The State’s Misplaced Priorities

by Marc Kilmer

APRIL 30, 2012 Bookmark and Share

It seems strange that as state legislators consider what to do about the so-called “doomsday budget” and local leaders are readying to raise taxes in response to the state shifting the cost of more programs onto them, plans for a variety of corporate welfare in the state continue apace. Just how serious are the state’s budget problems if it can help pay for a new baseball stadium in Hagerstown and a hotel and conference center in Frederick? Or, perhaps we should ask, just how out-of-whack are our elected leaders’ priorities that they would even consider funding such projects in light of the state’s serious fiscal problems?

Regardless of whether you are a liberal, conservative, or libertarian, you probably agree that there are some core things government should do: administer justice, provide police and fire protection, provide transportation infrastructure, administer public health measures, and provide for public education. Clearly there are differences in how these things should be done and at what government level they should be accomplished, but I don’t think many people would find this list of government duties controversial (my apologies to any anarcho-capitalists reading this). Government funding should be focused on achieving these things. If there’s money left over, then we can have the liberal/conservative arguments about just how much government can expand.

In Maryland, the government seems to be failing its duties to fund these basic government services. For instance, counties have seen the funding they are legally obligated to receive for road repair slashed by the state. The budget passed by the General Assembly this year cut local grants to law enforcement and libraries.

So if the state isn’t focusing on core government functions, what do our elected officials believe are important? Subsidizing baseball, making sure that people have a hotel to stay at in Frederick, and ensuring that there is enough room for people who attend conventions in that town. The state doesn’t have enough money to fix the roads, but it sure can find funding to enrich minor league baseball owners.

Clearly, there’s something wrong here. Sure, policymakers say that these types of projects boost local economies. Too bad there’s little to no good evidence to back up these assertions. The politicians who are supporting them are either engaged in wishful thinking, not basing their decisions on the ample evidence that exists about the failure of these types of economic development programs, or are simply lying. You choose which.

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