I experienced this personally on the last day of my last term as a Budget Committee member in my town so this ISN’T just a problem at the county, State, or National levels.
Of course, it may be no accident that the claims made on behalf of state provision of public goods are not borne out in practice; as a consequence, perhaps the theory of government underlying such claims should be revised.
Harvard economist Joseph P. Kalt suggests that we should view government “as a means whereby some free riders are able to force others to pay for their rides, rather than as a means whereby we all agree to coerce ourselves in order to overcome a free-rider effect that frustrates desires for public goods.”
-Tom Palmer (“Infrastructure: Public or Private?”)
From my now-retired series, Tales from the Budcom is a perfect example. Someone has a bright idea (it’s a boondoggle) but wants everyone else to pay for it.
…And then the Public Comment session arrived and the School Board Chair, Chris McDonough stood up to talk about his Petition Warrant. He and a few others want a bona fide football stadium and wanted $62,000 for a study of the area and preliminary plans for a multi-million complex – for a village of 7,400 people. He admitted that the reason for the Petition Warrant was that it was “too late in the process” during the budget season to have put it into process.
WIDE EYED responses to that assertion. He’s the flippin’ CHAIR! He could have, at ANY time during the process, put it into play.
Chairman “End Around”. Chairman “Taxpayers will never have to pay for the football program”. Chairman “It’s the Tractor again”. Chairman “Keeping up with the Jones”
Actually, that would be keeping up with Laconia – and made, if I remember right, the claim that it would help bring more people into town. I’ve explained the tractor budget bit before. The “End Around” really is an end around the budget process (which that $25K tractor was as well as other things that year). Written, too, was the sad saga of how football was finally snuck into the School District budget (“just a club sport!”, “now we need school recognition (only) to play other schools”, “early donors are no longer supporting us”, a petition warrant to get money, and then finally into the actual budget (which also caused ALL formerly volunteer positions to get paid), and then a lack of interest within Gilford resulted in a blended team with Belmont).
And now, “Never cost taxpayers a dime” has morphed to a multi-million dollar Taj Mahal for such a small town as us. For a football team that can barely field a team.
And Chairman “Rah, rah, sis boombah!” said “it will only cost $62K for the architect (who was formerly donating his time – what happened???)” to do “more detailed plans.
…I did ask Chairman “I wanna spend other peoples’ money on MY bright idea” the following question:
WHY is it that any time that anyone thinks they have a Big Bright Idea, they automatically think that the taxpayers have to pay for it?
I followed it up with:
If YOU think that this is such a great idea, why aren’t you putting your OWN money into the study? If this really IS so cool because you got 39 people to sign it, why don’t you put your money where your mouths are – that’s ONLY $1700 odd each. Leave the taxpayers out of it.
He wanted his School Board stadium on the cheap – to him. This, as Tom Palmer said, was a clear case of a “free rider” – he and his buddies would pay very little but get the entire benefit of riding on everyone else’s dime. He would have the prestige of “The Starter” – probably with his name on the bronze sign at the entrance to this waste of money. Again, “For a football team that can barely field a team.”
Fortunately for the rest of us, he got slammed and slammed HARD – even though he was the Chair of the School Board, the rest of the Board voted it down. So did the Budget Committee.
Free Rider? You bet.
(H/T: Cafe Hayek)