Booming West needs federal partnerships
Western cities are developing into “megapolitan” areas that deserve more support from the federal government if they’re going to continue to grow, according to a blueprint prepared by the Brookings Institution.
Areas where western communities are seeking partnerships with the federal government include water, transportation, immigration and energy to provide the labor and supplies needed to continue growing.
“We cannot be a red-headed stepchild where the federal government is involved,” said Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, who said the current federal policies aren’t working in the West.
According to the Brookings report, the so-called “Mountain Megas” include Las Vegas and surrounding communities, the Wasatch Front in Utah, the Front Range surrounding Denver, the Sun Corridor in Arizona and northern New Mexico.
The report concluded that the Intermountain West, dominated by megapolitan areas, has emerged as America’s fastest changing, most surprising urban region that will require the federal government and those communities to come up with unique solutions.
“The region is neither the Old West, nor the New West. It is the New New West, continuously unfolding,” the report noted.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said one of the biggest challenges will be developing a water policy that works for the entire region, not just one state. He said Nevada is already knocking on Utah’s door threatening to take more water.
“I haven’t committed troops to the border yet, but I’m darn close,” he joked as the report was presented Tuesday at a news conference in Denver.
He said the western states need more electric transmission lines, highways and a workable immigration policy that doesn’t harm western states.
“We can’t do it without federal help,” he said.
The report suggests federal incentives would reward communities that work toward regional solutions instead of their own self-interests.
Brandon Scarborough, a researcher for the Political Economy Research Center in Bozeman, Mont., a think tank that promotes free market solutions to problems in the West, said bringing in the federal government on major issues that will determine the future of the West would be a mistake.
He said federal programs always come with strings attached that give Washington substantial control.
“We should keep government out as much as possible, especially if it’s going to get billed to the taxpayers. This was a result of a lack of planning by those communities,” Scarborough said.
The report concluded that self-help would remain the primary source of progress in the West, but the time has come when western leaders need a steady, supportive partner on issues that cross borders.
“While leaders may want to promote mega-scale responses in mega-scale problems, they are frequently hobbled because they lack the super-scaled governance institutions and networks needed to shape their futures.
“The fact remains that the broad sweep of megapolitan development in the West is in several of the region’s megas outstripping the region’s local governance structures and raising serious questions about the megas’ ability to steer events,” the report said.
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