Scott Tibbs
Published in Hoosier Review, 09-08-2001

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City pours tax money down the drain

On September 5, the Bloomington City Council voted 8-1 to spend $1.2 million to the Buskirk-Chumley, in part to help retire a debt of a million dollars and to give city government the option to either manage the theatre for a nominal fee or own it outright in 2004.

The passage of the subsidy shouldn't surprise anyone, but it does shed more light on misplaced priorities in city government. It was only two years ago that an intensive investigation by the Monroe County Taxpayers Association's Fire Safety Commission revealed that the city had not invested nearly enough in public safety. It was only after the city was embarrassed by press coverage of the fire safety issue that Mayor John Fernandez and the fire chief at the time unveiled a five-year plan to improve the city's fire fighting capabilities. Had the FSC not been formed, the plan would likely have never been implemented.

While city government wasn't concerned enough with a basic public safety function to improve it without prodding from citizens, it certainly found time to make sure the a failing theatre could be funded so taxpayers could underwrite a few citizens leisure activity by force. And while the situation has improved since city government implemented the five-year plan, one would think that a $600,000 investment in the Fire Department this year wouldn't hurt matters any.

Art is not a necessary function of government. A city can run fine without a downtown arts presence. Sure, it' nice for educational purposes and for cultural growth, but in comparison to things like police and fire protection to keep people and property safe and infrastructure to keep the economy growing and to allow people to move about the city, arts is a notch down the totem pole.

Art is a leisure activity, and people's tastes in art vary greatly. Some residents of Bloomington may have no interest whatsoever in the art (whether theatrical or otherwise) that the Buskirk-Chumley theatre provides. But people who may never use the theatre still have to pay for it. Some opponents of the Buskirk-Chumley have stated that taxpayer financing of such enterprises is immoral. This argument is a strong one. Why should all taxpayers be forced to fund the leisure of a few?

The Buskirk-Chumley theatre can be an asset to the downtown, and it offers a place for Bloomington residents to go for concerts and such. For people who live in the downtown area, it would be nice to be able to walk to such an event. But either the people of Bloomington weren't sufficiently interested in the theatre to keep it viable or the theatre didn't offer the kinds of attractions that people would flock to. Either way, it should not be the business of city government to provide $600,000 in corporate welfare to prop up a failed business.

On February 26, the Monroe County Taxpayers Association issued a press release on the matter that said, "Quality of life is a benefit of freedom, not subsidies." This is true. If people have the freedom to spend their money on the leisure they enjoy as they see fit, then they will be able to create their own quality of life. But the city has taken that freedom away from us, in the form of a $1.2 million subsidy (not to mention a $100,000 "loan" that began the subsidy saga) that a few will benefit from, but most will not.

Government is a necessary evil; a construct needed to keep society running smoothly. Government should not be our nanny or our mother. Government should serve at the pleasure of the people, not the other way around, but the City Council has failed to grasp this concept with this subsidy. We have two years to get organized to make sure that our city government finally gets it.