Citizens do get return on tax dollars

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
February 23, 2003

On my way to work last week, I passed the City County Building, where a number of orange cones and barrels blocked the usually filled parking spaces along the street. I slowed and asked a passerby if she knew what was going on.

"Oh, haven't you heard? We're on orange terrorist alert."

My first thought was that perhaps every city was supposed to place cones and barrels matching the color of the terror alert on city streets. Then I remembered that all traffic cones and barrels are orange. And besides, I didn't see any yellow cones last week when we were at a lower threat level.

But the cones were there to prevent terrorist activity. I can see it now. A 24 year-old Saudi man in a large rental van drives in from his Al-Queda training camp in Farragut, ready to blow the City County Building to smithereens. That is, until he sees the dreaded orange cones blocking his 7,000 pound truck. He drives off, dejected, cursing the infidel cones. The good guys win again.

I shared this little attempt at satire with a friend in the City County Building this week. He agreed about the silliness of the cones. (He said something about Allah being afraid of orange.) But he also quickly defended the work of the folks who were told to place those cones in the parking places. And rightfully so.

The Public Building Authority manages many of the municipal facilities in our community, including the City County Building. They were instructed to put those cones on the street. As someone who is quick to criticize governmental entities, I should be just as quick to praise them. I was once a board member of the PBA and was seldom bashful about my critical observations in our meetings.

But the entity does good work.

It is easy to point to high profile projects like managing the construction of a convention center, the Miller's Building or McGhee Tyson Airport. And those are important, high profile (and high risk) projects. But our government also builds and runs things we all use every day. Like libraries. Animal control centers. Parks. My kids love Volunteer Landing. (I still wonder if the signs with the little "Vs" on them stand for Volunteer or Victor.) Just last week, my son and I had dinner at the Riverside Tavern, followed by a stroll along the river to a nifty little playground adjacent to the riverboat landing. He and his sister love to see the Three Rivers Rambler train thunder through downtown on the weekend. (And I love to hear anything louder than two two-year-olds.) The Knoxville Zoo, another favorite of my entire family, receives significant funding and other support from Knoxville and Knox County.

After a column a couple of weeks ago in which I wrote that government never created a nickel of wealth, a reader took me to task. He opined that government-run schools create wealth, as do libraries and roads. Philosophically, I disagree that these entities actually create wealth, but they certainly improve our quality of life and make it possible for individuals to create wealth. That's the difficulty in seeing the value of many of our governmental functions: while most us of never receive a nickel from the government, we all enjoy the benefits of our communal purchases - buildings, services and grounds. This is particularly true of local government. The next time you are walking along a downtown sidewalk, see a snow removal crew, enjoy the waterfront, visit a library or just go to bed at night, comfortable in your safety, realize that you are receiving a return of your local tax dollars.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

Add me to your commentary distribution list.

MCM website