On September 3, I met 20 people from 14 different countries at the lobby of DC Churchill Hotel — a 112-year-old historic infrastructure which has come to be a landmark on Connecticut Avenue in Waswhington, DC. Apart from the 50-year elevator, the eight-story Beaux-Art architecture known for its perfect symmetry, arched windows, and flat roof has been renovated to have a modern interior. It was one of the Historic Hotels of America, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, who works to save America’s historic places. What particularly caught my attention is the federal government’s Historic Tax Credit program, which encourages private sector investment in the rehabilitation and re-use of historic buildings by allowing participants to claim 20% of eligible improvement expenses against their federal tax liability.
According to the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, since the Tax Reform Act of 1976, the HTC program has facilitated the rehabilitation of over 42,000 certified historic buildings and has attracted more than $84 billion in new private capital to the historic cores of cities and towns across the whole of United States.
As I walk the streets of Washington and participate in the US Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program, I have come to realize a dynamism that exists in United States’ federal form of government — an interesting mixture of decentralisation and collaboration between multi-levels of government, and a critical relationship between the public and private sector in accomplishing what is essentially a public purpose.
While the emphasis at the onset of the narrative seems to be in the differentiation of functions, objectives, and agenda that must be kept centralized and those that must be devolved — the latter part puts premium on a systemic collaboration geared on context and need.
It is interesting as to how one state is able to address its specific infrastructure needs in a manner that is entirely different from the others.
For example, while Florida may opt for a privately owned, operated, and maintained passenger railway system, as in Brightline, an express intercity high-speed rail system, which connects Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, Maryland may choose to establish an independent state agency, as in Maryland Transit Administration in the management of its transit service, which includes local buses, commuter buses, Light Rail Link, Metro Subway Link, Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) Train Service, and a Paratransit (Mobility Link) system.
Counties — a second-level administrative division — also exercise a level of autonomy as seen in the establishment of the 1994 Miami-Dade Expressway Authority — a user funded, not-for-profit transportation agency created by the Miami-Dade County Commission to regulate toll revenues collected on the expressways.
Decentralization of function has long been perceived as a mode of empowerment and risk management. In the discourse, however, it is important that such is grounded not only on our own history and context, but also on the shared realities amongst our neighbors in the Into-Pacific region.