Keeping alive the golden goose of free enterprise

September 11, 2012

Rich Collins of the Positive Growth Alliance took exception to my Aug. 28 column where I said that planning vs. growth is a false choice.

I had written that in response to a PGA alert to its members. The message said that a Cape Henlopen Regional Plan meeting was going to discuss “whether we need growth at all.”

(Collins said that a meeting handout suggested a no-growth option. I didn’t see anything that said that and Ed Lewandowski, who heads up the regional plan process for the University of Delaware, said there is no such option. If anyone has a handout referring to a no-growth option I would appreciate your letting me know.)

We had a wide-ranging, 90-minute talk and though we, unfortunately, solved none of the world’s problems we did reach common ground: Collins and I both like the same metaphor! Don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

The lessons we draw, however, are different.

For Collins, free enterprise is the golden goose, pure and simple. The freer the goose, the better off we are. If we constrain free enterprise, we risk killing it.

Having been part of a family business for most of my adult life, I believe in free enterprise too. I also see planning as necessary. I don’t think our economy – our local share of American free enterprise – will thrive unless we protect our natural and cultural heritage, which includes agriculture. If we don’t plan and preserve, we risk killing the golden goose.

Here’s an example that demonstrates our differences.

Collins compared the Cape Henlopen and Laurel school districts. Because coastal property is much more valuable, Cape Henlopen can more easily raise money than Laurel.

According to the state of Delaware website, Cape has a lower tax rate but can afford to spend $16,064 per student vs. Laurel’s $11,419.
Collins said Laurel’s situation would be improved if DelDOT hadn’t begun a policy of corridor preservation on U.S. 13 through Laurel (and other towns as well).

The corridor preservation policy restricts access to the highway, denying locations for potential businesses. These commercial properties would produce wealth and generate more tax dollars, helping the Laurel School District provide for its students. According to Collins, this policy has cost the Laurel-Delmar region “thousands of jobs.”

There is some truth to this. Commercial sites would definitely be assessed more highly than idle property or state lands. Short-term, Laurel would benefit economically.

Long-term, it gets trickier. Allowing unlimited access along U.S. 13 would eventually degrade its value. It would become slower, clogged. A deteriorating transportation system weakens the whole economy, not to mention costing residents time and gas money.

Good transportation ranks among the chief factors needed to attract new business to the state. In many ways, saying no to maintaining a viable transportation system is saying no to economic growth.

Many people don’t realize it but the present U.S. 13 through Dover was the original bypass. Efforts to restrict access, however, failed. Stores, motels, fast food joints and whatnot sprang up; traffic slowed to a crawl, and it soon became clear we needed a new bypass, the present Route 1, which took more than a decade to build and cost nearly $1 billion (The highway, however, does include more than the Dover portion).

Collins has an answer for this. He said that wealth created by businesses made possible by the abandonment of U.S. 13 corridor preservation, in Laurel and elsewhere, would help pay for new infrastructure.

Here’s where Collins and I reach a fork in the road, so to speak.

Following Collins’s logic, it seems, we should allow businesses access along the present Route 1. Wealth would be created. The Capital, Smyrna and Appoquinimink school districts would benefit from the increased tax base.

But to paraphrase Will Rogers, the problem with land in Delaware is that they’re not making any more of it. We’re running out of room to build more highways. Corridor preservation, it seems to me, is common sense stewardship of our financial and natural resources. It is a path leading to more robust, sustainable growth.

(There is also the knotty question of selecting a route, a process filled with political landmines, including loss of farmland and private property rights.)
It is a path for sustaining our golden goose.

Correction: Last week, I used the wrong figure for Andy Staton’s campaign expenditures. It should have read $41,460.39. The primary is today (Sept. 11). Staton and fellow Democrats Bob Frederick and Mike Miller are running for the Senate District 6 seat.

Don Flood is a former newspaper editor living near Lewes. He can be reached at

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