My Turn: Truckee museum add-on more evidence of out-of-control spending
May 19, 2011
TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Let me start by saying I am a big fan of museums. I have been to museums all over the world and the experience you get viewing local culture from past to pop enriches everyone who takes advantage of the opportunity. I have been to the Donner State Park museum. I found the artifacts gave insight to the courage and creativity of those who endured difficult times. I liked the exhibits, I liked the museum itself as quaint and appropriate to the site and location. I would have thought the building itself had some historical significance. I never saw a line waiting to get in.
When some officials proposed a new museum on the shore of Donner Lake, there was a public outcry against the project. Iand#8217;m sure the Park Service had already spent tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for their proposal. I thought maybe the public resistance had caused them to come to their senses about the need for any new museum given Californiaand#8217;s continuing deficits and#8212; the park itself was only rescued from closing at the last second.
When I read in the Sun that State Parks was going ahead and planning to spend $6.8 million dollars on a new museum for a park that still keeps playing Chicken Little with staying open, I had to ask myself, and#8220;are they cracked?and#8221; There are a few things these park bureaucrats may not know. Bond money is not free money. It is money that has to be paid back, with interest. Tax free bonds are bought by wealthy individuals who can get tax free income that has to be made up by less wealthy individuals who donand#8217;t make enough to benefit from buying tax free bonds. At $6.8 million, even if the museum charged $20 admission, I donand#8217;t think they would generate enough income to pay for power and maintenance, much less capital costs. Another thing Iand#8217;m sure the bureaucrats donand#8217;t understand, that new capital investments create a 100 year plus stream of costs, for staffing, snow plow, insurance, maintenance, utilities, security.
When we are having a discussion about public debt, we should be talking about all public debt. Governor Brown is exactly correct in wanting to reign in local redevelopment agencies. The people who sit around trying to find new ways to spend money should be looking for jobs themselves. Not long ago the Placer County Redevelopment agency and#8220;felt comfortableand#8221; planning to spent more than $14 million for a 3-story, 137-space parking garage in Tahoe City at the Tahoe City Marina. Since they would have been eliminating about 68 existing spaces, that means they and#8220;felt comfortableand#8221; spending about $204,000 per gained parking space, for a facility that was not convenient to the heart of town and in winter would get very limited use. In other words, they didnand#8217;t have a clue as to how taxpayer money relates to reality and didnand#8217;t really care. Fortunately, public outcry caused the project to be canceled, but only after tens or hundreds of thousands of tax dollars were spent on surveys, engineering, architecture and meetings (which were, I believe, for show, but legally required).
The city of Livermore Redevelopment Agency social engineers spent tens of millions of dollars condemning the properties of downtown business owners, many of whom did not want to sell, because they had a grand vision. Now the agency is broke, and like so many others, sold their remaining assets to the city to try to keep the state from getting it. What they got for their taxpayer money was an economically blighted, empty downtown, homeless encampments, few businesses left producing sales tax revenue, and some tax subsidized apartments adjacent to active railroad tracks. Did those and#8220;plannersand#8221; realize that at signaled railroad crossings, locomotives are obliged to blow their whistles, even at 4 in the morning. What were they thinking?
There are infrastructure needs in America that are crucial to just maintaining the status quo, not to mention future overpopulation pressures. Giving tax free bond money to billionaire sports team owners, and giving tax write offs to businesses contributing to the teams, getting box seats in return, much of it paid for by people who cannot afford the $100 tickets, adds to total public debt. One of these days there will not be enough tax dollars or and#8220;user feesand#8221; to support local, state, or the federal avalanche of debt, and, like the city of Vallejo, we will all be looking at bankruptcy.
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Kirk Short is a Truckee resident.