4/30/2007

Government. Business.

I know I have said this before, but every time the coal plant is mentioned, the same thought comes to mind. Why? Why is the City Government going into business?

Some public necessities belong in the government domain. It would be hard to have a free society without some basic order, so a government run military and police make sense. Some public needs are best served with some government assistance. For example, water and sewer cannot be delivered/removed by lots of competing systems, side by side under every street. Government imposed order (like sharing sewer pipes, or allowing just a single provider) makes sense.

Beyond those, there is little reason to involve the government in any business entity, other than to ensure that it obeys basic laws. No government, on any level, should be interfering or competing with lawful businesses and markets. The invisible hand guides things pretty well without help. That has always been a problem with me endorsing the City of Great Falls getting (further) into the power business with the HGS.

Do we need the power? No. Would it directly help the local citizenry? No. It is just a business venture. It may help a few select business, or it may generate profit for its owners (including the City of Great Falls). But those are not legitimate government interests. Besides, even if it does generate a profit, I have not seen anything that convinces me that the City of Great Falls would in turn, lower the cost of government (taxes) imposed on its citizens. All the coal plant seems to be is a means of providing a discount power source for some very influential local entities.

If it works. It it does not work, those entities do not foot the bill. The taxpayers do.

Which reminds me of the second problem I have with the City of Great Falls being involved in a business venture. Our leaders just do not seem to be very good business people. To the contrary, every indication is that they are really bad at it.

One common example of the City's business acumen? Golf. I recently discussed how the City is finally trying to run its golf courses like a business. And not doing so well. It is running a subsidized program, that benefits a small part of the population. Welfare for the well off.

While I benefit from that welfare, it should stop. Since the City is already in the business, it needs to run it that way. But it sure does not need to get into any more businesses. Especially far more costly ones

5 comments:

GeeGuy said...

"If it works. It it does not work, those entities do not foot the bill. The taxpayers do."

Actually, my friend, as currently configured, the taxpayers should not have to foot the bill.

The problem, though, is that it really isn't configured at all yet. The agreements aren't signed, the bonds aren't sold.

We'll keep watching.

free thought said...

GeeGuy,

I'm not so sure. Assume the deal tanks as it now stands, where did the money spent so far come from? And the new marketing contract? If the development goes forward, I expect bonds for funding. But if they cannot be paid back by the enterprise, who takes the loss? Is the City not providing any guarantee?

The last two were rhetorical questions. Without the agreements in place, it is all guesswork. But I am pretty sure it is safe to bet on the City not being able to get the best of any bargain with real business people. And safe to bet they are gambling tax money.

Anonymous said...

Have you been able to clearly trace the money trail?

Have you done a timeline connecting the people involved to the money trail?

Has anyone put a flow chart together to see how things, er, people are connected?

Mary Jolley said...

March ECP Board minutes
"Carol Fisher asked the Board from where ECPI gets its money. Bill Ryan responded the ECPI’s revenues come from its power sales. Coleen Balzarini added that the City Commission approved the issuance of up to $2 million of general obligation bonds for its share of development costs for Highwood Station."
The City approved 1.5 million of GO bonds. That has been spent.

Mrs. Balzarini also said, (not in minutes) "If the plant is not built the - customers of ECP would pay back the 2 million"
I wonder if the customers know that.

At April EPC board meeting, board member Gray accused me of insinuating that city staff was "pocketing money" when I asked about the development costs.
I assured him that I was not. But now that a think about it I am accusing city staff of being sure that our city leaders will have no questions when numbers are tossed about.

Anonymous said...

Would love to see some of those "Perot Charts" on these money/people connections.

Seems like the public ought to have a clear visual pie chart to fully grasp the the understanding of just how big a piece of pie taxpayers may or may not be eating.

Look forward to hearing and seeing more!