I am a liberal Democrat that believes in deregulation, tax reform, and the power of the free market to improve people’s standard of living. It seems full of contradictions, but I will tell how this all works, and what my plan is to supercharge the economy with a bipartisan policy agenda.
Where would a Democrat want to deregulate? We can start with occupational licensing. Many jobs require a license, from barbers to geologists to food truck vendors. Sometimes, regulations make sense, but in many cases involving licensing, it does not.
Restrictive occupational licensing kills almost 3 million jobs in this country. That works out to over 183,000 jobs in Florida, or 1.8% percentage points of the unemployment rate. That is a substantial amount of jobs.
How does this happen? Restrictive occupational licensing lowers labor mobility, or the ability of people to move from job to job, or from an area without jobs to an area with jobs. It increases the costs of employment. Those increased costs pass down onto consumers in the form of higher prices or lower access to services.
The Occupational Freedom and Opportunity Act passed this year with large bipartisan support. It deregulated licensing of interior designers, hair braiders and allowed certain occupations to work from home. This law will be a big success, but we need to keep following up to see what other occupations we can deregulate.
Regulations are often necessary to protect the public. In that case, lawmakers should narrowly tailor regulations to their desired outcome, rather than place blanket licensing requirements on entire professions that do not need it. Private industries should also consider setting up voluntary accreditation systems.
Another area in which we need deregulation is zoning. Zoning laws tell private citizens and businesses what they can and cannot build on their own land. In very limited cases, some restrictions make sense, but most of the time, zoning regulations get in the way of people and businesses doing what they need to do with their property. Most importantly, zoning often enforces the use of single-family housing, where the market would otherwise have led to townhouses, duplexes or apartments.
Restrictive zoning increases housing costs and limits social and geographic mobility. People are forced to live far away from where they work, and any decent housing close to jobs is exorbitantly expensive. Since workers cannot afford to live close to where they work, they have to commute. This increases traffic congestion and is bad for the environment. As if this was not bad enough, restrictive zoning has also often been used to uphold segregation, which continues to be a problem.
Although zoning is often thought of as a local issue, states can and have led the way in zoning reform. I will promote upzoning, or allowing taller or more densely constructed buildings on land. I will also promote mixed-use developments. These solutions increase the buildable capacity of land, increasing the supply of housing and office space. I will also promote the removal of minimum parking places and targeting upzoning to mass transit hubs. The beauty of this approach is that once government regulation gets out of the way, the free market does the rest.
There are numerous benefits to deregulating zoning. Because I will unleash the power of the free market with deregulation and smart regulation, our cities will be more walkable and be better places to live. Southwest Florida is the worst area in the country for pedestrians, and transforming our cities will be a huge improvement to our quality of life. Housing will be more affordable. Workers will be able to afford housing that is a short drive or even a short walk away from where they work. Tourists will come to our vibrant cities, fueling economic growth. This will help with nature conservation and cut down on unnecessary sprawl. Lastly, this approach reduces carbon emissions due to cutting down on commuting.
This brings us to tax reform. In Florida and much of the country, property owners are taxed on their property, including all structures and improvements. This is a problem because it means people are taxed more when they build a structure on their property or otherwise improve it. Who wants their taxes to go up by adding another room to their house? Who wants busybody neighbors stopping you from improving your property because it will make their taxes go up?
We have to move from a property tax system to a land tax system. What is a land tax? It is a tax on the unimproved value of land. Instead of paying taxes on what you build up on your land, you get taxed at a flat rate. Land-based taxes are not foreign to America. They are already implemented in various localities around the country, and here in Florida, many communities, including Cape Coral, have stormwater fees, which are assessed on the basis of owned land, not structures or improvements.
Our current tax system encourages the wasteful and unproductive use of land. It encourages people to buy empty lots and not do anything with them. It punishes investment and encourages anti-competitive behavior, as in the example of the neighbors mentioned above. A land tax system encourages construction, investment, and productive use of one’s property. It encourages denser building, which brings many of the same benefits as zoning deregulation.
The best part? Switching to a land tax system may cause your taxes on your home to go down!
These policy plans will supercharge the economy, unleashing the power of the free market and encouraging entrepreneurship. It will transform our cities and make them more livable and encourage tourism. It will help preserve our environment. When I say I support the free market, those are not empty words; it’s a promise.