In this issue: You don't own your trees, and irrational transit taxes
By Dr. Michael Sanera
The Albemarle Road Presbyterian Church in Charlotte was fined
$100 per branch for excessive tree pruning for a total of nearly $5,000.
Charlotte, like many North Carolina cities, has a tree ordinance governing what
property owners can do with their trees. Several years ago a Raleigh car
dealership was fined nearly $57,000 for improperly trimming its trees.
Correction: "its trees" is not correct. Tree ordinances transfer
ownership rights from people who think they "own" their trees to the
Economists define ownership as the ability to determine how the item is used,
the right to the services of the item, and the right to sell or dispose of the
item. I own my computer because I have the exclusive rights to its use, to
benefit from its use and to sell, rent, or give it away as I choose.
In this case, the ordinance transfers private ownership rights to use the tree
from the church to the city. If ownership rights are respected, the church has
the right to trim, to cut down, and to sell "its trees" as it sees
To make matters worse, the ordinance allows the church to avoid the fine ... by
destroying the improperly trimmed trees and replacing them with new, properly
trimmed trees. In other words, the city would tell the church to destroy its
private property and then force it to buy replacement trees.
What is the justification for this ordinance? City officials believe their
desire for tree-lined streets supersedes the ownership rights of individuals.
Thus the ordinance determines how the trees are to be used. Viewed another way,
city officials believe that the general public benefits from having tree-lined
streets with trees trimmed according to their tastes, and they are willing to
use the city's police powers to enforce their belief.
While this ordinance is legal, it violates the spirit of the Fifth Amendment to
the Constitution that states that governments cannot take private property
"for public use without just compensation." In a world that respects
the constitutional protection of property rights, city officials who believe
the public benefits from tree-lined streets would buy the land and the trees on
those streets. Unfortunately, most cities in North Carolina do not respect
property rights, and thus they use ordinances such as this one in Charlotte to
steal the private property for the benefit of the public without just
Durham and Orange
counties ready to put transit tax on the November ballots
The irrational urge to spend billions on light rail in the Triangle
continues to gain momentum. Supporters have convinced themselves -- by ignoring
the facts -- that spending $1.7 billion on transit improvements, including a
light rail system to connect Triangle cities and counties, really would reduce
congestion and pollution and make the area a "world class" community.
Elected officials in Durham and Orange counties are moving toward putting the half-cent
sales-tax increase for transit on the 2011 ballot. If passed, the new
revenue would help fund the $1.7 billion cost of the transit improvements,
including the rail system. The same county commissioners are considering
putting a quarter-cent sales-tax increase on the same ballot for schools, although
the new revenue could be used for any legal purpose.
In what appears to be a cynical manipulation of voters to win approval of
these new taxes, county officials appear to have chosen the 2011 ballot rather
than the 2012 out of the belief that, since it also includes candidates for
municipal offices, the 2011 ballot would bring out more liberal city voters,
while the more conservative county voters would be more likely to stay at home.
The reason funding rail transit is an irrational decision is that it will not
meet any of the stated objectives. It is all cost and no benefit.
Here are the facts:
- Rail does not reduce congestion or pollution. Of the 22
cities with rail transit, only six carry more than one percent, and only one
carries more than 3 percent of all of the motorized passenger travel in the
area. How can taking less than one percent of the traffic off the roads reduce
pollution or traffic congestion?
Even with all of the federal, state and local taxpayer
subsidies, rail is losing market share in 20 of 25 cities with rail.
High gas prices do not encourage more rail transit.
Europeans who face gasoline prices of $5 to $10 per gallon drive about as much
Rail transit diverts funds from bus transit, thus reducing
bus coverage and hurting low-income residents.
Rail does not create economic development in the form of Transit
Oriented Developments (TODs); it just redistributes to different locations development
that would have taken place anyway.
Here is what the Triangle could expect, based on Charlotte's experience:
- A 130-percent cost overrun.
Half of the rail riders to be former bus riders, not riders
diverted from autos.
A taxpayer subsidy of $6.30 per rail passenger trip.
A typical round trip commute to work to cost taxpayers
Traffic congestion delays for the average auto driver to be
reduced by 30 seconds.
Pollution to be reduced by about five hundredths of one
Click here for the Local
Government Update archive.
Monday, Jun. 6th, 2011 at 12:00 PM, Noon
A meeting of the Shaftesbury Society
with our special guest Billy Packer
Billy Packer Questions State Environmental Calls