Bribing your way to economic success
November 16, 2007
“The Carson City Hillbillies” (sung to the tune of “The Beverly Hillbillies”)
There once was a story
about a man named Max,
Who bought a building
without getting all the facts,
When he tried to build
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his dream casino,
He got a double-case
of the old el ream-o.
Everyone thought that
Max was down and out,
But he had a plan that
would make those people shout,
He found another sucker
to buy his property,
And he moved his casino
to Douglas County.
Now the town is left
with an empty building,
And a new building owner
who won’t do a thing,
Until the people hand over
all their money,
They won’t get a new
Burlington Coat Factory.
It appears that Carson City’s role in the Max Baer/Wal-Mart saga has come to an inglorious end, with the city handing over another $2 million in tax incentives to the current owner of the old Wal-Mart property to keep it from remaining an empty, nontax-producing eyesore.
That is, until some other business comes to Carson City with their palms out, waiting for their payoff.
This whole saga is suitable for a daytime TV movie on one of those third-rate satellite channels, only watched by people who are too infirm to change the channel. Or perhaps the late director Stanley Kubrick could have turned the absurdity of this story into a masterpiece, “A Clockwork Carson,” where the good people of the capital city keep getting screwed over and over, expecting a different result each time.
This situation reminds me of story by fellow Appeal columnist Guy Farmer about his experience working with the State Department. Part of his duties overseas was to garner favorable media coverage. He did this as any normal PR person would, cultivating relationships with reporters and giving them the positive spin on events.
But he said there were other U.S. personnel who came in and started paying bribes to these reporters to get good stories. And when that happened, then no reporter would write anything favorable until money changed hands, and the credibility of all involved sank as a result.
That is where Carson City is at right now. No big business is going to move into this town without first holding out their hands and waiting for the city fathers to lay some green on them. And the residents have come to distrust all of these deals, which stink of corruption.
Carson City isn’t the first or last local government to be treated like a $2 whore. Big business has learned they can hold cities hostage until the proper incentives are coughed up. And those city officials who are battling to keep their municipalities growing jump on these deals like tweakers on a bag of meth. They just can’t get enough, and they go nowhere as a result. As soon as one payoff is made, another is requested, and the prostitution of the public interest is continued to feed the addiction.
Some cities have found themselves handing out so many of these bribes that the businesses they hoped to bring in taxes actually pay none. To keep the jobs they create, the cities then go into the hole to keep these businesses from moving to another city willing to pay bigger bribes.
This sick cycle must stop.
If the city wants to offer tax incentives to one business, they should offer them to all businesses. Offer them to all taxpayers, too. It is our money, and we don’t hand it over so that it can be used to bribe fat-cat developers who don’t need it.
Carson City has some troubling economic challenges ahead. But lifting the city’s skirt to attract business isn’t the way to solve them.
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