Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Buyer's Remorse

Two weeks later and I'm still scratching my head about the passage of the so-called "Clean Water, Wildlife, Cultural Heritage and Natural Areas Amendment" here in Minnesota. Sales taxes to be raised by three-eighths of a percent for the next 25 years. An estimated extra burden of $276 million per year on the tax payers, with a total 25 year bill of $6.9 BILLION. This is above and beyond the billions and billions (/carl sagan) the government already extracts.

The absolute killer being nearly 20% of this extra taking dedicated to "the arts." That's an estimated $54 million per year and a total bill of $1.35 BILLION more than the millions (billions?) already given to the arts through legislative appropriation.

Extravagant, luxury spending for non essential items. In the context of a slumping economy, increasing unemployment, decreasing consumer confidence, and increasing taxation at every other level of government, this provision should have been a poison pill.

Anyone see any other spending priorities on the horizon that might be a tad more pressing than handing barrels of cash over to finger painters, toe dancers, and basket weavers? Anyone? Anyone?

Maybe 44% of the people did, but that's not enough in a "democracy."  This amendment passed, with 56% approval. A higher percentage than Al Franken achieved (at least pending the latest revisions from Mountain Iron and Beltrami County). A higher percentage than the once in a lifetime transformational profit of change received. No, not Laurie Skjerven Gildean. I'm talking about Barack Obama.

This makes no sense and I realize now that I do not understand my fellow Minnesotans as well as I thought I did.

True, the promotion of this amendment by its supporters and the compliant media largely ignored the arts funding and played up the clean water angle. And the ballot language was woefully deceptive on the substance and implications of this measure. Therefore, voter ignorance is a plausible explanation for this amendment passing. But I did not assume mass ignorance to this extent in Minnesota. I shall be revising my assessments of you people accordingly.

Now that it has passed, I believe we're stuck with it. It is in the State Constitution. By design, we've relieved the craven members of the legislature of any responsibility for this open spigot of excess and they can't touch it through ordinary means.

Can we repeal through another referendum? I don't know. But if so, I believe that would first require approval from that same craven legislature who will not doubt enjoy lavishing money on their favorite special interests without any possible electoral consequences. Then of course there's that previously identified mass ignorance thing among the voters which may be an impossible hurdle to clear

In other words, we're stuck with it. For the next quarter century. Artists yet to be born have government checks just waiting for them to hatch the idea of dunking a crucifix in their own urine.

One of the added indignities of this will be the annual announcement of the recipients of the tens of millions of tax dollars. Sure, all the supposed legitimate, safe, institutional suspects will be getting their cuts. The Guthrie, the Walker, the Minnesota Orchestra, The Minnesota Opera. The limousine liberals in their audiences will be gratified to hear their burdens are about to be eased. But even after all of that, there will be acres of tax money to give away. The recipients will be obscure and under appreciated. In other words, creating something no one would willingly pay for. Cue the government! Spending your money on things it believes you should have, rather than things you actually want.

Patrick Reusse, bitter that no tax money will be going to his preferred illegitimate expenditure (a Vikings stadium), speculates on how this could go:
Get a camera, a paintbrush, a mound of wet clay. Find an empty storefront, a makeshift stage, a few folding chairs and get some friends to learn to properly use "forsook." Do any of these things and then wait for the checks to start arriving in 2010.
If only it were true! This egalitarian method might be a chance for the average tax payer to get a little bit of his investment back.

Unfortunately, I'm sure "experts" on art will be consulted and put in charge of disbursement. Just what kind of public investments will that result in? Let's check in with an art expert, Chris Reimenschneider of the Star Tribune. Excerpts of some of his recommendations:

Musicians are hurting from the cost of gassing up a tour van and the slump in CD sales. Clubs are still trying to recover from revenue loss caused by the smoking bans, not to mention such sore spots as Minneapolis' 11 percent tax on tickets/cover charges (even for a $5 lineup of local bands!).

Because the government hurts business by its onerous restrictions and taxation, we need the government to subsidize them with money taken from other innocent bystanders.
Underage venues and shows. Fund more teen clubs statewide like the city-run Garage in Burnsville, which gives: a) young musicians a much-needed launching pad and b) all kids somewhere to go at night.
You've hard of universal day care for pre-schoolers? Consider this universal night care for high schoolers.
Grants, grants, grants Maybe just $2,000 to record a CD, or $500 in gas money to tour.
Because the gas used by Big Ditch Road and Brother Ali is far more important to society than the gas you use to get to your job.

It's going to be a long and expensive 25 years for us poor slobs lacking the ability to chant "Uncle Same God Damn" over some phat beats.

Speaking of which, one final concern about this windfall profit for the arts. Is there any protection whatsoever against political uses of this money? "Artists" taking general tax revenues in order to endorse, support, campaign for/against candidates or parties?

The notion that tax exempt organizations, like churches, might engage in this behavior is abhorrent to liberals out there. The government backs them up. The tax code expressly forbids it, with violators being subject to the forced taking of massive percentages of their revenues.

Shouldn't recipients of our tax dollars be subject to the same limitations? In fact, shouldn't the limitations be even more strict, since we're handing them public money, rather than just letting them keep their own, as is the case with the churches?

The answers to these questions are obvious. As are the juvenile, non-relevant objections from the arts community which will no doubt follow such a proposed restriction. (Censorship! Freedom of speech! My urine crucifix will not be silenced!)

I'll leave it to Thomas Jefferson to summarize the argument in favor:
"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is," said Jefferson, "sinful and tyrannical".
In the event there are no political restrictions to the artistic use of this money, I'll need help putting the above to music. Any good composers out there?  I'll split the grant money with you 50-50.


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