Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

This Government Subsidy: The Answer?

The City of Escondido in California ponders the question

At a recent Escondido City Council meeting, a former city council member stood up and reiterated the advice often offered by right-wing conservatives to the poor, the unemployed, the uninsured and the powerless, which is, “Government is not the answer.” If only someone had shouted, “Tell it to the corporations, Sir!” Or, with reference to the specific case now most foolishly under consideration by the city council, the Marriott Hotel deal, “Tell it to C.W. Clark!”

Clearly, to private entities such as C.W. Clark’s La Jolla based real estate development company, government is very much the answer. Should the city approve the deal, the city will fork over a $19 million subsidy out of a budget already in deficit, while also leasing the land tax free for ten years, by assuming, dubiously, the franchiser will stick around once it becomes clear there’s no market for the beast in downtown Escondido.

Given the recession, revenues and hotel occupancy rates for local hotels are already suffering. Best Western’s occupancy, for example, currently wavers at approximately 25%. The other hotels are not hugely better off.

To complicate the questions begged here, it has to be noted that the city has not revealed an inclination to require the franchise Marriott to hire local residents, nor to provide living-wage jobs, nor any other benefits to employees such as pensions and health insurance; and since the Marriott, corporate or franchise (2/3rds of all Marriotts are franchises), is not unionized, this government will satisfy yet another gift-wish of the corporate mind—profits made of poverty wages.

This is what is known as, I do believe, a “sweetheart deal.” But why ask the question, “Unless visitors are having trouble booking rooms, why put up another hotel?” Why ask the question, “In a democracy, shouldn’t the taxpayers have the right to say No to boondoggles that do nothing to improve the community or represent sane economic development?” The answers are irrelevant— where politicians are allied with business—both in spirit and personally—there will be subsidies to business, especially if the benefits are going to a company and its stockholders, at the expense of taxpayers, with no loss of skin off the corporate nose (Clark’s).

Notice that apparently the corporate Marriott is not interested in Escondido—perhaps because Mr. Marriott knows it would not be a prudent choice, given the market?

Item: “Hotels do not draw tourists to a region; they simply compete with each other for the tourists’ trade. Furthermore, hospitality industry jobs tend to be among the worst paying jobs in the economy: chambermaids, desk clerks, food service workers, etc...They do more harm than good for the residents of a city.”

Item: “ If the market is really there, you don't need public assistance. And if it's not there, don't build. All you do is hurt the hotels already in the market, and that's what's been happening for 20 years."

Still, why? What has possessed Escondido’s City Council? Whether the city council members who support this deal sincerely think a franchise Marriott hotel will provide revenue to the city and help balance the budget; or whether they are handicapped by a habit of mind, unable to think outside a free-market, cool-aid box toward enlightened, green economic options and new ideas for a rich, sustainable future; whether they might be getting kick-backs or gifts (not an unheard-of possibility)—well, who knows? The agreement will be negotiated “in closed session,” i.e., behind closed doors, as usual—no vote by citizens, no citizen oversight, no citizen voice present and holding sway over corporate and pro-business mind-sets. No transparency. We are left to wonder, and wonder we do, with letters, emails, blog posts, polls, and speeches by pro-community entities—pro-police union, pro-firefighters, parks, recreation areas, library, etc.—hoping common sense prevails.

We are left to wonder, to trust our elected officials to do the right thing. If they don’t, what will the city say to under-staffed and under-equipped police and firefighters; to kids unable to find safe and attractive parks and recreation areas to play in; to parents of kids without any place to play but on streets occupied by gangs; to residents who can’t find living-wage jobs; to students who find the library is closed just when they need it most? What will the city say— “So, how is that Marriott working out for you?”

In truth, good government can be the answer; bad government—engaging in double standards, socialism for wealthy developers but a cruel-world ideology for taxpayers and ordinary citizens—must not be the answer. Good government is not socialism; instead, it is a mixed economy, where a balance of private and public interests prevail.