BACKGROUND: The appropriateness of infrastructure investment in our nation’s cities has been a hot topic of debate for much of our history. Ever since the American Revolution, the ways in which our governments raise and spend tax money has been a defining public policy issue. The interplay of these two concepts – essentially how Government invests our tax dollars – has been an underpinning in our national dialogue and framed the context for many elections in our history.
That conversation becomes even more heated during times of economic trouble, when citizens rightly intensify their scrutiny of how Government is performing as a steward of their tax dollars. Today, we see that same dynamic playing out across the country, as a crumbling national infrastructure comes face to face with the realities of an economic recession that has limited prospects for major improvement in the near future.
However, despite economic uncertainty, cities and local governments still have to find ways to continue investing in their communities, in competition with other locations, to make them places where people want to live, work and raise their families. Maintaining basic urban infrastructure such as roads and utilities are critical. But study after study has demonstrated that quality of life investments are also important to maintaining population and attracting and keeping high wage jobs. In fact, as cities such as Atlanta and Charlotte have demonstrated, there are few investments governments make that yield as significant a return as building and enhancing cultural, civic and other community venues.
ANALYSIS: Any time government chooses to invest in infrastructure other than schools, roads, jails, water treatment plants or other essential projects, the public should take special interest. It is essential that such projects are debated by and justified to the taxpayers. The merits of such investments are often subjective, and what is one taxpayer’s “gem” is another’s “boondoggle”. Elected officials must weigh the pros and cons of such investments to come to an educated decision on a “return” for the taxpayer and governing entity. However, unlike the private sector where a “return” is easily calculated on spreadsheet, governments and elected officials must more appropriately consider a return, not only for the governing entity, but for the taxpayers. This is a complex exercise.
The Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center (DPAC) in Downtown Orlando is an interesting case in point, as are other similar large scale projects like arenas, stadiums or convention centers. Click to Read More