Okay, ladies and germs. Let’s have a little civics lesson, shall we?
What is the function of city government, exactly? Most of us would say “transportation,” “police protection.” Some of us would add “essential services,” by which we mean water, electricity, wastewater treatment, and probably trash/recycling service. There are some, especially in Austin, who will then chime in with “parks and recreation,” and “libraries.”
We can dither on all of the above some other time. Today’s lesson involves cities, or other government entities, involving themselves in entertainment. Like, oh, sports stadiums.
Check this out. Washington, D.C. instituted a tax in order to pay for the new stadium for the Nationals. The tax was supposed to be temporary (hey, don’t spew your drink – they really thought they meant that!). Now the city intends to extend the tax indefinitely to pay for other things. “A citywide business tax the D.C. Council passed to help to help pay for the $611 million Washington Nationals ballpark has become such a cash cow that the city is now using it to help close its nine-figure budget gap.” (Washington Examiner)
I love baseball as much as the next person – possibly more, but that’s off-topic. I cannot see the justification for taxpayer-funded stadiums. All the money in sports and teams can’t afford their own stadiums? Pfooey! Citizens are often blinded by the shiny – take Arlington, Texas, where taxpayers willingly increased their local sales taxes to pay for the silver cockroach known as Cowboys Stadium. Of course, having all the sports and other attractions in town means that the City of Arlington gets a huge dollop of Homeland Security funding from the feds – and they use their “destination” city status as an excuse to spend untold amounts on lobbyists to schmooze legislators in hopes of levying more taxes for transportation boondoggles. Endless cycle of madness. Hence the term “idiot taxes.”
Just so this post has a Texas tie to it – y’all heard last week about Formula 1 racing coming to Austin? Well, there’s corporate welfare involved there as well. From Michael Quinn Sullivan: “A mostly unnoticed budget rider in 2009 put $25 million into the fund, contingent on lawmakers passing Democratic State Sen. Kirk Watson’s SB1515, which added “Formula One” to the kinds of events eligible to receive tax money. Only 16 House members and four senators voted against the legislation.”
Interesting things to note on SB 1515. First, one of the House sponsors was Dawnna Dukes. She’s the representative covering Manor. There has been some speculation at our house that the Formula 1 track would be built out on land the city bought for a new airport, but never developed. So there’s an incentive for Dukes to be involved. I could not properly account for the others, except to speculate that they just don’t know better. The “nay” votes in the House on third reading were (copied from the House journal): Anderson; Aycock; Berman; Brown, B.; Christian; Crabb; Creighton; Fletcher; Harper-Brown; Legler; Lewis; Miller, S.; Riddle; Sheffield; Truitt; and Weber. In the Senate, the “nays” were Huffman, Nelson, Nichols, and Patrick (Wentworth voted against suspending the rules to bring up the committee substitute, but voted for the bill on third reading).
Absurd, and given that sixteen House members voted against it, the relative late reading in the House (on May 20, 2009) is a poor excuse for ignorance, should any claim it. Someone was paying attention, even if not everyone was.
So, civics lesson. Don’t vote yes on taxes for shiny things that you know are not government’s job or responsibility. Taxes do not go away – they are tenacious little suckers, and they will eat up your livelihood until you can’t remember a day when you didn’t pay those taxes. Also, not every neat-o idea your city wants to engage in is a good idea, and there is no free lunch (or magical sports stadium) when it comes to what government deems right and proper use of your money.
Here endeth the lesson.