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Regionalism: Like getting France and Germany to cooperate?
VCU urban studies professor John Moeser gave a speech to a coalition that lobbies for Virginia cities earlier this year that appeared as an op-ed in the Richmond Times Dispatch yesterday.
The premise is nothing new to anyone who has observed local government in Virginia: The walls between cities and counties cause big problems, but to fix those problems, local elected officials will have to get over their own self-interest and start thinking bigger.
There are not a lot of direct incentives for local elected officials in Virginia to act regionally. Moeser writes:
The answer won’t be found in another study. In the space of 10 years, we’ve had seven studies of one kind or another by some state-level urban task force or special commission. The result? Cities still face the same problems. So do the fast-growing counties. State laws and regulations continue to strip both types of localities of any flexibility in resolving many of their problems.
He encourages those involved to look to the folks who laid the groundwork for the formation of the European Union–work that involved getting France and Germany to look beyond their own self-interests after World War II–for inspiration.
Last week, I was doing some research for a project we in the newsroom are working on this summer. Looking at fiscal 2008 data from the state’s Auditor of Public Accounts, I ranked all of our area localities based on their per-capita costs of government services.
According to the 2008 data, Fredericksburg spends more money per capita on judicial administration than any Virginia locality but Emporia. It ranks fourth in the state in per-capita spending on public safety. Fredericksburg topped all of our regional localities on per-capita spending in every area but education (I’m still looking at that one, though, because I suspect there may be some state money in the county totals.).
Moeser also touches on the fact that independent localities lose out on the economies of scale they could take advantage of if they spent money as part of a larger local government buying group:
Even before the meltdown, it made little sense for each city and county to operate as if it were a separate nation-state. It makes less sense now!
Why, for example, does each school district buy its own fleet of school buses when the combined school districts of metropolitan Richmond could place a single order and reduce the unit cost? Why can’t state government, which is constitutionally responsible for all local government, demand a similar change in intergovernmental relationships as the national government is demanding of our financial markets and automobile industry?