The Duel for Dollars

With five weeks until the November elections, renewing the CARE tax is heating things up in Orem. Like most entrenched programs, the wind blows toward the incumbents. Once government giveaways are begun, they are difficult to cancel. Recipients, once dependent on funds, are likely to cry “Foul!” when threatened with cancelled funding. This tax will be no exception. The Cultural Art and Recreational Enrichment program, originally funded for 10 years, collects 0.1% of local sales and use taxes to fund theater, dance, music and sports programs for Orem, under the rules of the Utah State Constitution.

Not all residents participate in the activities that CARE benefits. If your kids play sports, if you attend plays, concerts, and museums you probably approve of tax money that helps fund these activities. If you would rather watch movies at home, or hunt and four-wheel in the local outbush, you may be complaining.

.Kudos to Orem for this: they fund the programs through a local tax, rather than begging at the feet of Washington’s Daddy Warbucks, which would incur the federal control attached to federal money. Thanks, and good job on that part, Orem! The question remains, however: is the CARE tax in the city’s best interest?

The argument is not whether Orem should have cultural and recreational facilities and programs. Culture and recreation belong here. What’s not to love about Utah Valley Symphony and Utah Valley Regional Ballet? Who could give up the Colonial Heritage Festival or our internationally renowned Timpanogos Storytelling Festival? The question is, who pays for them—all the residents, or those that benefit?

There are several options in the smorgasbord of philosophies on this issue. Already mentioned is the federal government’s “I’ll-give-you-the-funds-and-take-your firstborn” approach. Next comes what we now have: redistribute wealth from everybody to those who want to be entertained. Third, also dismissed, would be: “Culture and sports? Never heard of ‘em.” Finally, the option favored by the pay-if-you-use crowd: put the issue in the hands of free market economics. Bring in private enterprise, citizen contributions, and charitable organizations to offer service and make it happen.

Why not bring free enterprise into cultural and sports activities? Almost anything run for private profit is more economical, more efficient, and less mischievous than almost anything run by, for, or with government. (Yes, I know—the mammoth tax breaks to mammoth corporations, but we are talking honest enterprise, here.) This is the basic law of free markets: private money and invested citizens will kill bad programs and boost good ones. It’s easy to waste tax dollars, but we pinch pennies when they are ours. Profit, that “bad rep” capitalist word in a government run society, created American excellence a century ago, before tax-and-redistribute gained traction. Why not let private enterprise fund culture and recreation in Orem? Though it has grown rusty with disuse, the free market system still works.

One final thought: when government pays for programs, a crisis awaits. At some point, somebody will want funds for activities we don’t like. It’s our constitutional right (Amendment X, ‘The powers not delegated to the (federal government)…are reserved to the states…or to the people”) to set community standards—that’s what America is about. When government does the funding, standards get bypassed. This problem can be sidestepped by keeping government out of optional funding issues. If citizens don’t like what the open market offers, the businesses fail, solving the problem. The law of supply and demand works well when left alone. The difficult but doable challenge for Orem businesses would be how to creatively restructure to attract private enterprise.

We want the great things that happen in Orem to continue. Who can imagine Orem without the Scera, Hale Center Theater, or our sports parks? The task is to find the best means to fund these activities, now and in future.

The duel of opposing philosophies takes place November 5th. Don’t miss it.