The N. C. General Assembly should take the challenge by George Roundtree, Wilmington member of the Ports Authority Board of Directors: “If we’re not willing to help the port, we ought to sell it,” he was quoted in a Wilmington StarNews article by Patrick Gannon. (link)
Of course, “we” is the state taxpayers (Mr. Roundtree isn’t speaking for himself and other private investors) and “help” translates to dumping more private wealth into the Ports Authority. What “we” should do is stop funding government “authorities”—for several reasons:
Publicly funded economic projects result in misguided bureaucratic schemes (take the Global Transpark project—please.); they divert taxpayers’ money to lower priority spending (we believe roads, streets and bridges are higher); their intrinsic inefficiencies require perpetual subsidies and they often become corrupt with cronyism.
Mr. Roundtree believes it would be “sinful” should his special interest fail “to do something for the east” with more public funds. In my opinion, it would be immoral for the Ports Authority to succeed in that effort.
I’ve often wondered how, in good faith, state officials can justify being in the shipping business—or any business, for that matter. Of course, “jobs” is always the requisite response. Aside from the obvious fact that government has no direct role in creating productive jobs (although it can alleviate tax and regulatory burdens that will improve economic development and job creation) there are reasons why it can be counterproductive.
Government projects add public employment with money from the private sector. Further, these hires increase future unfunded debt from promised pension and health benefits. Government projects have no mechanism, working knowledge or incentives to run a profitable business. Thus, officials look to studies and planners to show the way for their hopes to materialize. Except for rare massive regional or national public works, it never happens.
Sometimes even some officials recognize this truth, for example Gannon’s quote from Hugh Overholt a member of the State Board of Transportation. He said it’s time to “quit studying” and “execute.” But the question is accomplish what: more spending?
Gannon cites a $2 million (out of “millions of dollars” spent in recent years) N. C. Maritime Strategy that came up with “ideas on how to improve the state ports”—as far as we know nothing was said about making them profitable. Instead government studies and plans invariably recommend more public revenue to solve inherent inefficiencies and failed schemes. Brunswick County Sen. Bill Rabon believes that the ports need “a dedicated funding stream” of taxpayer’s dollars. Officials may say they need it, but how does he justify it?
My response to Roundtree’s and Rabon’s comments: We are not willing to “help” with a “funding stream”—sell the ports.
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