Recently, I read Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier’s column discussing the proposal to use $20 million of taxpayer dollars, through Blueprint 2020, for improvements to Doak Campbell Stadium.
Dozier was joined by three other members of the Blueprint Agency in opposing the request, which ultimately was approved by the full board.
In her column, she makes a compelling and persuasive case for her position – that FSU should not be funded through Blueprint funds. I agree with much of her argument and vote. With that said, I would suggest that while Dozier made the right call, our community would benefit from a more fundamental understanding of the root of the issue.
Back a million years ago as an undergraduate at FSU getting my degree in economics and public policy, Dr. Randall Holcombe taught me an economic truth that remains valid to this day. The truth he conveyed is that whenever a political organization makes determinations for where tax moneys go, the decision-making is subject to the political dynamics and realities of the day.
Blueprint possesses taxpayer dollars (through sales tax collections), and in so doing is placing itself in the position of picking winners and losers. Giving $20 million of tax dollars to FSU for stadium renovations means not giving $20 million to other projects that might feel more deserving, more appropriate, or more valuable.
Made up of both the Leon County Commission and Tallahassee City Commission, the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency is a political body. It makes decisions not from market-oriented evaluations of costs, benefits, opportunity costs, and competitive forces. It bases decisions on political calculations and public forces.
We may wish to deny it, but the reality is the decision to award FSU (a public organization with an endowment of more than $500 million and assets of more than $800 million) $20 million of taxpayer dollars is picking FSU as a winner, with other potential projects being relegated to the loser category.
FSU shouldn’t be faulted for making the project proposal – they are acting in their best interest. Neither should other organizations be faulted for putting forth their proposals for funding. Each is trying to access their piece of the taxpayer pie. Each proponent says something similar in their thinking, “well the money will be spent somewhere, may as well be spent on my idea.”
The real issue is not that FSU received funding over other economic development projects. The underlying issue is a political body using taxpayer dollars and picking winners and losers. It is no different than the City or County Commission deciding to offer any form of directed tax incentive – it distorts the market, creates competitive disadvantages, and pushes the focus of business to lobbying for political favoritism at the cost of real economic growth.
When local incentives were granted to develop a private restaurant years ago, many rightly argued that this was effectively taking the tax dollars paid by other restaurants and using them to fund a direct competitor. This shouldn’t be the function of any government. The same reality exists whenever a political body takes taxpayer money and uses it in ways that run counter to essential public functions.
We can dress it up in fancy terms like economic development or call it something with a catchy title like “Blueprint 2020,” but what we have is a political outcome, orchestrated by a political body. I appreciate Commissioner Dozier’s well-intentioned and clearly articulated reasoning for her position and vote. It is my hope that we can one day understand that the real issue isn’t the outcome, but the political process at the core.
Sal Nuzzo is the vice president of policy at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee. He can be reached at Snuzzo@jamesmadison.org.