Rob Douglas: Steamboat remains calm as Vail panics
October 31, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Just as proposed federal solutions to the tightening national economy differ based on competing economic and political philosophies, so do official local reactions to projected fiscal downturns in Steamboat Springs and Vail.
As Vail’s Town Council panics, Steamboat Springs’ City Council remains calm.
As Vail raids its financial reserves, Steamboat Springs is preserving its rainy day fund.
As Vail spends blindly, Steamboat Springs plans to spend with foresight.
According to the Vail Daily, the Vail Town Council decided this week to tap the city’s financial reserves to the tune of more than a half-million dollars for an advertising campaign and concerts in an attempt to stimulate the town’s economy.
As reporter Edward Stoner put it, “Under the plan, about 100,000 mailers would be sent to pass holders in December to encourage them to come to Vail. About $50,000 in extra money would be thrown toward events such as Snow Daze and Street Beat to increase the number of concerts and book bigger names.”
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That second sentence, “$50,000 in extra money would be thrown toward events,” may be far more accurate than intended as – even in their haste to spend the city’s emergency funds – those involved in developing the plan recognize they may just be throwing money away.
Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Chris Jarnot, a co-developer and proponent of the plan to use public funds to advertise for the benefit of private businesses, admitted that reality while stating the obvious.
“There is no guarantee, especially under the circumstances we’re working with,” Jarnot said. “We can’t sit here and guarantee that if you spend this money, you’ll get the same amount of overnight stays you did last year.”
But, as Vail’s elected officials seem inclined to grasp at straws – given the first impulse of most politicians is to spend money whether there’s a likelihood of success – the best way for any government to justify unwise and wasteful spending is to declare an emergency.
So, Vail has declared an emergency.
Vail Councilwoman Margaret Rogers – referring to current economic conditions while doing her best Chicken Little impression – reportedly stated, “The reason we have (financial) reserves is for an emergency. I consider this an emergency.”
Of course, it’s for Vail to decide if it is faced with an emergency that warrants spending reserve funds that most prudent municipalities maintain for true emergencies that threaten life-sustaining services and infrastructure such as police, fire and emergency medical services, utilities and passable roads. Still, it’s worth examining the way Vail is reacting in comparison to the way our City Council has.
To date, although pressured by some to spend reserves, our council has wisely determined the better course of action is to maintain reserves in case the economy worsens for an extended period and thereby threatens core services that only government can provide.
Of course, the real question arising from the different responses by Vail and Steamboat to similar economic challenges is whether it’s the appropriate role of government to spend public dollars marketing the business community it governs in an attempt to increase revenue for that community.
I think not.
The appropriate role of government in a free market economy (one that is tragically being cast upon the ash heap of history at the national level) is to create and maintain infrastructure that only the government can provide while minimizing interference – often intentionally misnamed “support” – so private businesses will succeed or fail of their own accord.
Therefore, it is not the role of government to market business just as it is not the role of government to compete with business. It is for individual businesses or the business community at large to use their funds to the degree they deem necessary to advance their self-interest.
And, if left to their own accord – or, when necessary, forcefully weaned from the bosom of government through which public funds flow – the private sector in a free market system flourishes and core government services benefit from the increased tax dollars those successful businesses provide.
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