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What about religion, politics, taxes, Kalahari? SOMEBODY PAYS FOR THAT LUNCH

January 20, 2008 12:16 am



THIS YEAR I'VE made a resolution that's easy to keep: Question everything.

For example, why is it taking so long to replace the internal combustion engine? And, why not government-run universal health care--that lets you choose your doctor?

There's a book I'll talk about later that's helped to put me in a "no-more-business-as-usual" frame of mind. That it's a presidential election year has also helped, as each candidate, regardless of party, promises "change."

choosing nominees

Now that the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are finally behind us, what have we learned? Next to nothing, really. But given the political rhetoric spewing forth, and the media's habit of presenting every poll taken and every ballot cast as deciding a candidacy's future--sometimes incorrectly--Americans may be justifiably sick of the process already.

How about changing the system? Are the people of Iowa and New Hampshire really so insightful that we should care what they think about the current unwieldy field of candidates?

On Feb. 5 comes the biggest ever Super Tuesday, which will probably decide the nominees for both parties. Are Americans, other than political junkies, even paying attention yet?

Wouldn't it be fun if the conventions were still contests rather than choreographed coronations? There's your reality TV.

Another change in the political process that should be mandated: No mention of religion.

Thomas Jefferson, a noteworthy Virginian, believed that religion has no place in government, and government has no place in religion. He knew that was crucial for the young nation's survival and America's future health that the two remain mutually exclusive. The Constitution must always trump the Bible. If we are to stereotype Republicans and Democrats as conservatives and liberals, let it describe their fiscal philosophies.

Candidates now more than ever feel obliged to profess their faith. But that has no logical bearing on government policy. Choosing between right and wrong is nondenominational exercise.

President Bush speaks of praying for guidance, but seems to have gotten a series of bum steers. Some simple secular soul-searching might do the trick.

Lunch for free

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?

So is the Kalahari fanfare warranted? It's certainly a savior for the Silver Cos.' plans for Celebrate Virginia, and for the City Council, which has been debating whether to prop up the client-starved Expo and Convention Center, which needs a high-profile attraction nearby.

With Kalahari years away from a ribbon-cutting, and new convention space a part of its complex, what does the future hold for the expo center?

Given all the hotel rooms that have sprung up around the expo center, you get an idea of the sort of jobs the Celebrate Virginia development boom is providing. Even with nice tips, changing bed linens can't compete with the jobs that draw people north everyday. The dozens of "executive" jobs Kalahari has promised, based on its other operations, will be filled in a heartbeat. It's the hundreds of service jobs that will be hard to fill, and those who do take them will clog the roads and pollute the air because they don't make enough to live in the Fredericksburg area.

Maybe there are worse ventures than a water park complex, but the long-term value of the return on city taxpayers' investment is debatable. A viable and realistic alternative? New industries whose jobs pay wages that make living here affordable.

Richard Amrhine is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.