Morton Marcus: Indianapolis Motor Speedway hits the trough
Thursday, February 28, 2013 4:47 AM
By MORTON J. MARCUS
INDIANAPOLIS - Tim Ptomaine is a quiet fellow not given to hysterics, but the day we met he was agitated. “I had a dream,” he said ominously.
Then he added: “When will it stop?”
“Isn’t your dream over yet,” I asked.
“No,” he sobbed. “It goes on and on.”
“Tell me about it,” I encouraged in my best psychoanalytic voice.
“In my dream,” he said, “the Indiana Motor Speedway (IMS) is raking in piles of taxpayer money. They are promising to use the funds to modernize the Speedway, to put lights in for night racing, to upgrade the restrooms, and do other good things.”
“That’s no dream,” I said. “It’s a proposal that already received a warm welcome at the legislature. IMS gets $100 million in tax dollars over 20 years. It’s basically a done deal.”
Tim gasped, “Is there no end to it? In my dream there were private companies from all over Indiana lined up to feast at a buffet of tax payer dollars. The tables in the dining area were filled with corporations that had already loaded their plates and the line for the buffet kept growing.”
“Come now, Tim,” I implored. “You know the legislature exists to redistribute money to where it’s wanted. Remember back a few years ago when the assessed value of U.S. Steel’s property in Lake County was lowered. That act alone was enough to break the back of Gary’s finances. That’s how our system works.”
“I can’t believe that they are all lined up to seek special privileges for themselves,” Tim said. “I saw trucking and warehousing companies from all over Indiana seeking a 25 percent credit on improvements to their own properties. These self-righteous talkers about government spending want tax breaks to do what they should be doing on their own.”
Tim,” I said, “you are messing with the theory of democracy behind these pleas for assistance. A group of firms, or one firm (IMS), sees a need and goes to the public trough, but it doesn’t automatically get fed. It has to convince the elected representatives of the public’s interest in the proposal.
“Fortunately for the IMS, nearly every Hoosier loves the Speedway, even though it’s the granddaddy of the most boring sports spectacles yet invented by man. It brings a lump to the throat when they sing the state song. The roar of the engines, the drinking of the milk, and the kissing of the bricks, all are rituals of triumph under the Hoosier sky.
“To make the Speedway better is to make Indiana better. The same applies to other corporate pleadings for assistance. Our companies are too weak to do improve on their own. They need public assistance. If we are going to help poor people, why shouldn’t we help corporations in need? Remember, according to the Supreme Court, corporations are people too.
“It scares me,” Tim said. “I thought the private sector was supposed to take care of itself, and government was there to keep the peace, regulate commerce from the excesses of human greed, and assist the poor.”
“Now,” I told my friend, “you are dreaming.”
Mr. Marcus is an independent economist, writer and speaker. Contact him at email@example.com