On Volusia: A Difficult Question

In his well-researched article in Sunday’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, reporter Dustin Wyatt asked the important question:

“Will Volusia County’s insidious cronyism and malignant corporate welfare system play a role in the sales tax vote?”

Now, I took some editorial liberty with the phrasing – but make no mistake – that is the question.

For years, the dirty little secret that has stifled true economic development – and created an artificial economy through unfair advantage in Volusia County – is that here, uber-wealthy political insiders truly can keep their cake and eat it too.

Don’t take my word for it.

Ask any of the countless small businesses that have withered on the vine of local government over-regulation, been asked to jump through onerous hoops by the very officials who are paid to foster entrepreneurial investment, fell victim to bait and switch promises, endured the insidious problems of blight, homelessness and hopelessness, or simply faded out of existence due to the economic realities of Main Street, Downtrodden Downtown Daytona or in our traditional tourist areas along Atlantic Avenue from Ormond Beach south.

Take a drive, see the sights, then consider where the tens-of-millions in redevelopment funds earmarked for these critical commercial areas ultimately ended up?

Speak to those who own restaurants, operate movie theaters, retail shops and other enterprises that don’t enjoy the buoyant effect of having their start-up costs, overhead and financial risk mitigated by massive infusions of public funds – or given the unfair advantage of charging “enhanced amenity fees” – a sales tax by another name – to cover maintenance, guest experience and marketing costs.

What? 

Your small business doesn’t enjoy the same infrastructure improvements, tax abatement, fee reductions and direct financial support from local government that, say, J. Hyatt Brown, the Forbes listed France family, or any number of real estate developers enjoy? 

Tough shit.  Here on Florida’s Fun Coast – you pay to play. . .

In the News-Journal’s informative piece on the topic, we learned of the combined $58 million in infrastructure improvements that you and I paid to Big Money interests – like International Speedway Corporation, Brown & Brown, Tanger Outlets and Trader Joe’s  – not including the millions in tax breaks and other incentives – which, in my view, represent a handsome return on investment for those individuals and corporations who underwrite the political campaigns of sitting politicians across Volusia County.

What has been essentially left unsaid, by the News-Journal and those we elect to represent our interests, is that we live in a time and place where the rich get richer using our tax dollars to fund private, for-profit projects – while the poor and so-called “middle class” seemingly exist to pay the bills – then eat shit and die.

In my view, this bastardized system based upon lopsided “public-private partnerships” is antithetical to the idea of a free and open marketplace.

As the Canadian comic and politician Greg Malone put it, P3’s should be called “P-12’s” – “Public-Private Partnerships to Plunder the Public Purse to Pursue Policies of Peril to People and the Planet for all Posterity.”

Indeed.

Look, I can’t blame these out-of-state corporations – if relocation incentives are offered who wouldn’t accept them?

Where I draw the line is with established local companies who crow, ad nauseum, about being “good corporate citizens” while accepting millions in homegrown corporate welfare with the resulting long-term economic impacts.

For instance, I’m already hearing disturbing rumors about local small businesses who are being adversely affected by the much-heralded “Brown Esplanade” in Downtown Daytona – such as the abrupt cancellation of small, but important, contracts for river bank maintenance and other environmental services – as the once public Riverfront Park transitions to private control.

I believe that commercial, for-profit developments that are underwritten by massive infusions of public funds, tax breaks and infrastructure subsidies skew the playing field in a very tight market – essentially allowing government to pick winners and losers – by providing an unfair advantage that most small businesses and entrepreneurs who form the backbone of a local economy do not have equal access to.

That’s wrong.

According to the News-Journal, “Randall Holcombe, a professor of economics at Florida State University, takes a dim view of development incentives, calling them “counterproductive.”

“When (local governments) give one group or company a tax break or subsidy, everyone else is paying the cost. Why should some be asked to foot the bill for benefits that go to others?” he asked. “The best way to promote economic development is to have a business-friendly climate that makes businesses want to come without having to be bribed by targeted government incentives.”

Despite what our “economic development” gurus over at Team Volusia tell themselves so they can sleep at night – a free market and strong local economy is not based upon which community can throw the most money and tax incentives at incredibly profitable established local corporations on the always flimsy, rarely fulfilled, promise of “high paying jobs.” 

I mean, what became of the moral corporate imperative to stand on your own two feet or make way for those who can?  

In my view, when done properly, visionary communities take a holistic approach – working with planners to carefully select, recruit and position businesses in a way that provides the company with the best opportunity for commercial success, while enhancing quality of life and building a distinctive civic brand by carefully shaping a physical and regulatory environment where people and businesses want to be.

Here, our ‘powers that be’ simply turn a blind eye to the sins of the past – ignore long-neglected existing neighborhoods and dilapidated commercial corridors – then allow developers to build a sprawling “New Daytona” in the pine scrub west of town.

My God.    

There was a time when government assisted the development of a strong commercial tax base by identifying and reducing expensive permitting, onerous regulations and promoting fair practices for the benefit of consumers.

Local, state and federal government ensured that the playing field was level then allowed the natural competition of the free market to work without unnatural stimuli.  It meant that only the best ideas survived, and that prices for goods and services were controlled by marketplace factors, such as quality of service and the law of supply and demand.

Under Volusia County’s current economic development strategy, local governments have essentially become backhanded philanthropists – offering huge sums of public funds to private interests with a profit motive.

Whenever you are playing fast-and-loose with other people’s money, the risk for favoritism and corruption is high.

In my view, Volusia County has an abysmal track record of pissing away our hard-earned tax dollars to satiate the personal wants of entrenched power brokers which has perpetuated an out-of-control oligarchical system that no one trusts anymore.

And that’s just one reason why giving these sycophantic rubber-stamps more of our hard-earned money is just wrong. . .

Now – after lavishing millions of tax dollars on a few political insiders who fund the political campaigns of hand-select candidates for public office – their elected shills are asking every man, woman, child and visitor in Volusia County to self-inflect a sales tax increase – a move many are convinced is just another pass-through from our pockets to those of the wealthy government insiders and others who are pushing this shameless money grab.

I think Alycia Severson, a teacher and civic activist from Ormond Beach, said it best in Sunday’s News-Journal, “Isn’t it strange to give away millions to friends and developers with one hand and extend the other (to residents) for a handout” in the form of a sales tax?

Trust me.  There is a reason why this tax increase is being ramrodded by that consortium of millionaires over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance through their dubious Political Action Committee – Volusia Citizens for Better Roads and Clean Water.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to VOTE NO! on the half-cent sales tax increase.

I assure you giving more of our hard-earned money to the same conniving assholes that got us into this festering quagmire in the first place is not the solution to Volusia County’s infrastructure and environmental needs.

Enough is enough.

In my view, it’s time we send a clear message to our elected officials and demand an end to these pernicious corporate giveaways, abject cronyism and unchecked growth that is replacing the stability of our long-term economic outlook with the constant expansion and contraction of the ‘boom/bust’ cycle.

It is time we demand that our elected and appointed officials get their fat hands out of our pockets – learn to live within their already sizable means – and work to build a sustainable tax base and thriving economy through a fair and competitive marketplace.

Please join Barker’s View this afternoon beginning at 4:00pm on GovStuff Live with Big John, where we will discuss this issue and other pressing matters facing us here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast!

Please tune-in locally at 1380am “The Cat” – or online at www.govstuff.org – and join the forum!

 

 

 

 

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