Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Skiing Through the Public Trough

By Andy Kerr

Column #37 - Go to next column

Length: 750 words

Published: 18 December 1997, Wallowa County Chieftain

The owners of the Wallowa Lake Tramway want to expand into winter skiing on Mount Howard in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. To do so, the must reach deeper into taxpayer pockets.

Even if you favor a ski area, do you want your tax dollars to help pay for it?

Private facilities on public lands don't pay fair market rent for use of the public's real estate. They lease the land at below market rates.

The owners want another government handout in the form of $100,000 from the Northeast Oregon Alliance, the local funnel for distributing state lottery dollars.

Lottery dollars aren't tax dollars, you say? A lottery is nothing more than a tax on stupidity. One has a better chance of being struck by lightning than scoring the big jackpot. A large portion of the net lottery proceeds are used for "economic development" (pronounced "pork barrel giveaways").

Politicians love such giveaways for the political benefit they receive. Businesses love them because it's free money. Both benefit because voters don't pay attention. Lottery revenues could be used to offset, or increase, other tax expenditures, such as public education. (Of course, the higher the education level, the less likely one is to play the lottery.)

If the ski area is viable, let it borrow its capital from the private sector, not be given it by the government sector. Banks are better than government in determining economic feasibility.

Government should limit itself to activities that promote the general welfare, not provide welfare to special interests. The proper role of government is to do things that the private sector cannot or will not do. The private sector cannot provide for the common defense and wouldn't dream of giving away money with no strings attached.

If government must subsidize big business, the least it could do is require an equity interest equal to the value of the subsidy. The City of Portland offered large tax breaks to an electronics plant to locate in the city. In exchange, the factory promised jobs. However, the world of microchips changed and the plant is already obsolete, so no jobs. If the city had insisted on receiving company stock for the generous subsidies given, at least now their taxpayers would be getting a share of the profits the company is enjoying on other investments elsewhere.

Extorting money from one governmental jurisdiction by threatening to move to another has been perfected by major league sports teams. A team plays their present home against potential homes in a race to the bottom to see which local government will give away the most. The reason that the Green Bay Packers will never become the Phoenix Packers is that a third of the team is owned by the City of Green Bay.

In a time when the poor are being limited to two years of public assistance, farmers are being told farm the government less and the land more, and business is booming, how can society rationalize subsidies to corporate America? Do we really need to pay McDonald's to sell burgers overseas?

Increasingly, business is making more of their money through corporate welfare, rather than true profit. Governments are practicing a corporate socialism. Fueling this socialism are lobbyists and campaign contributions.

Understandably, business has always favored the privatization of profit and the socialization of risk. However, what is good for business is not necessarily good for America.

One reason for cynicism about government is that we are becoming a government by and for the corporations. Government is becoming Robin Hood in reverse.

In the case this tramway giveaway, it is not only unfair and unwise, but also sleazy.

Bill Whittemore, chair of the Northeast Oregon Alliance, is a stockholder in the Wallowa Lake Tramway Corporation. His fellow board members dropped the board's conflict-of-interest policy to allow Whittemore to position himself at this prime public teat.

What arrogance! They didn't even have had the courtesy to appear to play by the rules as they wallow in the public trough. Whittemore could have quietly resigned, waited the requisite time period and then made his application. His cronies still on the board could still have funneled the bucks his way and no one would be the wiser.

Apparently Whittemore couldn't wait the requisite year before he could go begging for his grant. This is evidence of poor management and suggests if he does get his $100,000 taxpayer subsidy, it will be thrown down a rat hole. Real businessmen plan ahead.

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