Could you please direct me to the nearest police station? I'd like to turn myself in. I'm a developer.
Actually I'm a leasing agent working for a development company. But that's no excuse. I stood by and did nothing while developers inflicted growth on the region.
Everyone knows that developers cause growth, growth causes higher taxes ad higher taxes cause tax rebellions.
And everyone knows that developers have "little education, few scruples and no taste," as one local journalist put it. Adding to the insult, Annapolis Capital columnist Eric Smith wants to convert an empty building into a "concentration camp for developers."
It's amazing what everyone knows. For example, everyone knows that growth doesn't pay for itself and that developers don't pay their fair share of taxes.
But what if everyone is wrong? What if this season's developer-bashing arises not from the facts but from finger-pointing politicians anxious to escape blame, self-serving special interest groups hungry for budget benefits and politically manipulated homeowners panicked by skyrocketing assessments?
Item: Most of the increased highway traffic is not a result of new growth but of new driving habits.
According to the Urban Land Institute, only one-third of the national increase in driving during the 1970s and '80s is attributable to more people, housing and job growth. Instead, most additional traffic is a result of a dramatic increase in driving; that is, people are driving their cars more.
For example, the tendency toward both spouses working outside the home means more trips to work, to child care, the supermarket and so on. Families no longer do their weekly shopping in a single trip; they pop in the car for a quart of milk and pop in again for a video.
Another reason people drive more is that they own more cars. In Fairfax and Montgomery counties, motor vehicle registrations have increased twice as fast as the population. Montgomery has more motor vehicles (527,000) than adults (519,000).
Look for the politicians to start blaming car dealers instead of developers for increased traffic ("If only they hadn't sold us all those cars!")
Item: No one knows whether growth pays for itself or what constitutes anyone's "fair share" of taxes. A recent Montgomery County task force charged with looking into this issue discovered "an information gap. Existing data do not present an accurate or complete picture." The report concluded that, without such data, "public discussion of economic development's positive and negative impacts becomes little more than adversary arguments."
The same study notes, however, that business's share of property taxes increased 22 percent over the past decade, while the share paid by homeowners dropped by 8 percent.
Developers contend that this tax trend, plus the extra "impact fees," traffic mitigation "agreements," transfer taxes, corporate taxes, rezoning "amenities" and energy taxes they are having to pay as a price of doing business constitute their "fair share" (not to mention the residential property taxes and personal income taxes they pay like all other taxpayers).
Item: The Virginia and Maryland suburbs aren't getting enough help from Richmond and Annapolis.
For example, over the past decade federal and state support in Montgomery County's budget slipped from 23 percent to 16 percent. And when Northern Virginia asked for more roads, the governor told them to levy a local income tax instead. That's what's causing the local budget crises.
It's the states, not developers, who aren't paying their fair share of growth costs. Suburban taxpayers send billions of tax dollars to Richmond and Annapolis. But the politicians can't bring home enough road and school projects to meet growth needs. So suburban taxpayers make up the difference and in effect pay taxes twice. No wonder tax rebellions are blossoming around the Beltway.
Is suburbia overdeveloped? You bet. Should growth be drastically reduced. Absolutely. Are developers causing the problem? That's like blaming alcoholism on alcohol.
The region is home to some of the planet's more restrictive land-use regulation. Developers can only go as far as government officials let them. But now the same politicians who never said "stop" are hiding behind simple-minded bumper stickers that say, "Tax Developers: Save Good Schools!"
Fine. Tax me. Make me your campaign scapegoat. But stop calling me up and cluttering my mailbox with your constant requests for campaign contributions. Even developers aren't that hypocritical. -- Blair Lee is vice president of a Silver Spring real estate firm.