Councilman Kevin Jackson is my city councilor. I’d like to see someone better. Here are the things I’d like to see taken on by whoever replaces him (as a challenger, or after he resigns):
Someone to fight for lower taxes on renters
Kevin Jackson gave some tepid support to changing the tax structure so that it stops taxing non “owner occupant” apartments at a higher rate. The next councilor needs to fight hard to make this a reality.
Someone to fight for higher taxes on parking
The parking tax is on the horizon as a serious proposal for the future, and a Ward 3 councilperson must be a supporter. The only way the city is going to reform its land-use while making more housing and business opportunities is if it wakes up and smells the asphalt that surrounds much of downtown. It’s time to do something about it.
Having a higher tax on parking would be one of the best taxes on the rich that Providence is capable of, but that money could then be put directly to lowering taxes on other properties, ensuring that it builds growth rather than resentment in the Capital City.
Someone who will fight to get rid of exclusionary zoning
Jackson was among a depressingly large majority of councilors who voted to increase exclusionary zoning in Providence– the city is currently being sued for the action. City Council needs to stop legislating multifamily housing and house-sharing away through zoning measures. Top concerns should be getting rid of the R-1 and R-1A designations, to allow single-family-detached-only neighborhoods to get rid of minimum lot sizes, allow granny flats, rowhouses, apartment buildings, and subdivisions of houses into apartments. The R-1A designation is so draconian that it even makes certain kinds of single-family detached housing illegal because it mandates exurban-sized plots of land around them.
Someone who will speak truth on the car tax
A year of RIPTA costs the same as the tax on a $15,000 car, but to hear many city councilors talk about it, you’d think the most important equity thing we could do in the city is raise the exemption on the car tax (which gives every car owner, not just the clunker-owners, a $60 per vehicle tax cut). The next councilor needs to say that cutting the car tax is off the table, especially at a time when doing so means raising the effective property tax*. Lowering the car tax is not about equity, it’s about politicking. 25% of the city is excluded from this tax reduction, which isn’t paid for and puts the city’s budget in danger.
Someone who will fight water privatization
Privatizing the water supply is a crazy idea, and should be stopped at all costs.
Someone who understands smart-growth and the value of downtowns, but isn’t going to give the budget away for free
Urban-style buildings– the kind that have mixed-use, and take up smaller patches of land– cost the city much less money in services, but generate a lot more money in taxes per acre. So, smart-growth naturally entails recognizing that reality and building it into the tax code. That said, there are good ways to do this, and bad ways. I’d be in favor, for instance, of seeing the city and state partner to fix the Superman Building, but I’d like to see taxpayers get shares in the property. I’m not at all fooled into thinking the point of fixing 111 Westminster is the direct, immediate profitability of the property– it’s a historic, iconic building, and fixing it is about the enormous benefit to the neighborhood around it. But if the city and state are going to pour money into something, they should own it. We may break even on the deal, but at least it’s us that breaks even. Just giving money away means we break even while someone else profits for free.
The next city councilor needs to recognize that there are many downtowns in Providence, and see how the value of urban properties is not just in Downcity or the East Side. That means recognizing the way the tax code disables businesses in other corridors, like Broad Street or Cranston Street. It also means fighting loudly against state agencies like RIDOT that create problems for the city’s prosperity. Urban neighborhoods are systematically harmed by bad policies from above, and the city council needs to be a sounding board against those policies, not just a quiet body for practical lawmaking.
Someone who isn’t too parochial
The city should operate as a whole, but often it acts as separate council fiefdoms. It would be nice to see a councilperson come in to Ward 3 that is concerned about the whole city, and thinks about communities outside of the East Side. An example, off-hand, would be the proposal to put a $1.5 million boardwalk bike path along the Seekonk River on the East Side (outside of Jackson’s ward). In itself, it’s a fairly worthy project, but compared to what could be done for biking throughout the whole city on the same budget, it’s not. The city of Minneapolis just budgeted for 30 miles of protected bike lanes– including changes to signal timing, paving, landscaping and so on that could accompany that– for $6 million. In a city of our size, $1.5 million is the kind of money we could spend to connect the South Side and West Side to Downtown and the East Side, but instead it’ll be used for a much smaller project. It’s not the worst kind of problem that could be named, for sure, but it’s the kind of thing that could be improved for future proposals. We should be thinking city-wide.
*The “rate” on property taxes went down, while the amount paid has gone up in the most recent budget. This is because properties were assessed at a higher value.