Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Change We Better Believe in

You'll find my op-ed column in today's Gazette. I've also reprinted it here:

Tough times should focus us all on what is important. When the economy is strong maybe we can endure a political conversation that focuses on peripheral issues and takes for granted our prosperity and high-quality basic services. But not now.

As Montgomery County faces the stark reality of falling home values, private sector layoffs, empty storefronts and dire economic predictions for the future, we must take stock of where we are and where we need to go. We always have valued a high quality of life. We usually measure this by the success of our schools, our diversity, our parks and the depth of community engagement in all things great and small.

That quality comes at a price. Despite the county's reputation for having an uninviting business climate, we have been fortunate to have a vital business sector as the backbone supporting a wide range of services. Yet our success has inflated both the cost of doing business and the cost of our housing, pricing out jobs and would-be residents, causing long commutes and road congestion. As the fiscal horizon continues to darken, government needs to reassess past practices so we can continue to support our expensive mission.

Economic development issues need to take priority. This means long-term policies that continue to work over time, not just the short-term injection of cash from the federal stimulus. Recently, Hilton Hotels chose to locate in Fairfax County, Va., to take advantage of tax incentives and a business-friendly environment. We need to start winning bidding wars with the Hiltons of the world, and we need to revamp our processes to encourage, not hinder, job growth.

We also need to support the elements of community that help us all succeed. We can do this at no cost to the taxpayer and to the benefit of many. For example, by creating incentives for the growth of child care providers, we make it possible for parents to go out and earn a paycheck. And why not make it easier for homeowners to have accessory apartments? That would have multiple benefits — allowing seniors to age in place and helping cash-strapped families pay their bills while providing the affordable housing our workers need.

We must change the way Montgomery County functions. If we are to continue to satisfy our community's high expectations for quality of life, let's focus on "yes," not "no." With more jobs and a stronger support system for them, we can spread the tax burden across a larger base, enhance our work-life balance, promote entrepreneurship, encourage diversity and ultimately make the county a more affordable place to live.

A practical economic plan will pay for all that is good in our community. That's what sustainability really means, and that's the change we all should believe in.

1 comment:

Zinzindor said...

I loved the idea about accessory apartments. It can only help to ameliorate the shortage of affordable housing, without costing the government any funding.

Can you elaborate on the legal and regulatory impedimennts to such apartments currently?

Do you plan to introduce legislation to facilitate such apartments?