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What about religion, politics, taxes, Kalahari? SOMEBODY PAYS FOR THAT LUNCH page 2
An election year and a water park make this the right time to question everything

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Date published: 1/20/2008

By Richard Amrhine


A book I'm reading, "Free Lunch," should put anyone in the mood to question everything. It's a compelling look at how the richest Americans--corporate pooh-bahs, sports team owners, etc.--get richer at the taxpayers' expense, and how the government facilitates such activity. Author David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter.

No one and no party is sacred in the stories he tells, and several of his examples hit very close to home. Why, for example, must local governments enter bidding wars to land money-making enterprises, and then let them keep the very sales tax revenues that make them desirable in the first place?

Take Fredericksburg's whirlwind affair with the Kalahari water park resort. Mayor Tom Tomzak echoes the argument that "incentives are a fact of life in the world of big development projects," and are an investment in a community's future. But there really are downsides to that conventional wisdom.

Kalahari expects to generate $125 million for Fredericksburg over the next 20 years. A little less than half that, $61 million, Kalahari gets to keep--now that's what I call a nice gratuity.

The city's share of $64 million comes to $3.2 million a year--4 percent of the current city budget of $78.5 million. How much of that $3.2 million will go directly toward the additional services (water and sewer, police, rescue, etc.) that Kalahari's presence will require?

This year's city budget is 7 percent higher than last year, suggesting that the revenue Kalahari generates will have less and less significance as the years go by, especially considering that the city is getting only half of it.

The sales tax revenues Central Park is generating dropped last year as new area shopping venues opened for business. No doubt entertainment choices will be expanding as well for the mid-Atlantic tourism pool from which Kalahari is drawing. Those who do come may well have meals in town and buy a tank of gas. But how many of them will shop downtown or visit local historic sites?

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