A DNR reporter left a phone message on Labor Day asking about job creation as an issue in the City Council election. The answer goes beyond a sound bite.
The City Council’s ability to create jobs is negligible, particularly during a long economic downturn. The tax policies and workforce to attract new jobs already exist here, but the city, in attempting to draw new jobs, is in the same buyer’s market as the roughly one in six Americans who are unemployed or underemployed. The city’s policies looking forward should be aimed at protecting what we have, particularly in two areas. The first is maintaining the current level of services without raising tax rates or, as the city has done three times in the past twenty years, creating new taxes. The second is in adopting a housing policy that puts the needs of the city as a whole ahead of the needs of specific developers, especially regarding new student housing. The city should instead adopt a moratorium on new student housing complexes, and begin looking for new ways to get tax revenues from students.
Campaign initiatives based on job creation or budget issues should be taken with a grain of salt. Cities in Virginia have limited budget options to begin with, and those options shrink during a downturn. The city’s most important choices will be on development, and candidates who have a record in that area should be judged on that record.
It is odd that the DNR would do a story focusing on jobs and the Council considering its own past failings in that regard. In 2003 the DNR did a news story that fantasized a faux feud between two members after one of those members put forth a project he claimed would create jobs. The DNR has consistently declined to follow up on that story. But lest I create or continue a story-line, I should point out that the DNR declining to follow up was not based on its coziness with the city’s establishment, but on the laziness of the reporter involved.