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Archive for March, 2011

Public-Private Partnerships in the Design State

The Health Adventure has filed for bankruptcy. It collected $8 million for a new $25 million science center, and has spent $11 million so far. $2 million of the donations came from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. The TDA collects room taxes in Buncombe County and then spends them on projects like peeling signs, insolvent parks that keep building, and bankrupt science museums. $500,000 of this amount remains in escrow.

Local hospitals have also been substantial benefactors. Where the hospitals get the money is not to be confused with overtreatment and billing errors that run systematically to the hospital’s advantage. Only cranks take a systems approach to money management.

The science museum was to be called Momentum. Funds were spent on “architectural and engineering fees, exhibit design, development of a master plan and salaries for employees hired to staff the museum.” Only $1.4 million was spent on site preparation investments, like a culvert, terracing for parking, an erosion pond, environmental impact studies, and an archaeological survey. At one point, the museum had 38 employees. Now it only has 20, and several have taken a pay cut, including the CEO, who earns $84,000 a year.

The Citizen-Times notes that philanthropists across the country have been stingier since the onset of the “Great Recession.” To make matters worse, the Health Adventure ran out of money before it had a chance to receive an anticipated $8-13 million in tax-exempt bonds through the state.

Meanwhile, the natives are growing restless. Why, they ask, do two-year-olds need to play with high-tech “Alice’s Wonderland” displays? Wasn’t the Health Adventure just host to an exhibit on boogers? Why are board members of operations that fail repeatedly appointed to boards of other operations that fail? Where did the money go, and where are the financial records?

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An Epidemic of Appointments to Elective Office

Sylva Commissioner Danny Allen has made public his intentions to resign, but has not announced an effective date. Should he do so anytime soon, the remaining commissioners would appoint his successor. The five-member board already consists of two appointees. Chris Matheson was appointed to fill the vacancy created when former commissioner Maurice Moody became mayor. Harold Hensley was appointed to replace Sarah Graham when she moved outside the town’s jurisdiction.

In neighboring Sylva, Danya Vanhook was appointed to replace former alderman Colin Edwards. Only Phil Aldridge voted against the appointment. He was the only board member to side with Edwards in the rift that led to Edwards’ resignation. Edwards was riled after he had been unable to communicate to his peers the seriousness of flagrant mismanagement in local ABC operations.

In a world of “us” and “them,” it spells defeat to step down and let a majority of “them” replace one of “us.” Normally, the problem arises when politically aggressive candidates kick their supporters in the teeth as they stretch for higher office, leaving in their glory trails an incomplete term. In two of the above cases, the officers, who find fact and reason powerless on boards where irrationality reigns, are stepping aside to make room for more insanity.

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Mysterious Staff Cuts

The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office has been making substantial cuts. This runs against the tide of most other government offices that want to extend debt to expand. The reason for the cuts, however, need not be made public. And so, folks are left to speculate about whether the dismissals of personnel are for wrongdoing, personal vendetta, or maybe a smokescreen component for the ongoing SBI investigation.

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No Money for Basic City Services

Asheville City Council has a tradition of holding gripefests on fifth Tuesdays. The meetings represent an attempt to avail members of city council to the public for input. This is a great thing for representative government to do.

The last meeting was held in south Asheville. Citizens complained that they didn’t have enough sidewalks, Sweeten Creek Road needed widening, and Springside Drive needed repairs.

Members of council and staff replied that the city did not have the funds for sidewalks. It was suggested that the city take out a loan of from $50 to $100 million to construct them. Some citizens may object to the buy now, pay later with interest approach to using their tax dollars for basic city services, but the city has so many other needs to fill.

As for Sweeten Creek, it is maintained by the state. The city has lobbied for the DOT to put its widening higher on its priority list. The city’s DPW will “look at” the potholes and likely make the needed repairs.

Represenatitves of the city used the opportunity to explain how the city was stretched for cash. It had nothing to do with excess government spending, but rather inequitable tax laws applied to a regional hub. Members of city council urged those in the audience to petition their legislators for assistance by changing the way Asheville collects sales tax redistributions and allowing it to use proceeds from a hotel tax for general-fund purposes.

To be explicit, the moral of the story is once again: Taxpayers are being too greedy. The city must first fund green fads, studies, master plans, and design review processes. The easiest way for government to get more money for essential services is to soak the tourists, because they don’t vote in Asheville elections.

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Sacrosanct Public-Sector Jobs

I share the sentiments of a reader of the Asheville Citizen-Times. The topic is prevalent amongst the preponderance of Western North Carolina newspapers.

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Feeeeelings, Woe! Woe! Woe!

I feeeeeeel like I’m in a thrall pattern, setting myself up to be mowed down if I try to resist the throng. I feeeeeeel treasonous for even reading that the state is moving forward with its insurance exchange in fulfillment of the socialized medicine bill that:

  • is un-Constitutional, but the president’s gonna steamroll it anyway.
  • is being foisted on North Carolinians because our attorney general didn’t care to join the lawsuit.
  • really could have used more d***ing language from Judge Vinson.

Instead of being a nation of brave and free Americans, we sit here and suck our security blankets as we read internally-inconsistent news stories of convoluted pretzel logic. The article of interest turns your mind to putty in the hands of the journalist as you place the latest news in the context of the rhetoric the smiling suits in Washington, DC have been shoveling.

To wit: To reduce waste, fraud, and abuse and get evil insurance companies out from between patients and their doctors – appointees are recommending seating a representative from the largest contingent in the state’s insurance oligopoly, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, on the exchange. The exchange would provide administrative functions with government oversight for “marketplace” policy brokering. If we could only get the beast to function nationally, there would be no argument that healthcare is interstate commerce in need of federal controls. Regardless, there is hope that a federal pool will be established that could use taxing powers to undercut private providers, avalanche-style, until the federal government victoriously conquers the healthcare sector. Cha-ching!

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Obstructions Victorious until 2020

In 1989, the state began talking about constructing a connector for I-26. It would hopefully have done something about the weekly, Friday rush-hour, accident-induced traffic delays. Then “environmental” “obstructionists” objected. The monopolistic DMV was pouring concrete out the ying-yang and saying the city needed eight lanes instead of six. When the “environmental” “obstructionists” talked the state down to six lanes, citizens wanted to dialogue about how to plan synergies into the process – you know, the affordable housing component and all. Well, the state had enough of us flaky-flakes in Asheville, so now it is saying we won’t get funding for a connector until 2020. The DOT has already sunk $14.2 million into designs and redesigns.

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Maybe Somebody Could Start a Forest for Transplanting Distraught Trees

Lt. Wallace Welch of the Asheville Police Department released the following. It is reproduced unedited lest you wouldn’t believe an abridgment.

ASHEVILLE – On 03-29-11, at approx 1129 hours, the City of Asheville Police Department responded to 1 Battery Park Ave. in downtown Asheville in response to 62 year old, Clare Marie Hanrahan, who had chained herself to a tree that had been selected for removal by City Arborist David Foster. According to responding officers, Mr. Foster explained to Ms. Hanrahan, that the tree was distressed, dying; and had to be removed, however Ms. Hanrahan was concerned that the tree was currently in bloom and that the city should at least wait until that particular cycle had been completed.

After many minutes of compromise back and forth facilitated by the Asheville Police Department, it was decided that the work crew would not remove the tree (Bradford Pear) until it had finished blooming. In return Ms. Hanrahan voluntarily removed her bicycle chain which had locked her to the tree and left the area.

It was determined during the ongoing conversation with Ms. Hanrahan that she also planned to do the same thing at a Magnolia tree at the old Asheville Ford location where a Harris Teeter is planning to be built. She also said that there was a sycamore tree in the downtown area (that she would not identify), that she was going to chain herself to keep it from being removed.

It should be noted that when responding officers gave Ms. Hanrahan her options, she was not opposed to jail and has spent time in Federal Prison for trespassing on a military base.

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How Many More Cronies Does Mr. Thompson Need?

“Atlas Shrugged,” the movie, will be hitting silver screens across the country April 15. So far, it will come no closer to North Carolina than Alexandria and Nashville.

There is a hope that the movie will take off like a vampire flick, and kids will start reading the book. Of course, life is never that easy. Economists have been trying to lay out facts about the optimal functioning of markets for the last 300 years. Selfishness has a way of drowning out reasoned arguments on behalf of liberty.

Needless to say, the Huffington Post dissed the production. According to the critic:

It features the story of John Galt, an industrialist that leads a movement of creative and business masters who flee as government becomes more and more obtrusive, hoping to show what happens when innovators are not free to do whatever they want.

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Santayana Said . . .

The mass media has once again decided to focus on job loss resulting from attempts by government to live within its current means. This blog entry is not intended to minimize the circumstances of those featured. The news today (1, 2) does not constitute the only recent reports putting a face on budget cuts. Rather, this entry is intended to call attention to situations fiscally-conservative economists have, for centuries, considered predictable and inevitable.

Elected officials, in fair pasture days, had the luxury of forgetting simple laws of conservation, more popularly referenced as the absence of free lunches. They promised special interest programs to get re-election votes on the assumption taxpayers were some mutant breed of turnip, willing and able to give any amount of blood at any time, without wringing or squeezing. What is needless to say for the logician, will likely always be a mystery to politicians, who suffer a greater motive to serve special interests than the average professional and are therefore more inclined to repeat the pitfalls of history. (Giving the reader the benefit of a doubt, I won’t say it.)

The problem now faced by government is not that there isn’t enough money to go around. That would be a free-market absurdity. The real problem is that government-enforced programs are taking money away from activities people consider productive and conducive to a healthy standard of living. There will be judgment calls, since all but principles are tainted shades of gray. The fact remains, government needs to downsize.

Now, if we were good people, we would sympathize with the unemployed and maybe help them find private-sector employment. If we were better people, we wouldn’t have allowed government to get so over-bloated in the first place. And if we were even better people, we would be celebrating the governor’s wishes to avoid ridiculous tax hikes that would further cramp the private sector’s ability to engage in productive pursuits.

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