Ah, the joys of coming home each summer: Chingawassa Days. Witnessing my cat complete her elaborate training of my mother. Watching baby deer try to cross US-56 near Ace Hardware, a store that even without deer is plenty impressive.
The most coveted joy, however, is none of the above. It’s my annual trek across the street to the courthouse to time just how long it takes before the first conversation of the summer with our favorite 2nd District county commissioner turns into a lament about tax exemptions for a particular pipeline that crosses the county.
Imagine my shock this summer when it was nearly an hour into a meeting Monday before the K-word finally made its first appearance, almost as an afterthought in an otherwise empassioned soliloquy about myriad ways in which Kansas’s least favorite sons, the members of the state legislature, are doing their best to persuade us that representative democracy really isn’t such a great idea.
“They can’t fix their own problems so they’re going to start screwing with local government,” the sermon begins. “It’s the old stab in the back out of nowhere. By doing what they’re doing, they’re the ones raising local taxes.”
After detailing terms of a “giveaway” of tax credits to out-of-state businesses comes the Lucy and Desi rejoinder: “They’ve got some ’splainin’ to do.”
Truth is, local government may be the one with some ’splainin’ to do. As much as every unit of local government seems to decry what state and federal governments want, almost every local government is nigh-on totally dependent on grants and more than willing to hire all manner of engineers and consultants to teach them how better to hold out their hands for whatever idea, crackpot or not, is en vogue.
The fact that Marion County can’t fix its potholes but can hire an engineer to apply for a million dollars to replace signs that may or may not need replacing is just one symptom of how the insanity presents itself.
School districts now have as much control over local education as do the cooks standing over grills at fast-food franchises. Teachers don’t plan classes; they use “approved” classes bought and paid for from multinational corporations. Does Marion really need a new and improved East Park, or was this just another way for bureaucrats, consultants, and engineers to get a gig preparing grant requests?
The biggest challenge of governing these days appears to be how much you can push off onto other units of government. Service organizations clamor to serve even more clients, whether the clients need the service or not, merely so they can secure existing or additional money. It’s all a game, and the only people really profiting from it are those moving the shells back and forth on the table — the consultants who convince local governments to pay them to pan for gold in the river of state and federal aid.
It’s an economic war in which no side wants to be the first to disarm. If you don’t get the grant, someone else will. But at some point, the merry-go-round needs to stop before the multiple tax purses we contribute to become so huge we all are buried beneath them.
— ERIC MEYER