PT 81 LSAT Writing: City Councilor

The Prompt

A city councilor in a medium-sized city is deciding whether to support or oppose a proposal that would combine a decrease in the city's sales tax with the transformation of a portion of a highway in the councilor's district into a toll road. Using the facts below, write an essay in which you argue for one option over the other based on the following two criteria:

  • The councilor wants the district to be an attractive shopping destination for people coming in from the suburbs
  • The councilor wants the continued support of voters in the district.

Currently, the city's sales tax is slightly higher than that of the surrounding suburbs. The sales tax applies only to goods that are not deemed essential. Most of the goods bought by non-locals are subject to the tax. The highway is the most popular route into the city. Alternative routes generally run at a third of the speed, except during rush hour when the highway slows to a crawl. The stretch of highway targeted by the proposal lies entirely within the councilor's district. Shopping districts have developed at most of the exits along this stretch. Most of the employees of these retail businesses live in the councilor's district.

Institution of the proposal is not expected to change the total revenue collected by the city. The sales tax would be decreased to slightly less than that of the surrounding suburbs. The stretch of highway would be the first toll road in the metropolitan area. Polls show that the majority of residents in the councilor's district believe it would be unfair to have to pay a toll. In other cities, dissatisfaction with tolls has fallen after they have been imposed. Traffic is expected to move more quickly during rush hour if a toll is imposed.

My Essay

The councilor should support the proposal.

If the councilor wants his district to be a shopping destination for consumers from neighboring suburbs, the city's sales tax should be his foremost consideration. The city's sales tax is currently higher than the average sales tax of surrounding suburbs; this in and of itself is an enormous disincentive for potential customers. By rectifying this imbalance and, in fact, making the city's sales tax lower than the sales tax of surrounding suburbs, the proposal will make it more likely for the shopping district on the affected stretch of highway to thrive.

Of course, the proposal also comes with a seeming disadvantage: it would turn a stretch of highway into a toll road, the first toll road in the metropolitan area. The toll may be a deterrent for potential shoppers. But if we put the district's potential suburban consumers into two broad categories, we can see that turning the highway into a toll road is an advantage in its own right. Consider first the suburban consumers who are sensitive to small fluctuations in prices. We'll call them the penny-pinchers. These penny pinchers are precisely the constituents who are most likely to be attracted by a lower sales tax, and if they are already willing to drive into the city to save money, there's good reason to think that they'd be willing to take a slightly longer trip—one that avoids the highway—to get to the shopping center in the councilor's district. Now consider the suburban consumers who are relatively insensitive to price—the consumers who may be driving into the city to buy goods they can't find locally, not to save money. This group of consumers is unlikely to be deterred by a toll road. On the contrary, such consumers may be happy to take the toll road if it means less rush-hour traffic. They would, in effect, be paying for a more convenient trip into the city.

We can see, then, that lower sales taxes and the institution of a toll road are likely to make the highway in the councilor's district a more attractive shopping destination for suburban consumers, thus fulfilling the councilor's first goal. But what of his own constituents? Will the proposal help or hurt his support at the polls? As counterintuitive as it may seem, the net effect of this proposal will be to increase the councilor's support.

Just as the toll road may disincentivize suburban shoppers, it is initially likely to upset the councilor's potential supporters. The majority of residents in the councilor's district have said that a toll road would be unfair. But in similar cases, hostility to toll roads has fallen after residents have had a chance to see the benefits of such roads. This proposal will bring more benefits to residents of the councilor's district than usual: it will decrease rush-hour traffic and bring more money into the district, shoring up the business on which so many of the councilor's constituents depend. We have good reason to believe, therefore, that the councilor's constituents will come around to the proposal, and the support he loses—if any—will be dwarfed by the advantages of making his district a bigger draw for suburban shoppers.

The councilor should support the proposal to lower the city's sales tax and turn a stretch of highway into a tollroad, for if the proposal were to pass, it would bring many more suburban shoppers to his district while having a positive impact on his support.

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