Supervisors in neighboring Prince William County were the focus of a recent scandal when it came out that they were allowed to individually spend left-over office funds on pet projects of their choice in the community. This allowed Your Elected Politicians to have smiling photos taken of themselves sitting at the head tables of do-good organizations’ fundraisers and similar events being congratulated for giving $20,000 or $100,000 of your tax dollars as if they were the ones who had reached into their pockets to do it.
The Loudoun Board of Supervisors have been doing much the same with the Transient Occupancy Tax fund, using it to dispense political favors out of an all-purpose slush fund even as they plead fiscal straits to slash other programs that don’t benefit “their” very right-minded constituents. (Basic GOP rule: sports good, culture bad.) Nominally the fund is restricted to tourism-related programs. But the Board has shown itself remarkably creative in interpreting this. The Washington Redskins Highly Professional Football team was handed an easy $2 million of TOT funds on the grounds that its office building, which it promised in exchange to keep in our county for a whole three years before ditching us, is a prized tourist attraction to Loudoun. Last spring the Board decided that they could raid the fund to build some sports fields in parks in selected communities. Traffic Expert Supervisor “Ken” Reid wants to tap the fund to build roads, on the reasoning that roads might bring tourists. And the other day the Board unanimously and without any ado dipped into it for $50,000 to pay one-third of the expenses, and all of the operating shortfall, of the extremely needy Babe Ruth World Series, whose president is none other than local still unindicted GOP operative Dale Polen Myers.
When questioned about this cozy largess, the Supervisors indignantly countered that the Babe Ruth World Series is a great tourism event, producing an “impact” (ouch) of $2 million on the Loudoun economy for the week it takes place next year. Of course such reasoning can cover a multitude of political favors, and has. A great many events and businesses and institutions have an equal or greater “impact.” (Such as, oh, the Loudoun Museum, whose $63,000 annual public funding has been a source of great chin wagging and admonitions from the Board about its being such a waste of taxpayer money and not a “core function” of government. Or the Loudoun Symphony, whose few thousand dollar request for funding the Board axed, though you might think the supervisors are HUGE symphony fans given how GOP Newsletter Central Control ordered them all this week to gushingly promote the symphony’s upcoming concert in ALL of their e-mail newsletters . . . “do as we say, not as we do” is their motto.)
In real grown-up governments that offer grants for projects like these, there is a non-political application process and a set of professional criteria for evaluating and prioritizing competing proposals. In Loudoun, the process is 100% political: the Board proposes and disposes, then after the fact issues the hand-waving justifications. But the question is not whether Dale Polen Myers’s very needy Babe Ruth project brings some visitors; the question is, could that money have been better spent on other projects that do more— for example, programs or initiatives that produce visitors all year round and on a repeat basis.