Accepting the consequences of democracy

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Dr. Malcolm Cross
Dr. Malcolm Cross

Everyone agrees we need more economic development to grow the economy and produce more tax revenue while cutting tax rates.  But how should we do this?

In passing Prop 1, the voters said we should grow the government by creating a new Stephenville Economic Development Authority with a new board of directors, and spend more money on economic development projects.  The Chamber of Commerce says the SEDA will somehow give the taxpayers more control over how their money will be spent, and that the government can somehow spend more money on economic development with no tax increases or spending cuts elsewhere. 

As a small government conservative who believes that a free market can produce more wealth than the city council can, I question the claims made by the supporters of Prop 1.  But my views are currently irrelevant.  They’ve been overwhelmingly rejected by the voters, and the voters have the right to see their views, not mine, implemented.  That’s democracy.

But yet to be determined are the actual projects on which economic development funds are to be spent.  What projects will be proposed by the SEDA and adopted by the council, how much they will cost, and what impact they will have on Stephenville remain to be seen.

The Chamber of Commerce’s propaganda stressed infrastructure.  Indeed, increased spending on infrastructure is the best course of action the city council can take.  Better roads, sewers, water pipelines, and storm water drainage systems will benefit everyone and make Stephenville more attractive to potential new retailers and manufacturers.

But in addition to spending more on infrastructure the city council must continuously review its ordinances and, when necessary, change them to make launching new businesses and maintaining and expanding existing businesses easier.  This, too, will benefit everyone currently in Stephenville, and may attract more businesses to relocate.

Unfortunately, the law, as summarized by the “newspaper,” seems to say that the city council may give aid to particular businesses, either to help new businesses come to town or keep existing businesses here.  But to help some but not others makes the government less fair to all concerned. To give tax breaks to some may mean tax increases for others. To give money to failing businesses is to reward them for their inability to sufficiently offer goods and services for which the consumer wants to pay. Moreover, the money to aid failing businesses will come from the taxpayers, including the successful businesses, and is therefore a penalty levied on the successful for being successful. Successful businesses need no aid from government. Failing businesses deserve none.  Neither should get any.

Therefore, in spending money and regulating competition, the city must be careful not to put any business at a competitive advantage or disadvantage.  In promoting economic development the city should assume the role of a baseball umpire or football referee by managing competition to assure fairness to all and favoritism to none.  Within this framework each business must have the opportunity to succeed or fail with neither government persecution nor government protection.

I cannot, of course, either foresee what policies the city council, with the advice of SEDA, will adopt, and whether those policies will succeed or fail.  But as long as those policies are within the law passed by the people last May, the people must accept the consequences of their decisions.  That’s democracy.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987.  His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

1 Comment

  1. I’m not certain I would agree that it is always bad policy to aid troubled businesses–I think the aid of General Motors during the Great Recession was wise in the long run. (Ford was not aided.) Does a city sometimes face the same type of problem? The discussion in your column is about keeping business in town–and the problem is then complicated by the question of whether the business was just failing locally or was being attracted away by some other locale through various types of perks. I realize there’s an obvious danger of trying to prop up a business that should fail.

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