A local no-plaques policy might slow the drive for costly projects

A couple of years ago I decided it would be better to write this column more about state and local issues than national affairs. It doesn’t mean I don’t comment about them or draw parallels, which are often too clear, between what is happening on a national scale and how that affects happenings closer to home.

Sometimes though, it seems more difficult to get folks to examine local issues and stimulate debate than it is with national topics.

At first glance I think this seems especially peculiar because the money and often the bizarre policy and procedural twists of local governments are going to affect all of us more quickly and directly than many national issues. I think the reason for this has to do with the amount of coverage topics receive, which not only fires people up but often educates them, correctly or incorrectly, on issues so they feel confident in expressing a viewpoint and sometimes taking action.

Local issues are often just as complicated as national ones but don’t have the benefit of cable news channels and national radio hosts pounding on the topic 24 hours a day for weeks. Most of the time a local issue is lucky to get a couple of days coverage unless it is somehow exceptional. That makes it hard for constituents to feel they have their arms around a topic enough to take full measure of what they should do, or even who to talk to about it.

So what we have are people rightfully stewing over the federal government building bridges to nowhere while oversize Grand Valley Transit buses drive past them empty or with two or three riders, looking like mass transit versions of the Flying Dutchman.

We are shocked when the mysteriously combustible electric Chevy Volt only manages to sell 1,760 units across the entire nation in June (for comparison, the Chevy Cruz sold 10 times that amount) despite being wildly subsidized by our national government. We expected failure but this is makes the Edsel seem a roaring success.

Meanwhile, there doesn’t seem to be nearly as much response when the Grand Junction City Council turns a fire hose of taxpayer dollars on the aging white elephant at Seventh and Main streets known as the Avalon Theatre. Not only are council members proposing to drench it in cash, they have offered to triple the amount even requested. This is the kind of largesse which only comes from spending other people’s money.

This was reportedly done with the remark from the mayor that “you have to spend money to make money.” This is, at best, a kind of economic gibberish. People, who think an economic policy should be determined by the random use of idioms are going to find themselves served by a government unlikely to be a wise steward of their taxes.

We should also remember that money used for hopeless local projects is not only directly extracted from the local citizens every time they visit a local business, but the funding public is doubly vexed, by being pestered to constantly use the floundering facility, ride the money-losing bus or visit some bad idea made manifest in a way only tax dollars can supply.

It is hard to ferret these things out because there is little reward for someone spending the time to pore over the various schemes that would bankrupt private companies if they were silly enough to try them at all.

I therefore propose a simpler and self-correcting method that, while not eliminating the problem, might at least slow down the impetus to put one’s personal stamp on projects with public money.

No plaques. A small step admittedly, which really only treats the buildings and parks neurosis. But if you want to put a plaque up to commemorate how great everyone was who spent public money on the project, it should wait 10 years.

If the enterprise was successful and the public impressed, surely future politicians will want to ascribe credit to the originators.

If, however, someone wants to donate personal funds, put their name in lights now.

Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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