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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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A New Hope

1. And yet, there is hope. All over, in the oddest places, some people are seeing the folly.

2. When Moody’s downgraded the bonds of 16 Italian banks last week, they cited “government austerity reducing near-term economic demand.”

3. A Republican, anti-tax state legislator who represents suburban Bucks County in Pennsylvania has introduced legislation phasing out school property taxes and replacing them with state income and other taxes: “I love M&Ms as much as the next guy, but I’d be willing to pay an extra 7 cents for a $1 bag of candy if it meant my entire property tax bill would disappear,” he said.

4. Harris County, Texas includes Houston and its suburbs. It’s more of a car culture than Long Island ever was. A few weeks ago, the respected Kinder Houston Area Survey found that 56 percent of Harris County residents think that developing a “much-improved mass transit system” is very important for the region’s future success. The report concluded that “The suburbs are more crowded, gas prices and traffic congestion are soaring, fewer households have children at home, and the lure of urban amenities, both in downtown Houston and in suburban ‘town centers,’ is generating a sea-change in area residents’ living preferences.”

5. Cleveland opened its Bus Rapid Transit line through its hospital district in 2008. BRT systems use coordinated signals, lane redesigns and other devices to keep supersized buses on crowded roads moving (“New. Easy. Frequent.” is the slogan of Seattle’s Rapid Ride). The Cleveland “Health Line” has generated $4.3 billion in economic development; it cost $200 million to build. Two weeks ago, Congressman Gary Peters, who represents the Detroit suburbs, of all places, got an enthusiastic response from the Detroit Business Conference, of all people, when he said that a mass transit system like the Cleveland BRT could connect the suburbs to downtown and be a huge economic magnet. He was speaking at the Motor City Casino, by the way.

6. The people of Harris County and Oakland County can handle the idea of changing the way people move around older, developed, gridlocked suburbs. The people of Nassau County are ready for ideas. The leadership of Nassau County only has to start asking and stop posing.

7. These BRT systems are cool.

8. But it requires a stable public finance system, and a commitment to public projects that solve problems and generate revenue that lowers tax burdens and pays for other neat stuff that solves problems.

9. In Washington right now, many members of Congress are proud to support budget proposals that over the next three decades would phase out nearly every function of the federal government except for the vast military and intelligence complex. Contrary to what President Reagan always preached, we are going to cripple state and local governments, too.

10. Flipping around last week, I caught Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the classic 1939 film in which idealistic and naive Jefferson Smith is appointed to a U.S. Senate seat and with singular courage takes on entrenched, corrupt politicians. This film inevitably comes up whenever politicians of any stripe are asked about their favorite movies, but in the past few years it has become a kind of mandala for many involved in the “Tea Party” movement. Several candidates have built fundraisers around a viewing of the film, though I’m not sure Mr. Smith would approve of this. Governor Sarah Pailin, Congressman Ron Paul and many others call it their favorite film.

11. If you’re below 35 years old, you may never have watched a black and white film, but if you’re above 35, you’re likely to be familiar at least with one or two of the famous filibuster scenes: “…and a little looking out for the other guy,” “…and the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place,” and so on.

12. Mr. Smith was fighting for a public works project, geared to poor children.

13. The other senators were angry because Smith was holding up a “relief bill,” creating public works and jobs across the country.

14. Some people may be confused about this.

15. But we can’t let them claim Mr. Smith. Can’t have him.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net