MARCUS: Is suburbia the root of all evil?

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Morton Marcus

Roberta Righteous, the conscience of the Indiana House of Rep-resentatives, was on the phone.

“Phony,” said Myrtle my muse. “You’re not on the phone and Roberta Righteous doesn’t exist.”

“That’s none of your business,” I shouted, annoyed by her interference with my creative process.

“Whatever you write or think is my business,” Myrtle purred, trying to get on my good side. “You have no creative process, you have only me.”

“I need to get this column written,” I pleaded. “I’ve been sick and don’t have the energy to fight with you this week.”

“Well, honey,” she said, “just use one of your old columns. No one would know the difference. You have only two or three themes, anyway.”

“What kind of muse insults the object of her attentions?” I asked.

“The kind who really cares,” she teased.

“I was going to write about how much sense it makes for governments to charge user fees instead of raising taxes,” I said.

“Perfect,” Myrtle sighed. “It will be your third column on that subject in the last year.”

“It’s a recurring issue,” I said. “However, our Indiana attorney general has declared that school districts cannot charge for bus transportation. He thinks it’s unconstitutional because somehow, in his imagination, student transportation is necessary for education.”

“To which you say?” she asked.

“Once upon a time,” I replied, “school transportation eased the journey of farm kids going to school. Today, it’s a massive subsidy for suburban kids whose parents have chosen to live far from a school in a place without sidewalks. It makes all taxpayers ante up for the location preferences of parents who don’t mind bellying up to the public trough.”

“Are you serious?” Myrtle said.

“Absolutely,” I insisted. “Parents move to remote locations, constructed on the cheap without sidewalks, because they know that in this state we’ll subsidize anything that increases the value of farmland. If the schools will pick up the kids for free, then the parents are more interested in living outside the town limits and the farmer gets more money for selling his land to a developer.

“It’s all part of a vast suburban conspiracy,” I said.

“Conspiracy?” Myrtle asked. “Is there a grassy knoll in this?”

“Look,” I said, “who causes the congestion on urban roads?”

“The Department of Transportation,” Myrtle suggested.

“No, that’s not fair,” I said. “INDOT is just trying to correct problems created by suburbanites. Why do I-69 and I-65 coming into Indianapolis become so congested? What clogs I-65 going into Louisville or U.S. 41 headed to downtown Evansville? Why was the Borman in Lake County such a mess before it was widened? Suburban commuters cause congestion. Not trucks, not tourists, not soccer moms.

“What’s the solution? Congestion fees,” I said, answering my own question. “Let those who use the roads at peak hours pay for the privilege. It’s technologically simple and ultimately fair.”

“Then you agree with the Central Indiana Transit Task Force that there should be toll lanes on such roads,” Myrtle asked.

“No,” I said. “There should be tolls on all lanes during peak hours. The toll lane is an easy, but temporary, solution. In fact, I would encourage Indiana to convert all limited access highways to toll roads. If you want premium service, you should pay for it.”

“Isn’t that harsh?” Myrtle asked.

“Listen,” I said. “Why should our hospitals offer private rooms? If a person needs a private room for health reasons, OK. But private hospitals decided to make premium service standard. They make more money that way. We all pay for premium service through higher insurance premiums or taxes when it is needed in only a few instances.

“Our politicians should imitate the private health sector if they want to raise more revenue. They won’t do it because they’re too timid to follow the implications of their own rhetoric.”

“OK,” Myrtle said, then gathered herself together. “Looks like you got your column, and without Roberta Righteous. Now go get some rest.”•


Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.


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  1. Aaron is my fav!

  2. Let's see... $25M construction cost, they get $7.5M back from federal taxpayers, they're exempt from business property tax and use tax so that's about $2.5M PER YEAR they don't have to pay, permitting fees are cut in half for such projects, IPL will give them $4K under an incentive program, and under IPL's VFIT they'll be selling the power to IPL at 20 cents / kwh, nearly triple what a gas plant gets, about $6M / year for the 150-acre combined farms, and all of which is passed on to IPL customers. No jobs will be created either other than an handful of installers for a few weeks. Now here's the fun part...the panels (from CHINA) only cost about $5M on Alibaba, so where's the rest of the $25M going? Are they marking up the price to drive up the federal rebate? Indy Airport Solar Partners II LLC is owned by local firms Johnson-Melloh Solutions and Telemon Corp. They'll gross $6M / year in triple-rate power revenue, get another $12M next year from taxpayers for this new farm, on top of the $12M they got from taxpayers this year for the first farm, and have only laid out about $10-12M in materials plus installation labor for both farms combined, and $500K / year in annual land lease for both farms (est.). Over 15 years, that's over $70M net profit on a $12M investment, all from our wallets. What a boondoggle. It's time to wise up and give Thorium Energy your serious consideration. See http://energyfromthorium.com to learn more.

  3. Markus, I don't think a $2 Billion dollar surplus qualifies as saying we are out of money. Privatization does work. The government should only do what private industry can't or won't. What is proven is that any time the government tries to do something it costs more, comes in late and usually is lower quality.

  4. Some of the licenses that were added during Daniels' administration, such as requiring waiter/waitresses to be licensed to serve alcohol, are simply a way to generate revenue. At $35/server every 3 years, the state is generating millions of dollars on the backs of people who really need/want to work.

  5. I always giggle when I read comments from people complaining that a market is "too saturated" with one thing or another. What does that even mean? If someone is able to open and sustain a new business, whether you think there is room enough for them or not, more power to them. Personally, I love visiting as many of the new local breweries as possible. You do realize that most of these establishments include a dining component and therefore are pretty similar to restaurants, right? When was the last time I heard someone say "You know, I think we have too many locally owned restaurants"? Um, never...