Government bondage

An insidious means politicians and bureaucrats use to pay for their expensive, unnecessary projects is to convince uninformed citizens and statists to vote for bond debt—a binding agreement that obligates taxpayers to repay loans. These certificates of debt issued by government guarantee payment of the original amount plus interest by a specified future date.

It may seem to be “easy” or even “free” money, but essentially it puts taxpaying citizens in bondage: a state of serfdom. The interest alone on large bond obligations can become a huge liability for years.

Here in tiny New Hanover County, North Carolina (population 213,000), for instance, taxpayers are obligated to repay bond loans of at least $360 million in “long term debt,” plus interest. Interest payments account for more than 16 percent of the entire FY 14-15 county budget; not far from the 20 percent spent on public safety.

County propaganda brags about a “vision of becoming the model of good governance…making this community safe, healthy and well.” Yet only 38 percent of the budget is spent on “safety” and “human services.” The millions of dollars of debt incurred have nothing to do with safety or health.

Nearly $160 million is being spent for school facilities and parks, according to the county’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, year ended June 30, 2014 (nhc.gov). More than $200 million was spent for Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) buildings, including a new state-of-the-art Humanities and Fine Arts Center in old downtown Wilmington.

The college annual budget is $104 million (excluding 2008 construction bond funds). Apparently, the main purpose of the $45 million, 1,500-seat auditorium, fine arts center is to “attract visitors to downtown Wilmington.” (1)  It is difficult to understand how this facility will benefit community college students seeking vocational, technical education. The theatre arts industry is virtually nonexistent in New Hanover County.

Then, there’s the question lurking under the weight of public debt: Does the public at large support these projects? Based on the percentage of the voting citizens, the answer is clearly, no. Julian March, Wilmington StarNews staff writer, recently reported “notoriously low” voter turnout across Southeastern North Carolina. (2) In the 2013 state municipality elections, only 13 percent of eligible voters in New Hanover County voted.

“It’s ironic that the races people care about the least have a relatively big impact on their lives”, said Professor Aaron King at UNC-Wilmington. Elections matter. Often bond referenda are included in the ballots. City and county officials hereabouts usually get elected with less than 20 percent of the eligible votes—the same small numbers of votes force debt on everyone.

“But, Smith, that’s the democratic process.” Yes, but even a large majority shouldn’t be able to impose debt on all of us—including future generations. “Maybe, but why don’t voters oppose these spending schemes?” That’s a good point. They should, however, not have to defend themselves against government corruption and abuse of power. Voting will not solve that problem. Our Constitutional law should protect us against that—if we had ethical politicians.

One way to solve the debt problem is to require a minimum percentage of registered voters (say, 60 percent) to approve any future obligations. Still, another form of official deceit faces the unwary voter: self-serving bureaucratic propaganda.

Recently the interim president of the North Carolina Community College System sent a memo to all 58 community college presidents. Mr. George Fouts advised them how to lobby for a 2016 Connect NC Bond (3) approval proposing $350 million for the colleges.

Mr. Fouts, a veteran lobbyist during six North Carolina bond campaigns since 1993, notes that the “success of passage depends upon the work of our leaders at our local colleges.” Also, he announces that a statewide campaign steering committee has been formed—“We will be hearing more from them soon.”

Even our Republican governor deals cards in favor of bondage by big government. Gov. Pat McCrory has created a Connect NC website (4) to promote “detailed information”; designed to convince voters to impose “$2 billion” more debt on themselves and the rest of us. The UNC system will get nearly half the take, or $980 million.

Fouts’ lawyered-up memo makes it clear that State officials cannot legally use public funds or resources to “advocate for passage of the bond.” But they can weasel out of advocacy by distributing “information.” Fouts writes: “On the other hand, we believe that using public funds to distribute or produce educational information about the bond is permissible.”

Further, he suggests “covered persons” should comply with the State Government Ethics Act. And we taxpayers can be sure that there are many people working within and advocating for State agencies who aren’t covered by the ethics act.

So, I predict, soon we will be seeing a stream of “information” coming from Raleigh and statists across North Carolina. We will be told why it is critical that we vote to approve $2 billion more debt on ourselves. And best of all, we are informed, “There will be no new taxes or tax increases because of Connect NC”—at least for awhile.

I also predict that the funds will increase already overextended and lavish UNC and community college empires and other nonessential State projects primarily benefiting special interests, the politicians, and bureaucrats who thrive on government largess. Meanwhile ordinary working citizens in this State struggle with no pay increases; inflated costs of food and health insurance; and increases in their taxes.

But it could be said that they will deserve more taxes if they don’t show up to vote against more bondage.

 

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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