 state elections was a boost for regionalists, who promised to enact more "tax sharing" plans. But as Kurtz reports in detail, the agenda began to meet some stiff opposition from elected leaders of suburbs who didn't like the idea of their tax money going to prop up schools in other counties.
But at this point the power of the federal government entered the picture. Northeast Ohio received a "regional planning grant" which insured their agenda would continue to thrive despite the swing to the right in the 2010 elections.
The Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, which was created after the planning grant was issued, is scheduled to release a report in 2013. If Obama is still in office, progressive Democrats will feel emboldened to push the tax sharing agenda on the suburbs of Ohio. However, if Obama is not in office and Republicans do well at the polls next month, progressives may feel obligated to temper their plans.
The reason all of this is important is that regionalism is bad news for Ohio's suburbs in several ways. First, it may mean placing artificial boundaries on growth, as in Portland. Second, it would mean less tax money to fund local priorities. Finally, it could mean fewer jobs as companies decide to locate their businesses in an area that is not governed by regionalists with an anti-suburban agenda.