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As Long as We Remember...

May 1, 2007

"Supersizing" Government

Alan Imhoff

Ever wonder about the effects on government of our consumption of things? The current budget cycle most local governmental entities find themselves in can illustrate to some degree what I am writing about.

Example Number One: Landfill, waste transfer, etc.

Here in Frederick County we will continue on the path to self-denial about the effects we consumers of "stuff" have on the rising cost to adequately remove "stuff" from our homes and let the government take care of it. Whether the weekly trash, recycling or bulk trash, we generate an awful lot of "stuff." Almost every form of packaging is disposable instead of reusable. We have done this to make the cost of buying "stuff" cheaper, while at the same time increasing the cost to get rid of it - did we really save any money?

Then there is the "supersizing" effect. Remember when a small drink was put in a 6- or 8-ounce cup, a medium drink was 12 ounces and a large was 16 ounces. If a 64-ounce cup is now the high end of this growth, just imagine this effect on the number of cups we dispose of and the increase in volume it creates. Granted it is small, but then take this effect and multiply it by all the other increases in packaging in our culture.

Perhaps as a government we should start a progressive tax surcharge on containers and packaging that accommodates sizes larger than the federally recommended portion or "supersize" our landfills so that they stand high and wide as monuments to future generations to ponder. Who knows, some clever jurisdictions could even design modern pyramids made of compacted "stuff."

Example Number Two: Parking

As we have grown proportionately in height and girth over the past decades, so, too, have those vehicles needed to transport large bodies of people. (Pun intended) What were small cars of the 1970's and 1980's have given way to the "supersizing" of the most popular form of transportation, the personal vehicle.

Regulations of not all that long ago allowed for "compact" car credits in the design of parking lots and decks. Now, with extended body Hummers and pick-up trucks with large external mirrors trying to squeeze into these same spaces, does that mean governments will now have to "supersize" parking spaces and decks? I know you will not see many new "Compact Only" signs and the ones that are out there have probably become collector items.

Perhaps we need to go back in time just before World War II when the State of Maryland taxed personal vehicles at the same rate as they did homes. Heaven knows many of these "supersize" vehicles are homes on wheels, especially when you consider the amount of time spent in them commuting back and forth to work, stuck in traffic getting to the grocery store, etc., etc.

So, let's re-institute the annual personal property tax on vehicles based on their blue-book value and divide the tax 50% for the state for roads and 50% to the local jurisdictions for parking spaces. Oh, which, by the way, need to be 20 to 30% larger in length and width to handle the newer SUV's, extended cab pick-ups, Hummers, small tanks and land cruisers, etc., and replace the "Compact Only" spaces which will probably be a two-for-one swap. Two compact spaces for one "supersize."

Example Three: Impervious Surface

Coming to your local neighborhood government in the not-to-distance future will be a new tax based on the square feet of impervious surface we all own with our castles. Your roof, your driveway and your lot all contribute to storm water run-off. The first two are examples of impervious surface, when you add roadways, parking lots, malls, shopping centers, etc., local governments will need to handle this run-off in what are deemed storm water management areas. As an example of government "supersizing," wait until you see the size of the storm water management pond the State Highway Administration has planned for the interchange of East Street and I-70.

But back to our castles; no longer the small, compact houses of yesteryear, we continue on with the "Mac Mansions" of today with 3-and 4-car garages (mostly filled with "stuff" mentioned earlier), large aprons of asphalt in front and wide driveways. What may have been a 1,200- or 1,400-square-foot roof of the past is now 3,000 and up. What was a 250-square-foot driveway could easily top 600 today.

All the water from rain that hits these surfaces generally goes somewhere off our property, mostly collected with our neighbors' runoff and then sent to a small, local storm water management pond. But have you ever noticed how the size of those local ponds has grown in the newer developments? Less going into the ground (hence lower rates of recharge for those of you on wells) and more needed to be treated by government. Hence the newer provisions of Protect the Bay legislation.

So, here again, do not be surprised when local government (and/or the state) begins to tax the size of your roof and driveway to handle the "supersizing" of the American dream.

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