1597 pages worth of reports. I'm swamped.
They're coming out my ears, and starting to take over over the desk. 136 pages of NAMA, 388 pages of the Lisbon Treaty, 397 pages of the McCarthy Report and 551 pages of the Commission on Taxation. Oh, and the Kenny Report from 1973, 125 pages: That's a lot of reading.
The current crisis is a huge challenge, but it is also an opportunity to address the 'never again' side to the property bubble. I'm fairly confident that we'll strike the right balance on paying a fair price for the NAMA loans. Improving regulation and ensuring the mistake of 110% mortgages is not repeated is also part of the necessary reforms.
A key challenge lies in removing the incentive to rezone land for all the wrong reasons. Some Planning Authorities around the Country zoned enough land in the last few years to take care of growth for the next 60 years. iIn doing so they accelerated the bubble's expansion , and facilitated sprawl. It is now time to row back on those rezonings and capture the betterment that flows from rezoning decisions. In 2004 the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution (Ninth Report, p143) endorsed Kenny's conclusions from thirty years previously and outlined four mechanisms for recouping betterment: development levies; planning gain; taxation (such as a site value tax) and compulsory acquisition for the public good. If NAMA is approved we'll be going well down the road to implementing the latter, but it was disappointing that the Commission on Taxation recommended an annual property tax rather than a site value tax. Don't get me wrong - I feel a shift away from the boom-time tax of stamp duty on property is long overdue, but taxing rezoned land (as well as property) would be a decent incentive to stop bad rezonings in the first place. However at this stage much of the damage is done, and we should be discouraging future inappropriate rezonings by placing an annual tax on undeveloped rezoned land.
An end to stamp duty on property transactions could encourage people to move to a home that's suitable for their needs, whether it be older persons down-sizing, or younger people avoiding a 70 mile commute by living closer to where they're working. You do need a decent lead-in period, particularly for people who have already forked out chunks of cash on stamp duty in recent years.
There is still an irrational belief amongst local authority members in the major parties that rezoning land will bring back the goose that laid the golden egg f in the years leading up to 2007. Removing the propensity to rezone would allow County Councils to concentrate on providing decent services. Neither George Lee nor Enda Kenny have sufficiently acknowledged the need to rein in the rezoning tendencies of their more maverick councillors, although both Noel Dempsey and his predecessor Michael Smith drew attention to bad planning while in office. Both the NAMA legislation and the Planning Bill that is under preparation can address this issue.
Carbon pricing is contentious. What we've been doing to the environment with carbon emissions up to now is similar to what Bernie Madoff did with his investors, and that's why we need to start picking up the tab. Carbon charging will also have its own teething pains, and I thought Oisín Coughlan from Friends of the Earth did a great job debating carbon taxes with that Daily Mail journalist on Pat Kenny yesterday. Eamon Timmins from Age Action is right in saying that vulnerable older people must be protected from higher fuel prices, and that's where providing cash for upgrading the insulation and heating systems of older peoples homes comes in. However I disagree with Gerry Mullins where he argues that a carbon tax on bus and coach diesel would be a 'greenwash'. Once you start lashing around exemptions, where do you stop? In any event, buses are streets ahead on fuel efficiency compared to cars, and a carbon levy will favour public transport, as well as greener cars.
Charging for water, as recommended by Frank Daly's Commission on Taxation will be a political hot potato over the months ahead. Our view has always been that people should receive a basic allowance, but that a charge should apply for excessive use. If you're filling a swimming pool, washing the car every week, or leaving a tap running then you should pay for it. It's crazy that there's absolutely no incentive to change a broken washer on a leaking tap if you're piped up to a municipal water supply. Some form of charging might allow us to avoid the proposal doing the rounds to pipe water from the Shannon all the way across Ireland to the east coast. Let's conserve water and use it wisely instead of building bigger pipes half-way across the country.
We're heading off for our annual think-in to Athlone for a few days before the new Dáil session, before a members' conference on Saturday. We've a meeting of the Parliamentary Party on Thursday, and meetings with our group of Councillors on Friday. All of these reports will figure in our deliberations. One things is certain, doing nothing is not an option. Let the sleigh-ride begin!