Backstory: Hey, you ever hear of Chapter 380? It's an "Economic Development" policy, which means it's yet another way to transfer public money to large, private businesses and other entities that have plenty to begin with. You might think we have a 4-B Board for this kind of assault on free-market values, and you'd be right, but they can only handout so much cabbage. Under 380, City Council can distribute corporate welfare through grants or loans directly from the City's General Fund.
Not content to settle for the 2013/2014 budgeted income of over $5.6 million the City and Chamber of Commerce conspire to offer as corporate welfare through the 4-B Board, the usual fingers are about to dip into the City's general fund for even more cash. Remember, 4-B makes a very big deal that the money they spread around to favored companies, like The Scooter Store and Silver State Helicopters, comes from a special, three-eighths-of-a-cent sales tax addendum - but this 380 money will come directly out of the general fund. In other words, from those other taxes you pay. Which means they can now raise your property taxes, either outright or through revaluing your property, specifically for the purpose of handing cash over to their pals. They would probably take a shot at raising sales taxes as well, but those are capped.
It won't look like a property tax hike, of course. City Council might even say that they absolutely won't do that. Here's how they'll do it:
They've got a finite number of dollars to work with. Let's keep the math easy, and say one million of them. Before 380 becomes an everyday thing, it might be split up like this:
$500,000 for Roads
$400,000 for Parks
$100,000 to Keep Commoners Off The Forbidden Island of Booneville Avenue
Then, after the City decides it wants to give a bunch of money to a company for snacks or whatever (Unlike 4-B, 380 cash doesn't come with the strings of job creation). The General Fund might now look like this:
$100,000 for Roads
$100,000 for Parks
$100,000 to Keep Commoners Off The Forbidden Island of Booneville Avenue
$700,000 for Corporate Snacks
Now we've got a shortfall in two other departments because the pie got all cut up and whatnot. City Hall will certainly not raise property taxes to pay for those snacks - but they won't have any problem doing it for roads. The slack will be taken up. You like paying off bond debt? Here comes some more. Enjoy.
By the way, you know why local roads and drainage remain in a constant state of less-than-acceptable? Because anytime the City wants more money, they can point at roads and drainage and say, "We need it for roads and drainage", that's why. Listen to every candidate running locally. It's always at the top of their list, and yet things seldom change. I mean, Walnut Avenue isn't even finished and they're already making repairs on it.
That Horse Already Left the Barn
The 4-B Board and Chamber of Commerce President Michael Meek have been running these deals for years, outside of 4-B's stated purpose, and, according to City Development Coordinator Jeff Jewell, will continue to have a hand in these arrangements, which raises the question of why there's any need to formalize the situation. Could be that there's scrutiny coming down from the State (doubtful) or there's a deal so big on the horizon that City Staff wants to officially and publicly put Council on the hook for it. Or, it could be that there's another City contract in it for Meek. After all, Jewell made it very clear at Monday's Council meeting that the Chamber of Commerce (a private business club of which Meek is President, and which is already on the City's payroll) will be heavily involved with the administration of this government policy. Hooray.
Note: There is no question that Meek is the smartest and, arguably, the most powerful guy in New Braunfels. He has proven it time and time again with not only all-pro political savvy, but an almost super-human administrative ability.
He uses his preternatural social skills to gently, invisibly intimidate public officials and employees with his prowess. He inspires the confidence that he's the only person that can get the job, whatever it is, done. More importantly, he can convince those same people that they need a job done, perhaps one they hadn't even considered necessary. Selling ice-makers to Alaskimos, for example.
Where this column goes in with Jesus-in-the-Temple style brute force, Meek brilliantly seduces. A man would be a fool to mock, criticize, or otherwise set himself against the Chamber President. I mean... oh. Dear. Well, it's too late to turn back now.
You got apples? Let's compare them to these oranges.
Jewell sold El Paso, Arlington and Plano as examples of Texas cities that have dreamy results with their respective Chapter 380 Policies. Of course, he didn't mention that none of the three have 4-A or 4-B boards, which makes the comparison less than legitimate. Remember our motto: An act of omission is an act of intent.
This whole thing is a foregone conclusion. Council will most definitely bite. The only question left to answer is: How much are we going to pay Michael Meek to run this?
As for Those Numbers...
We dug through the City's budget online, only to find that those millions in 4-B/Economic Development income do not appear as revenue in the budget. It's in the system, but you have to click a special link to get to it. Par for the course in Texas' Most Corrupt City™.
Then we started thinking, since the 4-B budget reflects income of over $5.6 million and expenditures of over $18.5 million, that 4-B must be sitting on A LOT of scratch. So we went ahead and checked 4-B's meeting minutes to see if we could nail down the amount, and found that their minutes, while detailing the monthly Treasurer's Report, specifically failed, over and over again, to mention a super-critical piece of information: How much money they've got. Those numbers are in the Board's info packets. So we found the info packets.
Turns out, they've got over $22 million. That's enough to pay every dime of property tax in this city for nearly two years. Or we could resurface all the streets. Whichever. Anyway, they are hording some heap big wampum over there. Nearly half of the General Fund's value of just under $46 million. But by all means, let's give them more.
We told you Meek was smart.
In Other News: HZ Roars into Late 20th Century
The Houston-owned Herald-Zeitung made it's own news this week with the announcement that the staff has, after 10 years, upgraded to what we considered standard publishing technology since the early 1990s - Macintosh computers.
They also switched up their fonts, from the formerly-futuristic, sans-serif Optima, to the crunchier, more newsy-like Minion Pro.
No word on whether KGNB has been able to keep its ancient newsroom production equipment and Clinton-era software out of the hands of the Smithsonian. We'll let you know if they issue a press release.
If you leave aside the idea that most of our politicians treat the Constitution as a hindrance and not a treasure, perhaps the greatest problem our country faces is something that libertarians actually accept as axiomatic: that government should have a monopoly on the use of force. We assume that the alternative is anarchy, and it is, but, as I've often tried to point out, anarchy isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you carefully consider how things work, you will find that the very way we approach the idea of monopoly is wrongheaded.
Let's begin by looking at business monopolies, something that we have been taught to assume are a bad thing. A monopoly in business is when only one business is supplying the full demand for some product or service. It means that there is no competition in this area and because there is no competition, we assume that this will lead to problems for the consumer.
While this is an interesting thought, there's no particular reason to believe it's true. In a system where competition is allowed freely, the only way to effectively maintain a monopoly is to keep the consumers happy enough that no competitors can take them away from you. Some new product or service may allow for a brief monopoly while others learn the process or develop a business plan capable of competing, but eventually, if there is money to be made competition will happen.
Likewise, once one has a monopoly or near monopoly, economies of scale can be used to drive others out of business by lowering prices. Of course, this only lasts as long as the prices stay low, or some other competitor decides to compete on that scale regardless of the initial cost, convinced of future profits. In neither of these cases is the consumer hurt. In the first, the consumer has a new product that simply wasn't available before, and in the second, the consumer has the benefit of lower prices.
The only way that monopolies can avoid this truth is by combining their power with another monopoly: government.
When government gets involved, the dynamics change. Government can provide legislation that favors one company over another (creating fuel efficiency standards that benefit producers of higher mileage or hybrid cars). Government can insist on standards that keep competition out (licensing requirements or product safety standards.. Government can tax imports to keep global competition at bay (steel and sugar tariffs). Government can even work directly against certain companies while making exceptions for others (preventing mergers and breaking up monopolies). All of these things can be used skew the free market and pick winners and losers, and none of this would be possible without the government monopoly on force.
We tend to think of the government's monopoly on force only as it applies to the military or police, but that monopoly includes the courts, legislation, regulation, taxing authority, education, and to a great degree, cultural shaping. The government uses this monopoly to control what we can and can't do, what we know, and what we think.
Are too many people smoking? Tax cigarettes. Pass laws limiting where a person can smoke. Fund studies that illustrate the dangers of smoking. Teach children these dangers. Use shaming and peer pressure to alter behavior and public opinion in public service announcements.
Look at how this same method has been used in creating Obamacare. Create a problem through ham-handed regulation. Promote concerns over the problem with carefully worded studies and media saturation. Develop a legislative "solution". Use the legislation to pick new winners and losers. When the people complain about the unintended consequences, bribe them or badger them with propaganda and peer pressure (lather, rinse, repeat).
It's important to recognize that all of these governmental powers are predicated on force; lethal force if necessary. Don't think so? Ask yourself what would happen if you refused to send your children to school? What if you then refused to provide any proof that they were being educated? What if you then refused to acknowledge the government's court orders? Finally, what would happen if you refused to let the government take your children from you? Be sure that the government would resort to force.
How much force they used would depend on how much force you used to resist, but lethal force is always an option in the end. Under no circumstances does the government walk away shaking their head because you're more trouble than your worth. Defiance is a threat to their monopoly on force and cannot be tolerated.
In fact, it is the government's monopoly on force that allows any number of the problems we currently experience. The government spends like a drunken sailor because there is no one to stop them. They have the ability to take what money they need from you because they have a monopoly on force. They can tax you; borrow the money in your name; or simply print more money, devaluing what you have.
Politicians make politics their life's work because once they are in office, it's nearly impossible to remove them. They can use their legislative abilities to make powerful and well-financed friends that can help keep them in office, and they can also use their power to attack their enemies and opponents. Politicians are immoral and corrupt because there is no one to stop them. They recognize no authority but their own, and why should they? We accept that they must have a monopoly on force.
These are, of course, only the political issues. Cultural issues are part of this as well. Just one example of this is when the government maintains a monopoly on force with regards to enforcing the law. Criminals react appropriately. Gun free zones are refuges for criminals. They know they are safe from interference except from the police.
Criminals often know exactly how the police will react in a given situation. They know when they are actually endangering their lives and when they are only in danger of being cited with more violations. Criminals know what they will be charged with in various circumstances, and when they can expect police to use lethal force. Most importantly, they know when you are not allowed to react in your own defense and what type of trouble you can expect if you do.
All of this is brought on by accepting that government must have a monopoly on force. What if instead we retained our own right to use force as well? I'm not suggesting revolution here, just contemplation. How does the dynamic of our society change when individual retains their right to use force when they deem it necessary? Can a society be devised that doesn't require anyone to have a monopoly on force? You might be surprised.
You can read more from Kelly Colby at yourfirstshrug.blogspot.com.