Monday, February 26

40% Loss in St. Johns County Tree Canopy in Last 20 Years?

According to Global Forest Watch, St. Johns County clear cutting has resulted in a 40% reduction in the tree canopy from 2001 to 2022. I'm sure the hippy-dippy treehuggers with Global Forest Watch may overestimate as much as possible, but I'd wager the loss of forested areas in St. Johns County is significant. I guess the question is whether or not it matters.

In my home state of Wisconsin, about 85% of the state was forested when Europeans showed up, but by 1915, only 1% of the state had forests. Farms, cities, selling wood, etc. Today, the state is back up to nearly 50% forests. It turns out that not all forested land was useful a farmland, and you can't harvest trees for wood if there are no trees left. Even St. Johns County will likely never decide to clear cut 99% of the forest. The main difference is that today's clear cutting is to build wide roads and mini malls next to sprawling neighborhoods with pretend beaches and other amenities, not farms or factories.

My family farmed Wisconsin land for 150 years, providing food and milk from about 100 acres. The land was mostly deforested, even if there were a couple of "woods" on the property. But if my cousin decides to plant trees instead of crops, the forest would come back. I'm sure most of St. Johns forested land had already been deemed deficient for farming, so it's not like the new neighborhoods are taking farms away from feeding us. So it's more about what we want for our landscape as opposed to competing uses. The main consideration is that when a farm fails or sells, the trees can grow back, but neighborhoods don't quite work that way.

I'm not totally sure where I stand on this issue. Land is there for us if we need it, and restrictions like those in Oregon have proven to limit affordable housing while maintaining natural beauty. The problem around here is that our standards are non-existent, meaning developers build or use a narrow road as a single entrance to a huge neighborhood that adds congestion requiring wider roads that now also need gas stations and Walmarts because it takes 15 minutes just to get to the exit of the vast neighborhood, so roads are widened, traffic lights are added to intersections, and then more traffic signals are needed for the next neighborhood or commercial development or (heaven forbid) apartment complex, and suddenly there's an entirely new city made up of single-entrance neighborhoods and strip malls. But there's a Kilwins or Keke's, so everyone is happy. At least until the next mega-neighborhood gets built a mile down the road.

I guess what I'm saying is maybe a little bit of planning might help a lot in the long run. People live here in the long run, while developers only care about the short term.

No Property or Income Taxes?

Government needs money to run. In Florida, we already don't have all three of the kinds of taxes: income, property, and sales (maybe use tax is a fourth kind). As a state, we've decided to eliminate income tax, which makes Florida a safe-haven for top-earners and retirees, while shifting the tax burden to lower classes and tourists. Now, the legislature has a plan that seems to shift the tax burden even further in that direction by suggesting we eliminate property taxes.

The problem is that getting rid of taxes doesn't make government cheaper. It just shifts the burden. In Jacksonville, for example, we just added to our property tax burden by voting to give teachers and the arts a pay hike in Duval schools (and probably charter schools). A property tax elimination, even if it's capped, will lead to huge deficits unless huge fees placed on others. 

My house is probably about the average home in Jacksonville. I pay about $3,000 in property taxes. Let's say an average of 4 people per household in Jacksonville, meaning 250,000 households in a city of a million. That's $750,000,000. Gone. So we double the sales tax. The fat cat who winters along the intracoastal and claims Florida citizenship will pay $0 income taxes and $0 property taxes on his multi-million dollar home, but I guess he'll chip in when he invest that same $30,000 (his current property taxes) at Home Depot to upgrade the sink in his 7th powder room. Problem is, the government would only get a portion of that $30,000. Even if we add an insane sales tax of 10%, that's only $3,000 of the original $30k, and what if he doesn't upgrade the powder room? There's no evidence that rich folks can possibly buy enough Porsches to make up for not paying income or property taxes, even if they will now be able to afford more Porsches.

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