Why Cities Decline, Case Study No. 1,223 (Idiotic Streetcar Edition)

Officials in Cincinnati, a city that's been in decline for decades (maybe a century), have finally hit on a way to pull re-enthrone the Queen City (a.k.a. Porkopolis) as urban royalty: Build a $100 million, 4-mile streetcar route with the money they don't have.

Yeah, that's the ticket. To rub salt in the wounds of taxpayers, officials are claiming that the project will add $2 billion to the city's economy and revitalize a long-unrevitalizable section of town.

Cincinnati today will unveil plans on how to pay for a four-mile, $100 million downtown streetcar line that advocates believe will contribute $2 billion to the city's economy and transform [the] Over-the-Rhine [section of town].

The plan's cheerleaders include politicians, transit activists and urban developers. So far, it seems to have no enemies, although that could change when the city explains where it will get the money to fund the plan.

More here. The project is a fantastic example of how city officials delude themselves into thinking that whipped cream and sprinkles--or a goddamn transit technology that is one of the most frustrating, underperfroming rides imaginable--can save cities. What is it about trains? Or light rail? Or streetcars? Is there a Freudian analysis that's relevant here?

Why won't cities such as Cincinnati do far more basic things to lure people back into their craptacular clutches? The list might include: Generally reducing taxes and regulation so that it's relatively cheap to live and easy to do business in an area; creating a safe climate with regards to crime; reforming a public school system so people who don't have kids (a majority pretty much everywhere) don't have to worry about school issues and people with kids have some decent measure of choice; not spending billions of dollars on the owners of jerk-off sports teams.

Somehow I don't think building a 4-mile streetcar from point Y to point Z is going to help.

Back in 2001, as Mr. Mxyzptlk at Suck, I wrote about Cincinnati's woes as a way of talking about the plight facing many other mid-sized (for now) cities.

Cincinnati's leaders (if you can call them that) are predictably holding up Portland, Oregon as a model. Here's Randal O'Toole in reason on why that is totally off-target. And here's Dan McGraw on why sports welfare is destructive of just about everything it touches, except the wallets of fatcats.

O'Toole (named after his father, perhaps [scroll down]), wrote a good piece for Cato cleverly titled "A Desire Named Streetcar."

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  • ||

    The powers that be are trying to do the same thing here in (much, much smaller) Lancaster, PA. The public outcry against the idea has been pretty loud, though.

  • ce||

    As long as you're linking, don't forget Peter Bagge's cartoons on trains and ballparks:

    http://www.reason.com/staff/show/137.html

  • ||

  • ||

    My guess is that no citizen will do anything to block it. This is, after all, the city that voted Jerry Springer into the Mayor's Offices.

  • ||

    Wow, I regret that I will not be able to stick around for most of this discussion

  • ||

    Meanwhile, in my fair city, I'm going to lose almost $100 a year to a library system I don't use.

    "The levy will consist of two-tenths of one percent of the wages and net profits of individuals and businesses respectively, costing the average worker about $76 per year."

    And the best part? I don't even get to vote NO to the fucking referendum because I only WORK here, I don't LIVE here.

    Health insurance rates are going up and my pay isn't going up enough to cover that, much less the cost of my commute and now I have to pay for a fucking LIBRARY system that already has plenty of funding?

    Goddammit I'm so pissed off I can hardly see straight.

  • edna||

    monorail

  • ||

    Streetcars!? Why are people so nostalgic for old transport methods? Why not just go back to Hansom cabs?

    Cincinnati should try building Jetsons' style pneumatic tubes to move people around. Somebody has to be the test case for the technology.

  • robc||

    Bronwyn,

    I will cast as many votes against it as I can. My business partner is in the same boat, he lives in Waddy, so cant vote but is going to be taxed if it passes.

    As he said, why expand physical structures that arent going to be used in 10 years? The library may still exist 10 years from now, but will anyone need to actually go to a physical branch?

    Im counting on Okolona to defeat it like they did the original merger vote back in the 80s.

    BTW, Im moving into a new house on Saturday, is there any "Vote NO" yard signage available that you know of? If so, from where?

  • robc||

    I think this streetcar fetish must come from drinking Ohio River water. Streetcars were one of Louisville's brilliant failed ideas to revitalize downtown. Except they just bought buses that looked like streetcars.

  • Chucklehead||

    Maybe they could build a sports stadium at each end while they're at it. Think of the jobs it will provide!

  • ||

    The opposition group has a website somewhere around hier. I sent a message, but since I called "bullshit" I'm sure it won't be printed anywhere.

    Jeezus. Talk about taxation without representation. I want go out and throw shit into the Ohio now.

    Do what you can, robc, to represent we, the poor Oldham county residents, who don't get a vote!

    *waves fist in the air*

    Good luck with your move. I'm glad it's raining now, but I'll hope it lets up for your moving day :)

    btw. I live in Prospect... where're you?

  • robc||

    If I put up "Libraries NO!" and "Paul for Prez" signs this weekend do I immediately become the neighborhood kook?

  • robc||

    I will soon be in the lovely, recently streethump infested (within the last month in my new neighborhood) city of Middletown. Which means Im also in the city of Louisville. How the fuck did we end up with a stupid system that allows me to be within 2 city boundaries?

  • ||

    Simpsons monorail song.

  • ||

    robc

    I don't know, robc. So will you have to pay property taxes to both Mtown and Lville? O_o I really do like it here, but the system is royally fubar.

    My husband and I are constantly on the hunt for acreage out "in the state" where we can establish our Family Compound. With the Hillary specter looming large, we growing more frantic by the day :-/

    (please forgive the threadjack, folks)

  • Episiarch||

    Why won't cities such as Cincinnati do far more basic things to lure people back into their craptacular clutches?

    My question exactly. Hartford, CT used to be the "insurance capitol of the world". Now it's a shithole hemmoraging insurance companies and anyone else. It's a ghost town on weeknights. Crime is pretty bad (my father won't go into Hartford without a pistol on him).

    Yet they don't reduce taxes or create incentives for business, or lighten up on the residents. They instead want more money for police, business centers, etc. Where's the money going to come from? Idiots.

  • robc||

    Bronwyn,

    Yeah, I will pay 2 city property taxes. I do now too. To be fair though, the Louisville city property tax is exactly the same as the Jeff Co property tax I used to pay before the merger, for now. As soon as the old city residents win their lawsuit, something will have to change.

    The residents of the old city are paying a higher rate, which is blatantly unconstitutional. But, to get the vote from county residents they had to promise "us" (I voted against the merger) that our property taxes wouldnt go up.

    Hopefully this thread is a "stupid taxes that cities do" thread and not a specific Cincy streetcar thread. Just so we arent threadjacking.

  • ||

    The more I learn the weirder it gets.

  • ||

    Anyone who's ever visited Over-the-Rhine knows that Nick's description of it as "unrevitalizable" is probably the biggest understatement they'll see this week.

    It's truly a frightening place.

    As for the rest of Cincinnati, it truly is a world apart from the rest of Ohio. We in the Northeast barely acknowledge it.

  • ||

    Does this mean there's no money for the Thanksgiving Turkey Drop?

  • Mike Laursen||

    You don't understand. When a city council builds a streetcar line, they always get a public transit award complete with a shiny plaque they can hang in the city hall lobby. It's totally worth it.

  • ||

    Meanwhile, in my fair city, I'm going to lose almost $100 a year to a library system I don't use.

    "The levy will consist of two-tenths of one percent of the wages and net profits of individuals and businesses respectively, costing the average worker about $76 per year."

    And the best part? I don't even get to vote NO to the fucking referendum because I only WORK here, I don't LIVE here.


    Well, stop working there and get a job in the place you do live.

  • ||

    What always amazes me about Reason's commentary on revitalization plans is their level of comfort making grand pronouncements without needing to know anything about the proposal.

    Somehow I don't think building a 4-mile streetcar from point Y to point Z is going to help.

    You don't even need to know the route the transit line will serve to know it's useless?

    That's pretty impressive.

  • germandudemeister||

    I can see the problem with cities spending money they don't have but I can't really grasp why streetcars are the one of the "most frustrating, underperfroming rides imaginable".

    I know, I know, it's a problem directly comparing our cities with the US' because yours are larger in general - but larger German cities do have a streetcar-system that works quite well so I don't think the concept is fundamentally broken.

  • ||

    This story is interesting when one considers Cincinnati's abandoned subway system.

  • ||

    joe,

    If you knew a damn thing about Over-the-Rhine, you'd know that this is a particularly useless endeavor. The place is beyond help and has been for a long time. It's analogous to 1980's Collinwood (Cleveland) - it's the Beirut of Cincinnati.

    germandudemeister,

    It's not raw size that makes the comparison invalid. It's the density of the typical American city vs. a typical European one and the proximity of one city to another.

  • x,y||

    Cincinnati is offering property tax breaks to homeowners (mostly condo-owners) who purchase new or redeveloped homes in the city. I've taken advantage of that, though I live just outside of downtown. It saves me about $2,500 per year in property taxes.

    There are also about a dozen or so new bars and restaurants in the city center -- that opened almost immediately after Fountain Square was redone.

    As for "saving" OTR and the rail ... good luck getting those ideas out of the heads of our "leaders."

  • ||

    Timon19,

    If I knew anything about that city and this proposal, I would expresed an opinion.

    Since I don't, I didn't. Probably a good policy.

  • x,y||

    joe,

    I've seen where the proposed routes would travel. And it's nowhere I'd like to go. Maybe that's just me personally and maybe the rail will generate a few new businesses, but for the proposed price tag, I don't see how it's justified.

  • Rhywun||

    larger German cities do have a streetcar-system that works quite well so I don't think the concept is fundamentally broken.

    Hell, even smaller German cities have them--like Würzburg, a small city I am very familiar with.

    The difference is that most American cities sprawl more than German cities do, rendering any form of transportation other than the automobile useless. Also, many older cities that were built before the automobile era ripped out their rail systems to make way for cars and buses. So even in places where it would be useful, you'd have to start from scratch.

  • ||

    x,y,

    Perhaps the purpose is not so much to connect you to Over-the-Rhine, but to connect OtR to the rest of the city.

  • Rhywun||

    New Jersey built a streetcar line along the west bank of the Hudson, and the building boom there is unbelievable. And no, it's not just the god-awful Newport Center, either. New condos are going up all up and down the line on former industrial land. Sure, it would have filled up anyway given the real estate situation around here, but not as much and with a lot more parking lots.

  • ||

    BTW, since libertarians always offer the same policy prescription to revitalize every older city suffereing from de-industrialization - cut taxes, slash services, reduce regulation, etc - could somebody please point me to an example of when this has actually worked?

  • robc||

    joe,

    In some sense, we are judging based on past performance. I have seen a series of Louisville's attempts, going back to before I was born (I just read about some of them). Does the series of past failures mean the current one is going to fail? No, but its my default position.

    BTW, the current Louisville plan seems to be somewhat working so far, not as obvious a failure. Yet.

    I can understand your view that plans should be judged on their own merits, but if its such a good plan, why wasnt it the first one tried?

  • ||

    robc,

    Becasue this isn't a science.

  • robc||

    joe,

    Maybe it should be. The city planning majors I went to school with were at an engineering school. Maybe they should have asked for some tips.

  • ||

    Ah, Over-The-Rhine... That fateful, frightful mistaken left turn when you're trying to go to Bogart's...

    I guess a streetcar car makes sense, you won't want people to have to walk all the way up there to buy crack and get stabbed.

  • Rhywun||

    Another obvious difference between America and Germany is that many American cities are mostly ghettos outside a few remaining wealthy pockets, and surrounded by middle-class and higher suburbs whose residents are often embarrassed by the ghetto their city has become and proud to say they've never been there. Buffalo is a great example of that. With little private investment going on and no interest from local residents, it's no surprise that grandiose plans often fail.

  • robc||

    joe,

    could somebody please point me to an example of when this has actually worked?

    Indy maybe?

    A. I dont know what all they did, other than privitizing some services
    B. I dont know if it worked

    Im not sure the libertarian plan has actually been tried anywhere.

  • ||

    Where's the money going to come from? Idiots.

    I think you answered your own question, E.

    You don't even need to know the route the transit line will serve to know it's useless?

    That would be correct, joe. No streetcar line will ever revitalize a downtown, regardless of the route, because what kills downtowns isn't the lack of streetcars, but more systemic problems.

  • Jennifer||

    Yet [Hartford wont'] reduce taxes or create incentives for business, or lighten up on the residents.

    Do you live in the area, Episiarch? Drop me an e-mail if you do.

    And the tax situation is even worse than you think. Their proposed new plan will DOUBLE taxes on small businesses. And then they wonder why people are leaving the city in droves? They think that increasing the number of abandoned storefronts will bring prosperity and reduce crime?

  • ||

    Yet [Hartford wont'] reduce taxes or create incentives for business, or lighten up on the residents.

    This is a common story that applies to almost every mid-sized dying city in the N.E. that I've ever been to/studied. It's really frustrating and it makes me want to just move to a city that's doing well so I don't have to deal with the "but if we build a convention center, it will revitalize downtown!" garbage that everyone always falls for.

    Rhywun:
    A friend of mine was just in not-so-nice portion of Buffalo last weekend. He had his car window smashed and they stole all of $3 from his car.

  • ||

    The county of Tulsa (as opposed to the city of Tulsa) just voted down a tax to develop our portion of the Arkansas River, but it was a close vote, and authorities are vowing to come back with another plan to vote on. Like the river itself, the whole thing stinks...

  • ||

    I hope that was a Dan T. impersonator...

    Dan T., the reason I don't get a job where I live is the simple reason that I live in the country where no one is currently hiring PhD-level scientists with special training in molecular genetics.

    The reason I don't live where I work is the simple reason that I like grass and trees and quiet and I like my nights dark.

    Don't worry, as soon as I can afford to quit my job, I plan to. Or do you suggest I quit now and go to work at Thorntons?

    Why are you such an asshole. Do you really think life is so simple?

  • ||

    robc,

    Actually, getting away from thinking they were doing science was a great improvement for city planners. The subject matter is not quantifiable like a science, nor are there universally applicable laws. The period when planners thought they were going science, and went through their business as if they were engineers building a bridge, was a very dark time for American cities - it's known as the Urban Renewal era.

    RC Dean,

    As a matter of fact, lack of access to downtown, and to old central-city industrial and commercial districts in general, IS one of the problems that has harmed American cities so much. It is a systemic problem. Once upon a time, these cities had robust transit systems and railroad infrastructure to provide human and freight access. Between the elimination of the rail and the switch from transit to cars (and heavy rail to trucks for freight), these places have been left with much worse access than they used to have. You should bone up on some urban history, and not assume that everything in a nail just because you're a hammer.

  • Rhywun||

    And then they wonder why people are leaving the city in droves?

    "vicious circle
    n.
    1. A situation in which the apparent solution of one problem in a chain of circumstances creates a new problem and increases the difficulty of solving the original problem."

    The problem is your city has turned into a ghetto but it still has unfunded obligations to provide services to a poor population. The only immediate solution is to raise taxes. No libertopian solution is going to fund those mandates right now.

  • Episiarch||

    Do you live in the area, Episiarch?

    Not in Hartford. Mansfield (near UConn main campus).

    This is a common story that applies to almost every mid-sized dying city in the N.E. that I've ever been to/studied.

    I was under the impression that it was the gradual leaving of almost all manufacturing (such as mills) from these mid-sized cities. The ones that have recovered, like Stamford, have focused on completely different things like...pro wrestling.

  • ||

    The Detroit People Mover , AKA the Coleman A. Young Memorial Boondoggle, is an embarrasement to the city. Yet somehow we refuse to shut the damn thing down. Cincinnati, read and learn. Of note in the Wiki article is the write up on cost effectiveness.

    IOW, been there, done that. Have a ball, Buckeyes.

  • LarryA||

    You don't understand. When a city council builds a streetcar line, they always get a public transit award complete with a shiny plaque they can hang in the city hall lobby. It's totally worth it.

    They also get a bunch of new unionized city employees who'll vote for the next boondoggle, along with a pay raise for the original drones.

    I know, I know, it's a problem directly comparing our cities with the US' because yours are larger in general - but larger German cities do have a streetcar-system that works quite well so I don't think the concept is fundamentally broken.

    Germany's streetcar systems predate the neighborhoods they serve, especially considering the regrowth after WWII. Businesses and homebuilders built alongside the tracks.

    Trying to add a streetcar line a century after the city was laid out will only work if you force the businesses and neighborhoods to relocate, which is impossible.

  • ||

    People in city governments have cronies and contributors they're going to steal your money for.

    You can't stop them.

    There's nothing else to know.

  • ||

    RC,

    It is a cherished myth that the deline of American cities after World War 2 was the consequence of the bad people coming to power and doing bad things, but that just doesn't hold up under scrutiny. Let me give you a few reasons why.

    1. The migration of industry from its original home in the northeast to the south and around the world began shortly after World War 1, owing to market conditions.

    2. Urban politics after World War 2 was actuallly significantly clearner than it was during the Tamany Hall days, during which those cities saw remarkable economic and population growth.

    3. The adoption of automobile technology and the suppression of rail technology made old industrial sites in the inner city obsolete for large-scale manufacturing, by reducing their accessibility and making suburban locations much more desireable.

    4. The repetition of the pattern of urban decline throughout America's older cities, and the similarity of how that decline occured, makes it highly implausible to suggest that local political conditions were a major cause.

    When we see something happening on a society-wide level, it makes a lot more sense to look for society-wide causes, such as changes in market conditions, than to look towards a patchwork of local conditions.

  • ||

    LarryA,

    Good point, but keep in mind - when we're talking about old cities link Cincinatti, we are talking about neighborhoods that were originally laid out based on transit or pedestrian access.

  • Jennifer||

    Why are you such an asshole. Do you really think life is so simple?

    Bronwyn, Dan T. is our resident troll whose main pleasure in life is saying whatever it takes annoy people.

  • Rhywun||

    The reason I don't live where I work is the simple reason that I like grass and trees and quiet and I like my nights dark.

    I'm always amused by people who say they "only" work in a particular jurisdiction; as if that means they don't benefit in any way from the services that place provides even when they spend 1/3 of their life there.

    I could say I don't "benefit" from the libraries and schools I don't use but pay for, but I am resigned to do it because I know it makes my city a better place. Yes, one could privatise the whole lot, but good luck with that.

    Trying to add a streetcar line a century after the city was laid out will only work if you force the businesses and neighborhoods to relocate

    Only if the businesses are located in the middle of the street. In many cities it makes sense to return the streetcars that were torn out in the middle of the last century. San Francisco is a good example. There are many former streetcar lines that were converted to buses which cannot handle the passenger load. Too bad they threw out all that invested infrastructure.

  • Russ 2000||

    With the kind of projected-cost-to-projected-revenue number they're throwing around, how come private companies aren't tripping over themselves to do the project without taxpayer subsidies?

  • VM||

    joe -

    a friend (good acquaintance - "Bekannter") of mine just finished up at Univ of Illinois Urban Planning and Policy Inst - how does this, in your experience, add up to what's going on in your field?

    cheerio!

  • ||

    VM.

    I don't understand the question.

    There are many former streetcar lines that were converted to buses which cannot handle the passenger load. Too bad they threw out all that invested infrastructure.

    Tearing out the rail the people depended on because buses and cars were the future is an example of planners thinking they were doing science

  • ||

    I know, Jennifer. I know.

    I should have just bitten my fingers instead of feeding that inveterate troll.

    *sigh*

  • Jennifer||

    I'm always amused by people who say they "only" work in a particular jurisdiction; as if that means they don't benefit in any way from the services that place provides even when they spend 1/3 of their life there.

    You don't think the cities benefit by having people work there and produce actual wealth, rather than picking it out of other people's pockets? What do you suppose would happen to a place like Manhattan, for example, if all the non-residents who work there packed up and took employment elsewhere? Somehow I doubt the city fathers would say "Gee, we're all so rich now that those lousy non-resident worker parasites are no longer benefiting from the services we provide them."

  • ||

    Dan T., the reason I don't get a job where I live is the simple reason that I live in the country where no one is currently hiring PhD-level scientists with special training in molecular genetics.

    The reason I don't live where I work is the simple reason that I like grass and trees and quiet and I like my nights dark.

    Don't worry, as soon as I can afford to quit my job, I plan to. Or do you suggest I quit now and go to work at Thorntons?

    Why are you such an asshole. Do you really think life is so simple?


    So basically you want the best of both worlds (the economic opportunities of the city and the private peacefulness of the country) but don't want to contribute towards paying for any of it.

    This is common theme around here.

  • x,y||

    Perhaps the purpose is not so much to connect you to Over-the-Rhine, but to connect OtR to the rest of the city.

    I hadn't considered that, but that's probably unlikely in this case. OTR is less than 7 blocks from the city center. If I have my streets right, Fountain Square is on 5th street, and OTR starts around 12th (and extends just a few blocks up). Downtown Cincinnati is pretty small in that way. Regardless, it's not a matter of bringing people from OTR down to the city center.

    It's being sold as a way to revitalize OTR. This means bringing businesses and professionals into OTR. Not vice versa.

  • VM||

    sorry, joe - was multitasking while typing. (now I have to figure out what was being said to me)

    what do you think of the program? how modern is it? is its focus/ philosophy similar to your program?

    and what about Philadelphia - where there used to be streetcar lines all over the place. Does anybody know about the genesis of the City of Brotherly Love?

  • ||

    From the article:
    The county should consider giving the port authority wider authority to seize private land for redevelopment, the team said.

    That should get things turned around.

  • Doctor Duck||

    The Detroit People Mover... is an embarrassment to the city

    At least it goes in a loop. When I do work at Cobo, or visit the Jerry Lewis arena (yes, I know), it's the best / only good / way to get to Greektown, etc. All in all, I think it's been good for the city.

    Plus, it's already in place for when they open the Urban Decay theme ride.

  • robc||

    Dan T,

    I know I shouldnt respond to a troll, but she doesnt want to pay for new libraries, not "any of it". Out of county workers dont pay the local school part of the tax either (Im paying 2.2% right now, she is only paying 1.45%). Why would a library tax be any different from the school tax?

    Speaking of which, why isnt the vote on this issue being done by workers in the county instead of residents? Bronwyn should have a vote but someone who lives here but works outside the county shouldnt.

    Our mayor, in his last campaign, said that he had library expansion in his budget and it would not require new taxes. I assumed he was lying because his lips were moving, but to add on a specific tax for something you claimed was already covered in your budget takes some cajones.

  • Rhywun||

    What do you suppose would happen to a place like Manhattan, for example, if all the non-residents who work there packed up and took employment elsewhere

    Well it's a good think nobody around here advocates slashing corporate taxes, then. Oh...

  • Rhywun||

    "thing"

  • Jennifer||


    Well it's a good think nobody around here advocates slashing corporate taxes, then. Oh...


    But I take it non-resident income taxes are fine? Since it's apparently selfish for a non-resident to work in a city without paying said city for the privilege.

  • Rhywun||

    But I take it non-resident income taxes are fine?

    Not "fine", but a symptom that something's wrong with the current tax structure.

  • ||

    "But I take it non-resident income taxes are fine?

    A grandiose public works scheme funded with free money is the Holy Grail of central planning.

  • Chucklehead||

    This is a common story that applies to almost every mid-sized dying city in the N.E. that I've ever been to/studied. It's really frustrating and it makes me want to just move to a city that's doing well so I don't have to deal with the "but if we build a convention center, it will revitalize downtown!" garbage that everyone always falls for.

    Hartford did fall into that trap. It's got a new convention center, located nowhere near downtown, that sits empty most weekends.

  • Christ on a Cracker||

    Could someone please enlighten me (Joe?)
    The proposed Cincy line costs $100Million for 4 miles of streetcar. That's almost $400 per inch. (I assume the numbers are accurate).

    What is the argument that makes these modes of public transportation so attactive, as opposed to adding a old-fashioned bus service?

    I am seeing the same thing in Columbus-only here it's "Light Rail", whatever that it.

    CoaC

  • ||

    Convention Centers and ballparks and the like are second or third order projects. Quality of life issues - whether crime or broken sidewalks or no street trees or vacant buildings screaming Burn Me! need to be the first order of business. If the city isn't a good place to be, nobody's going to want to be there, no matter what destinations there are.

  • ||

    What is the argument that makes these modes of public transportation so attactive, as opposed to adding a old-fashioned bus service?
    Because they've already tried bus services, and keep making a mess of them. People already know that bus service isn't going to get much better, so they hawk something people are less familiar with.

  • ||

    C o C,

    Buses pollute the air more, they contribute to and are subject to traffic congestion, they have higher operating costs (especially when you take into account additional road repairs necessitated by their weight.

    And there's also the greater long-term reliability of rail. Bus lines can be changed overnight, so people are less willing to invest in locations along a bus line than around transit stops. Because of the greater capital costs and the physical presence of the rail, people see a rail line as more permanent than a bus line.

  • ||

    But I take it non-resident income taxes are fine? Since it's apparently selfish for a non-resident to work in a city without paying said city for the privilege.

    It's "fine" in the sense that any price is fine - you pay it if you feel the benefits are worth it and you go elsewhere if you don't.

    Taxes, simply put, are nothing more than the price of living in a certain community. Nobody's forcing anybody to live anywhere they don't want to.

  • Jennifer||

    If the city isn't a good place to be, nobody's going to want to be there, no matter what destinations there are.

    Who has ever said, "Cincinnati's a great place to be, and the only reason I'm staying away from it is its lack of a four-mile streetcar route"? If the answer is "the majority of people who will get stuck paying for this streetcar," then I'd consider supporting it.

  • ||

    Edit: to the above, change to "working, visiting, or living"...

  • ||

    Jennifer,

    Who ever said "Milwaukee's not a good place to be, it needs more trees?"

    Who ever said, "Cleveland's not a good place to be, it needs new sewer lines?"

    Infrastructure ain't sexy, but it makes a city work.

  • ||

    Since it's apparently selfish for a non-resident to work in a city without paying said city for the privilege.

    An argument for fee-based financing as opposed to income-tax-based financing in cities where a significant portion of the economy involves commuting workers?

    To claim that workers are not part of a community because their house is over the horizon seems a pretty restricted definition of community.

    Commuters make choices based on self-interest.
    I find they also like to complain about the consequences of those choices.

    "I moved to the other side of the river because it was cheaper and the grass if pretty. Now the city wants me to pay for upgrades to the bridge in their city. How unfair. I don't live there..."

  • ||

    I think trees are sexy

  • NM||

    "is pretty"

  • Bingo||

    Well, they are building a light rail line here in Phoenix and I'm pretty excited about it. It's funded by an additional sales tax that was passed in all the cities it runs through. It's currently on-schedule and on-budget. Given how nasty the traffic around here I'm hoping it relieves the congestion. Also looking forward to getting sloshed and not having to drive home. :D h

    I suppose it is a little different than this situation though. Phoenix isn't exactly a floundering city that is using the light rail in a desperate attempt to revitalize itself. Also the funding makes sense and isn't racking up a huge debt for the city either.

  • Jennifer||

    "I moved to the other side of the river because it was cheaper and the grass if pretty. Now the city wants me to pay for upgrades to the bridge in their city. How unfair. I don't live there..."

    Put a toll on the bridge so that those who use it pay for it, regardless of where they live. Problem solved.

  • ||

    I think trees are sexy

    Get the hell off my lawn!

    Bingo, I hope the towns and cities aren't zoning out land uses that make sense around transit stations.

  • ||

    Public transportation never works unless personal vehicles are too much of a pain in the ass to take.

  • ||

    Bingo, I hope the towns and cities aren't zoning out land uses that make sense around transit stations.

    Technically they shouldn't have to. If the light rail line results in what they're supposed to, it will increase the land values around the stations enough to make sprawling pedestrian-unfriendly development a bad investment.

  • Christ on a Cracker||

    Joe,
    Pollution-Rail moves the pollution to outside the city to an electric plant. The total pollution is about the same.

    Road Repairs: $400 per inch for the infastructure? You can beef up a road to be able to handle heavier loads for lot less than that. BTW, rails also have inspection and maintenance costs.

    Permanence: Rail is sort-of permanent. The flexibility of conventional bus routes would seem to me to be a plus, not a minus.

    CoaC

  • ||

    oh wait, I completely misunderstood this statement: Bingo, I hope the towns and cities aren't zoning out land uses that make sense around transit stations.

    Now I get it.. by "zoning out" you mean "prohibiting through zoning," correct?

  • Rhywun||

    If the answer is "the majority of people who will get stuck paying for this streetcar," then I'd consider supporting it.

    I'd support it if it's a heavily used line and the buses are overcrowded, and/or there's a popular destination at the end. If it's pure politics, no, I wouldn't support it. But I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand with some sort of assumption that buses are "good enough" or the technology is "too old".

    only here it's "Light Rail", whatever that it.

    "Light rail" is basically streetcars for suburban commuters. It often runs outside of streets, in abandoned railways, and such.

  • ||

    Public transportation never works unless personal vehicles are too much of a pain in the ass to take.

    True, but look for Peak Oil to make that a given for most people within the next few decades.

  • Scooby||

    CoaC,

    Your comment about pollution is only partly true. The pollutants are more easily/economically captured when they are generated at a central station vs. mobile engines.

    I have yet to see a bus that sends its exhaust through scrubbers and baghouse filters instead of spewing fine particulates, sulfur, and unburnt hydrocarbons all over town.

  • Rhywun||

    unless personal vehicles are too much of a pain in the ass to take

    For me that has always been the case. The unbelievable amount of crap that people put up with to enjoy the "freedom" of their cars astounds me. The licensing, inspections, repairs, traffic, and on and on. The only time motoring was happy was when it wasn't required for every little errand.

  • ||

    Maybe Dan, But gas would have to get way up there. People are very good about paying the high price and simply complaining about it. Cars are a comfort feature that people will spend top dollar to keep. If gas was 10 bucks a gallon, people will still drive.

    If it gets to the point that people are abandoning their cars because of oil prices, this country will be economically screw. Everything will become more expensive.

  • ||

    """The licensing, inspections, repairs, traffic, and on and on. The only time motoring was happy was when it wasn't required for every little errand."""

    I don't know, I haven't owned a car in 17 years, but I live in Manhattan. I don't need one, and the expense of parking, or the hassle of parking keeps me away from one. Maybe I'll get one if I move to the burbs, or Cincinnati where I'll need it.

  • ||

    Reinmoose,

    Yep, you've got it.

    CoC,

    Pollution-Rail moves the pollution to outside the city to an electric plant. The total pollution is about the same.

    1. The same amount of particulates or ozone in the vicinity of an isolated power plant will do much less harm than in a densely-populated city.

    2. It is easier to scrub the emissions at a big power plant than on hundreds of buses.

    Road Repairs: $400 per inch for the infastructure? You can beef up a road to be able to handle heavier loads for lot less than that. Pavement is pavement, and it needs to be replaces on a regular basis.

    BTW, rails also have inspection and maintenance costs. Yes, but they're lower than those of roads. Just think about it - what happens more frequently, a roadway being repaved or the rails and supports of a rail bed being replaced?

    The flexibility of conventional bus routes would seem to me to be a plus, not a minus. It's a plus for some things, and a minus for others.

    Public transportation never works unless personal vehicles are too much of a pain in the ass to take. As you read this statement, keep in mind the "pain-in-the-assness" of being able to buy and keep running a car, when you are a poor resident of an inner city.

  • Bingo||

    joe: I'm not really sure. They are building the light rail and stations along existing roads. Well actually, in the middle of them in some cases. They could just be plopping down the stations in places that make sense, but the city has new contruction going on all the time so its possible they zoned them that way too. I'm from Detroit originally so I know about how terrible some implementations of rail transit can be. ;)

  • don\'t we all have a friend li||

    Public transportation never works unless personal vehicles are too much of a pain in the ass to take.

    As you read this statement, keep in mind the "pain-in-the-assness" of being able to buy and keep running a car, when you are a poor resident of an inner city.


    ...or when you're a wealthier resident of a dying city who has rebelled against car culture your whole life, to your own detriment and that of your friends who drive you everywhere so you can feel urban and independent, and who wishes that your city was bigger and wasn't dying, and who thinks that by your city building a light rail and riding it yourself you are somehow sticking it to the man, and that it will make your city seem like and operate like NYC, which is exactly what it needs to be revitalized...

  • Rhywun||

    I don't need one, and the expense of parking, or the hassle of parking keeps me away from one.

    I have never owned one, and never desired to (except on one particularly cold morning in Buffalo waiting for a bus....). The "unbelievable amount of crap" is totally hypothetical in my case, and an example of the kinds of stress I'm happy to be free of.

  • ||

    City Council's Economic Development Committee holds a public hearing today at 1 p.m. at City Hall, and expects city officials to present financing details. While planners have kept a tight lid on those details, the plan is expected to rely heavily on bonds that would be repaid with tax income generated by new development along the streetcar line.

    The streetcar plan aims to create an Over-the-Rhine neighborhood where downtown workers can live without owning cars, and where visitors can leave their cars in outlying lots and ride streetcars to riverfront events.

    If the city's projections are correct, the line would also kick-start redevelopment worth almost $2 billion in investments, rising property values and growth in property tax collections.




    In light of the fact that cities tend to "kick-start redevelopment" by forcing existing businesses and residents to subsidize it waiving or substantially discounting taxes, one wonders what the likelihood is that the city's projections are anywhere near accurate. But that's okay- they can always raise taxes on everybody else to pay off the bonds.

  • Jennifer||

    I have never owned one, and never desired to (except on one particularly cold morning in Buffalo waiting for a bus....). The "unbelievable amount of crap" is totally hypothetical in my case, and an example of the kinds of stress I'm happy to be free of.

    Everything in life's a trade-off, though. If I lived in Manhattan I too could get rid of my car and no longer spend the resulting money on insurance, registration, gasoline and so forth. On the other hand, the amount of car money I'd thus save in an entire year would only cover about one month's worth of rent differential between what I'm paying for my huge three-bedroom apartment in Connecticut, and what a similar apartment would cost in New York.

  • ||

    What if there was a fast train between Manhattan and New Haven?

  • ||

    Jennifer,

    Put a toll on the bridge so that those who use it pay for it, regardless of where they live. Problem solved.

    I've got no problem with that...hence my statement regarding fee-based financing.

    What do you think that bridge toll will look like if building/upgrading/maintaining it is not supported by non-users through other forms of financing?

    What impact do you think that will have on people's willingness to move to the other side of the river?

    And most importantly, will it make the commuters stop complaining about the consequences of their choices?

  • VM||

    Interesting site about urban decay

    (pics 10-15 of Cabrini Green in Chicago are from 1999-2000(!))

  • Jennifer||

    What if there was a fast train between Manhattan and New Haven?

    I still wouldn't be able to afford a decent apartment in Manhattan.

  • D. Greene||

    Cincinnati: in the running for stupidest, fattest, most racist city in the country.

    It is the fat, cholesterol choked beating heart of Ohio's nanny-state fascists, a nexus of support and foolish opinions justifying things like the smoking ban and the upcoming lapdance ban.

    Fuck Cincinnati.

  • ||

    C.I.N.C.I.N.N.A.T.I Cincinnati! The best town in O.H.I.O Ohio USA!

    Wow... Where in my god-foresaken memory was that stored away?

  • ||

    D. Greene,

    That's exactly why I said most of us don't consider Cincinnati part of the state. For all the faults of the union-soaked NE part of the state, it's a hell of a lot more sane (minus Kucinich).

  • ||

    VM, as a Philly trolley fan, I witnessed the destruction of the urban and suburban trolley and commuter rail system. PTC, Red Arrow, Reading, Pennsylvania RR were for-profit companies that were drained of revenue by property taxes imposed by every township and county they passed through. In many cases, the property taxes became higher than the fares collected at particular stations. And if they invested more - improved the station parking lot, for instance - taxes went up even more. Then you had militant unions calling strikes. Then, to recover costs through increased fares, they had to beg the PUC for fare increases that rarely made up the differences. Eventually, all of them went to the City and begged them to take over (forming SEPTA). Now, SEPTA covers less than 50% of its costs from the farebox and goes begging to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania to pick up the difference. Obviously, the market failed!

  • ||

    "Not-so-nice portion of Buffalo" is redundant. Until there are annual meaningful sacrifices, and not damn chicken wings, at my Monument I will not remove my curse.

  • D. Greene||

    Timon: you're absolutely right, and one of the reasons Cincinnatians can support just about any sort of ban or social policy that restricts freedom is because they have always just been able to cross over into Newport, Kentucky for their cheap booze, tobacco, and women. Cincinnatians are the worst kind of hypocrites.

    I second the comment that the Over-the-Rhine district is beyond repair, this won't change everything. Most of the people that say they are from Cincy actually live in a suburb (same situation here in Dayton).

  • Rhywun||

    the amount of car money I'd thus save in an entire year would only cover about one month's worth of rent differential between what I'm paying for my huge three-bedroom apartment in Connecticut, and what a similar apartment would cost in New York

    You don't have to be in the middle of Manhattan to take advantage of not owning a car. I do it in the outer area of Brooklyn, where my rent on a huge 1BR is $500 cheaper than on the tiny studio I used to have in Manhattan, and I'm still just 30 minutes from Manhattan by subway, and a 20 minute walk or less from most of the shopping I could ever want. It's a little more work in sort of dying cities I grew up in, where most of the shopping and much of the transit has moved to the suburbs, but it's still doable. I did it in Buffalo for eight years, and without ever bothering anyone to drive me somewhere.

  • Rhywun||

    "Not-so-nice portion of Buffalo" is redundant.

    Feh. There are *some* beautiful parts of Buffalo. Allentown, for example. Or anywhere around Delaware Park. But yeah, downtown's a mess and there's an awful lot of ghetto.

  • VM||

    Creech:

    then I assume you know
    this
    this
    and
    this

  • Theodore Dawes||

    Sad but true, Gautier Mississippi, which does not even have a downtown wants to form one so they can revitalize it. I guess it's because all the cool mayors are doing it

  • ||

    ""What if there was a fast train between Manhattan and New Haven?"""

    Joe, I believe it's call the Acela express.
    America's half-ass version of the bullet train. As far as bullet trains, it's not that fast. I'm sure it's faster than Metro North.

  • Jennifer||

    Also, are they still doing those bullshit no-warrant bag searches on trains and subways in or leading to New York? That's another reason to stay the hell out of that city, even if prices went down. It's annoying enough to drive a car and have to go through a random checkpoint, but I'd rather do that than let some authoritarian flunky paw through my purse and the contents therein.

  • ||

    Goddammit I'm so pissed off I can hardly see straight.

    Move.

    It is not as if there are not any towns cities and states in this country that have lower taxes and better job markets.

  • Jennifer||

    Oh, my God. It's the Dan Joshua T. Corning Harmonic Convergence.

    Cincinnati's decline is now wholly academic, since The End Times will come long before this streetcar project ever breaks ground.

  • Mike Laursen||

    What always amazes me about Reason's commentary on revitalization plans is their level of comfort making grand pronouncements without needing to know anything about the proposal.

    Since you're not a fan of Reason, you may not be aware that Reason Foundation has done a lot of public transportation studies.

    Buses pollute the air more, they contribute to and are subject to traffic congestion, they have higher operating costs (especially when you take into account additional road repairs necessitated by their weight.

    Is this based an assumption of a complete lack of imagination in the use of buses?

    What about zero or low emission buses? Does your definition of streetcar line presume separate lanes and grade separation? -- the same could be done with buses.

    Streetcars don't weight anything and don't need repairs? A citation backing your statement?

    What about the capital cost to build a light rail line? Shouldn't that be considered alongside operating cost?

    Bus lines can be changed overnight, so people are less willing to invest in locations along a bus line than around transit stops. Because of the greater capital costs and the physical presence of the rail, people see a rail line as more permanent than a bus line.

    Did you just make that fact up? Any citation backing your statement?

  • ||

    Here are two links talking about the Phoenix light rail. As a fellow resident of the area, I'm not sure about all their critiques, but two are absolutely correct. First, it will make traffic worse since they have removed 1-2 lanes from the busiest surface streets to install the tracks. Two, it will be nigh unusuable from May until late September. Being outside for more than two minutes in a suit during that time is not realistic, and expecting those suit wearers to then wait for a bus they already don't use is even more laughable.

  • ||

    VM, yep, they all look familiar and I have photos from 60s of most of them. There used to be far more lines but disadvantage of trolleys was also responsible for decline: unless they have their own right of way
    (like Media, Sharon Hill, Norristown) they mess up traffic more than buses (can't pull to the curb) and specially when one breaks down
    or derails or hits a car (buses can get around
    a stalled bus in front of them and keep their schedules better.)

  • ||

    Mike Laurson,

    I do know the Reason Foundation does studies of transit. This post was not among them.

    On the buses - it's true, you can have separate bus lanes or even elevated buses, but that's not what the question was about. I was discussion normal urban bus service vs. light rail/streetcars.

    Streetcars don't weight anything and don't need repairs? Sure they do

    A citation backing your statement? Not my statement. Back up your own straw men.

    What about the capital cost to build a light rail line? Shouldn't that be considered alongside operating cost? Yes, both capital and operating costs should be considered for rail, bus, and road projects. That was my point.

    Did you just make that fact up? Nope.

    Any citation backing your statement? If you'd care to look up research on the subject of transit-zone investment, be my guest.

  • ||

    joe,

    Small matter, but the wheel loads on passenger busses are not that great.

    Human passengers do not weight that much compared to freight.

    It is still trucking that causes the most damage to roads.

  • DJ Voton||

    Crime is pretty bad (my father won't go into Hartford without a pistol on him).

    I live in Hartford, and I won't go down to the basement of my apartment building to do laundry without a pistol on me.

    Yet they don't reduce taxes or create incentives for business, or lighten up on the residents.

    True, but they will put stupid banners on all the utility poles saying "Hartford, New England's Rising Star." Rule of thumb: the more banners, the bigger the shithole.
    Hey, I wonder if they've thought about putting in streetcars?!

  • ||

    If I put up "Libraries NO!" and "Paul for Prez" signs this weekend do I immediately become the neighborhood kook?

    robc -- "Become"? Try "confirm that I am". Don't confuse cause and effect.

    I'm still waiting for our local Ron Paul meetup group to drop off the sign so I can confirm what everyone has long suspected about my political leanings.

  • neubauten666||

    "Hartford, New England's Rising Star."
    That reminds me of Septa in Philadelphia using the expression: "We're Getting There." Wow did that encourage some creative grafitti.

    the more banners, the bigger the shithole
    Again, Philadelphia is known as the "mural capital" which means tons of ugly-ass crap thrown up on the sides of buildings by court adjudicated youth. These usually compete in the landscape with giant posters proclaiming when the new Beanie Sigel CD is coming out and the stuffed animal memorials.

    One-party dictatorship Philly just unloaded the loathsome John Street and residents are filled with optimism based on "how can it get worse?" Well it certainly won't get any better because there hasn't been an original idea in that town to break the stranglehold of the unions and the Democrats and the insufferable tax system there.

  • Mike Laursen||

    So Reason isn't allowed to reach the general conclusion that light rail lines don't live up to their hype after studying the issue for years. Maybe it doesn't apply in this case. Fair enough.

    Why is it OK then for you to make the sweeping generalization "people are less willing to invest in locations along a bus line than around transit stops" with no caveat that maybe it doesn't apply in this case.

  • Sean Healy||

    Dublin, Ireland, which sprawls about as badly as LA, has put in two light rail lines in the last few years and both are tremendous successes in terms of ridership and new development along the lines. One is going to be extended and the city is going to build a third line in the next few years. My impression is the trams have boosted civic morale enormously - apart from their practical benefits. Oh, and the reason tram lines attract more nearby investment than bus lines is because you can move a bus line tomorrow. Trams are near-permanent infrastructure.

  • ||

    Yeah, ok, Joshua. Everybody who lives in Southern Indiana and works in the Louisville medical center can just quit and move somewhere else. And everybody who lives in Oldham county and works in the Louisville medical center can just quit and move somewhere else. And everybody who lives in Southern Indiana and surrounding KY counties and works in metro Louisville can just quit and move somewhere else.

    Guess what? Now Louisville is completely empty. Who's going to pay the stinkin' library tax now?

    Not that you were paying any attention (understandable since you don't live here) but the library already has funding. Plenty of it, too. Mayor Abramson and the metro council want to use that money for something else though, so they decided to charge everyone who owns or works for Louisville businesses to pay an "occupational license fee".

    But yeah, you're right. We'll all just up and quit. That'll teach 'em.

    Joshua, have you ever considered the possibility that it's better to try to change where you are than to uproot your entire family every couple of years?

    damned trolls

  • Randy||

    It seems that a lot of you are completely unfamiliar with Cincinnati and are judging it as such. This line is not meant to revitalize downtown...that has been happening for the past five or so years with thousands of new residents, dozens of new restaurants/bars/clubs, plummeting crime and more.

    The streetcar system is meant to connect that activity together and act as a catalyst to spark more. OTR is already undergoing massive changes with condos being bought up at unanticipated rates (and that's in a crappy housing market).

    Knowledge is power...educate yourself before you start spouting off at the mouth. If you would like citations and/or examples of what I'm talking about it is no problem, because anyone who is familiar with Cincy and actually knows what the heck is going on can tell you easily.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Dublin, Ireland, which sprawls about as badly as LA, has put in two light rail lines in the last few years and both are tremendous successes in terms of ridership and new development along the lines.

    Ridership and new development are important metrics. How successful are they doing in terms of another important metric: recouping the capital that was invested in them?

  • Rhywun||

    How successful are they doing in terms of another important metric: recouping the capital that was invested in them?

    Unless the lines in Dublin are private, "recouping the capital invested in them" is not an important metric at all. Unless one chooses to hold this form of transportation to a higher standard than, say, public roads.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Unless the lines in Dublin are private, "recouping the capital invested in them" is not an important metric at all.

    Really?! When we build some capital intensive project like a rail system or a road, it's not important to think about its financing?

  • ||

    Mike Laursen,

    Why is it OK then for you to make the sweeping generalization "people are less willing to invest in locations along a bus line than around transit stops" with no caveat that maybe it doesn't apply in this case.

    Um, because we don't have a "case" of a proposal to use bus lines to attract development, so a general statement about general trends is appriate.

    As opposed to using Reason's general conclusion about light rail - which is mostly based on projects in newish cities without the dense, varied, and established land-use patterns of Cincinatti - to comment on the specific case of this light rail proposal.

  • ||

    "recoup its investment" is not the same thing as "think about its financing."

    Seen any criminal courts that recoup the investment made in the court building? Or that cover its operating costs?

    How about companies' shipping departments - seen a lot of those that recoup their investment?

    That's because court systems, like transportation systems and shipping departments, aren't supposed to make money, or even cover their costs. They are costs, and the proper metric for measuring whether those costs were well-spent is not whether they are revenue-neutral or better.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Um, because we don't have a "case" of a proposal to use bus lines to attract development, so a general statement about general trends is appriate.

    You made an assertion related to transit stops and buses. We do have a case where transit stops would be created, therefore we have a specific context about which you were making a general statement.

    As opposed to using Reason's general conclusion about light rail - which is mostly based on projects in newish cities without the dense, varied, and established land-use patterns of Cincinatti

    They have studied both.

  • Mike Laursen||

    They are costs, and the proper metric for measuring whether those costs were well-spent is not whether they are revenue-neutral or better.

    There are many examples of publicly-owned transportation systems trying to defray some of their costs or even make a profit. What are bridge and road tolls, gasoline taxes, bus and train fares for?

  • ||

    I just don't get it. Why do you all keep complaining about rising property taxes when talking about the Cincy line?? THIS WILL NOT BE FUNDED BY TAX INCREASES. There's plenty of private money going into this, some state money (about $10m), and revenue from the sale of an air field in Blue Ash.

    Streetcars have an almost proven track record of revitalizing the area within two blocks of their lines. Portland (duh), little rock, kenosha WI, Tampa, etc etc have all had huge amounts of development right next to their lines. Almost every city that builds a line has the same results. Yes, it didnt work so well in Detroit but thats not a streetcar. Ditto to the Louisville trolley bus system, a glorified bus isnt a substitute for rail. People just refuse to ride buses, its a fact. They're thought of as "loser cruisers" but a streetcar doesnt have the same connotations.

    If you guys could point to streetcar systems that have flopped, then you're arguments would be credible. Right now you're pointing to instances of Detroits failed people mover and Louisville's trolley buses, NEITHER of which are streetcars. And the whole "Hartford is shit so for some reason streetcars are dumb" is an argument totally beyond reason. You're just using shitty cities that have nothing to do with streetcars to bash the idea.

    Yes, cinci could use the money to fight crime, but god forbid cincinnati tries a multi-faceted approach to revitalize its urban core. You dont need to completely eliminate crime before you can move onto the next project, nor do you need to bring the schools up to high standards before you think of anything else. That system would halt progress for decades. The city needs to tackle crime to revitalize itself, but its also needs to do more than that. Cincinnati needs a MULTIFACETED approach to revitalization, and this is just one way to do it. Maybe with the new property taxes along this route from the new development, they could improve schools and the police force? hmm? There's a strange idea, using the benefits of this system to help fund the other projects? (Note, i said the property taxes from new developments would be used, not the fares and revenue from the system itself. ALL transit is losing money, especially highways, but the benefits of this will almost surely outweigh the bad)

    Its not being funded by higher taxes, so why all the bitching? This isnt the same system that was proposed in '02 that would have been funded by a tax increase.

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