As a fiscal conservative, I get frustrated seeing how often people come to the government for handouts or “expect” them to do things that no one in their right mind would do in the private sector. And living in a rather conservative part of the state, it’s a bit surprising to me how even some local organizations (headed by conservative folks) sometimes treat money from the state (or the Feds) as “free.” Comments like “The state is giving us $X million for the project” come to mind. Last time I checked, the government has nothing to “give.” After all, almost all of the money government has comes from those of us who pay taxes. Nothing is free in this world — and certainly “getting” money from the government is much different than monies donated by businesses or individuals in the private sector.

As of Thursday at noon, the was reporting our total US National debt stands at $54,320 per citizen.  And since not every citizen pays taxes, the debt per taxpayer is sitting at $149,947.  And that doesn’t include debts at the state and local levels as well as businesses and financial institutions.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t keep that kind of money sitting around waiting on Uncle Sam to start being responsible with our money.

Well, the mentality is very concerning.  Only in government can debts be accumulated for years and years, decade after decade, with no real plans to pay it down or repay it in full.  Just this week, our folks in DC have come up with yet another “bi-partisan” budget plan that may keep the government going until 2015. But just like politics has been in D.C. for decades, real cuts and a “balanced budget” are always many more years down the road. Since I was a kid listening to Ronald Reagan, I’ve heard over and over things like “and by 2025, the government will finally balance its budget.” Well, so far in my life, tomorrow never seems to get here.  

During the mid- to late-’90s we did actually gain some ground. While it was during the Clinton presidency (he often gets the credit), it was also during years that Republicans controlled both houses in Congress. Since spending bills are the responsibility of the legislature, not the executive branch, I’ll give them both some credit. Then 9/11 came and wars started. Controlled spending went out with the bath water and it’s never come back.  Given the talk in D.C., I don’t expect any changes anytime soon.

For me and my business, I’ve never received “free” money and I can’t lose money every year and stay in business. I always had to do something in return for getting some relief. An example would be: if you hire 10 people in the next five years, you’ll receive a tax credit (which equates to about 10 percent of what the employee costs) for the jobs you add. Another could be: if you build a new building, we’ll give you a break on property taxes for a certain period of time. There was always, as I believe there should be, a requirement that something be done by me (invest, hire, etc.) that would then trigger some sort of partial delay or credit. The state is proposing just that for Boeing. For me, if spending $50,000 on a new warehouse would get me a delay on $700 property taxes – that seems like a fair incentive and reasonable way to attract investment and local growth. It certainly wasn’t “free.” After all, I had to spend $50k to get $700. But it was an incentive – and those types of pay-for-performance arrangements are much more tolerable to me than just “giving” things with a future promise or with no strings attached.

Here’s where I’m going: I’m hearing rumblings that in the next few weeks (certainly before the April election), that some will begin pushing for the City of Neosho to get into the “giving” business — and those that oppose it will be labeled anti-growth and anti-economic development. While I’m not certain of all the details, I’m certainly sure that whatever the government may have to “give” didn’t come without first spending taxpayer monies to get it.  In my 17 years in business, I bought the land I own (some of which was bought from the city – at auction – and above appraised value). I bought the building I’m in, and I bought the equipment that sits inside of it. Government shouldn’t pick winners and losers. I don’t believe we should start “giving” things to benefit one business over another. Once you start, where does it stop?  

Until next time: stay the course, keep the faith, and may God bless Neosho!

Richard Davidson is mayor of the city of Neosho.