Tax Sharing

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By Jay Walljasper:

"A society dedicated to the common good — to the ideal of the commons — would not accept such disparities with a simple shrug. The whole region would share public services and social responsibilities. No community would be allowed to sink so deep into devastation — no matter how profound its problems.

In Copenhagen, for instance, the wealthy northern suburbs long supported revitalization efforts in the inner city through tax revenues. Now that the central city is thriving — a remarkable comeback that’s being emulated in other metropolitan regions around the world — it’s now urban dwellers’ turn to help revive the region’s poorer suburbs.

Even in the U.S., this kind of tax sharing goes on across city lines. In the Twin Cities, each of the 180 local municipalities contributes a portion of its commercial-industrial property tax revenues — 37 percent on average across the region, amounting to $424 million this year. The fund are then apportioned to communities on the basis of financial need. The center cities and lower income suburbs in Twin Cities region draw on these funds to bolster schools and public services, which explains why you don’t see any shocking differences passing from a blue-collar community to an upscale one.

These kind of policies acknowledge the obvious fact that a metropolitan area is a single organism — and municipal boundaries are mere abstractions, arbitrary lines sketched on a piece of paper. But in the current anti-tax, anti-commons political climate, when the idea of the common good can’t be heard above the shouting, regionalist policies like those found in Copenhagen or even the Twin Cities are not going to be enacted any time soon. That’s where the Kresge Foundation comes in.

Kresge, based in suburban Troy, along with a number of other foundations in the Detroit region and around the country, is dedicated to helping revive the city through an initiative called Re-imagining Detroit 2020. The ambitious goals include improvements for public schools, major sustainability initiatives, cultural programs, a light rail line along the city’s spine (Woodward Avenue), and local business development. The thrust of this effort is the conviction that Detroit is not a basket case, even if it has sometimes suffered corrupt and inept political leadership. It’s still vital community, even if it is caught up in a complicated tangle of economic disinvestment, racial mistrust, crime concerns and overdependence on automobiles." (