There’s a scene in The West Wing where one of the characters proposes ending a standoff between India and Pakistan by promising India new infrastructure in exchange for backing down. “Buy them off,” says the character, Lord Marbury. He goes on to explain how the British Crown used to buy the loyalty of regional leaders in India by giving them money and a title.
Back in February, Josh Barro at Forbes explained how Chicago facilitates urban development in a similar way:
This is partly because Chicago also liberally uses Tax Increment Financing districts, which now cover huge swathes of the city. When a TIF district is created, the amount of property tax revenue that the district sends to the city is frozen for 23 years. Increases in property tax receipts are instead directed into a special fund that can only be used for projects within the TIF district boundaries—and new developments tend to mean significant increases in property tax collections. When you create a TIF, you create an incentive for residents and their Aldermen to approve new development, as that means more money for local goodies.
Of course, we don’t have a TIF in Washington State and Roger can give you all the reasons why. But the idea of buying off affected communities has broader merit. Here’s a piece from Dawn Stover at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on how to get communities to agree to allow an energy (or waste) facility to be located nearby:
The commission studied the experience of the United States and other nations and concluded that “any attempt to force a topdown, federally mandated solution over the objections of a state or community — far from being more efficient — will take longer, cost more, and have lower odds of ultimate success.” Instead, the commission recommended that communities be encouraged to volunteer as hosts for a nuclear waste management facility and be offered substantial incentives for doing so.
Stover goes on to argue that the consent has to be truly informed – you can’t just go to the poorest communities and buy them off because they have no other alternatives or don’t know what they’re getting into. Fortunately, as relates to transit projects, this is less of a concern. For one, the main opposition may come from high-information, high-income residents (think of the South Bay Area and high-speed rail, or Beverly Hills High School and the LA Subway). And, of course, the end product is an amenity, like a train station, not a nuclear waste site!
So, next time you’re faced with an recalcitrant neighborhood opposed to a new transit project or upzone, consider appointing a maharaja. Or at least offer to build a new gym for the local school.