Politicians bring bread and circuses to Durham

Oct. 31, 2013 @ 04:24 PM

Is it the time of bread and circuses in Durham?  Bread and circuses were the tradition in ancient Rome to buy voter loyalty with frivolous entertainment to distract citizens from government waste and lack of planning.

Consider this recent quote from Mayor Bill Bell in an ABC11 report on the bogus opening of the I-40 Tobacco Trail bridge.  (It was bogus because the bridge still isn’t open, but our politicians wanted an event in good weather, even if no one can use the bridge for months.)

"Once that bridge is open, nobody is going to think 'Hey, that bridge opened late. Hey, it cost $11 million,’ said Durham Mayor Bill Bell at a dedication ceremony this weekend for the bridge.”

Unfortunately the Mayor, always a competent politician, is probably right.  People will probably forget that the price of the bridge soared form $4 milliion to $11 million. They may forget that diversion of sidewalk bond funds was considered for the bridge. They may forget that the vilified earmarks were used by U. S. Rep. David Price to secure your federal tax dollars for this project.  And they may even forget that we still have no sidewalk on Fayetteville Street to cross over to Southpoint, while we soon will have an $11 million bike trail 1,000 yards down I-40 in the woods.

One other story caught my eye, about the new courthouse looming over downtown Durham at a cost of $119 million.  As the story was written, the only advantage to the taxpayers is that a kiosk was set up for minor matters. Of course, the story would not be complete without a call for raises for court employees now that they have their beautiful taxpayer-funded building in which to work.

Don’t even ask me about the new Department of Social Services palace.  Perhaps a Greek analogy is more apt, for we seem to have an Edifice Complex in Durham right now.

The responsibility of our elected officials job is to prudently raise and spend money for the benefit of the community, be it affordable housing, transit, school or other services and infrastructure.  When politicians defend spending because citizens will forget about it, it’s because they have no valid rationale for the spending. I would ask how has money been spent to secure the Tobacco Trail so riders do not feel endangered on it.

In the current campaign for City Council, I would look for candidates who stress fiscal discipline and growth, because they are the twin pillars of public fiduciary responsibility. On the other hand, candidates who talk of investment and equity are telegraphing their intention to tax and spend.  You can see the same division in Washington and in Raleigh. Local funding from the Federal and state government is declining even while it has come to provide a large portion of revenue for our local governments.  For example over 97 percent of the funding for the I-40 Bridge to Nowhere came from state and federal sources.

We need to put an end to bread and circuses government, whether it’s printing $80 billion a month or fancy buildings for bureaucrats.  The way to do it is through elections. I urge you to consider your choices for City Council carefully.

Theodore Hicks is chairman of the Durham County Republican Party.