The politics of urban blight

Robert Herold’s latest “Inlander” commentary, Paying Big Dividends extolled the virtues of the Community Development Block Grant Program as to what it did for the city of Spokane, Washington in particular; and discussing the fact that GOP Representative Cathy McMorris-Rogers wants, along with her fellow Republicans, to “kill” the program with a 65% cut. According to Herold, the GOP regard it as “too costly.” Even though, apparently a continued investment in warfare is hardly “too costly,” nor tax cuts to the very wealthy is deemed “too costly.”  So, excuse my cynicism, but I do regard this whole business of determining what is “too costly,” based not upon what might serve Democratic constituencies, but solely based on “the best government that money can buy.”  (Reference CNN’s Lou Dobbs at the time he still had a time slot there.)

I don’t much discuss Washington state politics, but I figured I’d discuss this.  Whether Rep. McMorris-Rogers likes it or not, those “Democratic constituencies” are still represented by her in Congress.  As are the businesses mentioned in Herold’s article that also benefited greatly from the above-mentioned Community Development Block Program.  You would think that as “pro-business” as the GOP claim to be, and oh so willing to aiding business interests at every turn, even further to actually protect them from the consequences of their own actions (GW era TARP as a financial district bailout, for example); that they would definitely keep this program going in order to entice businesses to enter new urban areas and set up shop there.  After all, why would businesses want to try to start up in a neighborhood that looked to be a magnet for the buying and selling of drugs?  Only if local government, with the aid of federal funds steps in and cleans it up for them, only then will businesses start up.  It also reminds me of a prior blog post in which a fellow commenting to an Opinion/Letter thread discussed how the Chinese government would literally subsidize a business that makes electric car batteries, with a state of the art facility and most assuredly a ready to work labor pool.  On the other hand, just how many businesses with tax cuts in hand, would settle in a neighborhood that was indeed the description of urban blight?  Oh, excuse me, but the GOP back in the Regan/Bush era were quick to subsidize businesses to encourage them to do just that.  This was prior to the same businesses setting up shop in foreign countries where the workforce happened to be cheaper still.

Yes, in a way the CDBP would be regarded as a form of subsidy for businesses.  Build a blighted neighborhood up, make it “move in ready,” and businesses will be happy to locate there.  But if Rep. McMorris-Rogers is thinking in terms of punishing a constituency for putting President Obama into office, I do believe that she is only punishing a constituency that put her into office.  She received enough of the popular vote in her district to be re-elected to the House of Representatives.  This is how she thanks the people who supported her.  In short, I can disagree with some of the particulars of Herold’s article.  But I won’t disagree that where we are facing economically fragile times, a loss of jobs resulting from cuts to the CDBP that Herold reports, would drastically effect the local economy of Spokane and most assuredly, McMorris-Rogers own district.

So, the question is, would business interests who have received federal level tax cuts and subsidies voluntarily locate to areas of urban blight in any city:  large, medium, small?  Voluntarily invest their tax cuts and subsidies and literally rebuild a blighted neighborhood and settle in and begin doing business?  Herold’s commentary already duly noted that various businesses seem to like things handed to them, either at the federal, state, or local level.  Or in the case of China, come here with your car battery blueprints, we will really provide the rest.  Which begs the question of whether businesses, especially large corporations actually “produce” anything anymore, or just get the profits handed to them.

I wouldn’t plan to besmirch all businesses by any means.  A business trying to start up in a high crime area faces a whole lot of risk.  Harm to the building the business moves into, threats to employees and prospective customers wouldn’t be out of the question.  It is most certainly at that point that government can and will step in and do something about it.  If government wants a revived neighborhood where the business interest would indeed like to locate, then yes, the local government will apply for the necessary funding to rebuild the neighborhood to make it more appealing for the business start up.  Such as yes, Herold described in his commentary.  Whether the business was a mom and pop affair to a major corporation, the local government will provide the subsidies and incentives to get the business to come and bring new jobs.  And what it can’t provide itself, it then gets federal level assistance.

McMorris-Rogers seems to have engaged in pretzel logic.  An argument that forms curves and twists back on itself and then goes on to work at cross purposes.  If she is thinking in terms of “the wealthy who should never get punished for their success;” she should also realize, that the wealthy in part got that way because of what government had done on their behalf.  Turning on businesses that wouldn’t enter blighted neighborhoods unless government cleaned it up for them through a program now being deemed as “too costly;” it would then have to beg the question of, are these businesses simply small enough that they can’t be heard as loudly as mega-corporations with tons of cash to fill GOP campaign coffers?  It is “too costly” to support a small business in a neighborhood that federal payouts made less blighted.  But apparently not so costly to support mega-businesses that had federal help before. And indeed, only became mega-businesses just because they had federal help before.

I’m quite sure that Herold would descriptively call this the utter hypocrisy of politicians like McMorris-Rogers.  No, this isn’t “hypocrisy,” or a “lack of common sense.”  This is a description of a politician who has set about to reward the only people she cares about, the people who had the most money to spend on her campaign.  The Fifth District (Spokane, Washington) only put her into office.  To hell with them!

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