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Gary Horton: Save our tax base birthright

Posted: April 23, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 23, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Religious folks are familiar with the biblical story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a “mess of potage.”

Way back in Genesis, Esau, a hunter and twin brother of Jacob, had returned one day from a hunting excursion unsuccessful and extremely famished.

His brother Jacob offered him a meal of lentils in return for Esau trading him the family birthright. An apparently exceptionally hungry Esau shortsightedly “gave up the farm” in return for a single satisfying meal.

Said Esau, “Of what use is this birthright to me? For behold, I am an-hungered and like to die.”

In modern parlance, we call this “selling oneself short” or “getting ripped off due to economic or physical stress.”

Esau’s example has held up for thousands of years as the ultimate goof-up, where entire futures and fortunes are traded in exchange for short-term gain or relief.

Today, we read the story of Esau and wonder how anyone could be so dumb. And yet people, companies, and governments continue to sell short and sell dumb.

The latest trend in big-time birthright giveaways is the proclivity of local and state politicians to cave, kick in, and provide enormous tax breaks and credit giveaways to private businesses and capital groups to bring hotels, stores, and businesses to their communities.

The L.A. Times reports the city of Los Angeles has already subsidized L.A. Live, the Wilshire Grand, and a Courtyard by Marriot — to the tune of $500 million in credits and tax relief combined.

More hotels and venues are now jumping on the bandwagon, lining up for what could total billions in free giveaways, as L.A. leadership has now been conditioned to believe business will only come if the bribes are high enough.

So much for free market capitalism.

The argument goes, “If you build it, they will come.” And if they come, taxes will come in the form of sales tax and hotel tax.

But whatever happened to the free hand of capitalism deciding what is needed and what is not, and who are the “they” that will be coming in the first place?

And who ultimately pays the tab on the missing millions and billions of tax dollars that would have been earned had these businesses been paying their fair share like the rest of us?

If you’ve checked the price of a Lakers ticket at Staples, or of anything near L.A. Live, you’ll see the common man is quickly being priced out of the very venues these tax giveaways to the rich they are supporting.

New business is fine, but roads, subways, police, schools, fire, and all kinds of public support still need funding.

These tax giveaways aren’t much more than gifts to the upper 1/10 of the one-percenters while foisting more responsibility for funding on our ever-shrinking middle class.

And this isn’t just happening with hotels and sports venues. Amazon, Apple, and all sorts of firms nowadays shop locally and nationally for the best “terms” to be extracted for location to a particular state or town.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but observe that virtually all the businesses in our SCV business parks pay full property taxes and receive just about zero in any assistance from anyone, yet still flock to the city and still make a good go of it.

So far the fair city of Santa Clarita has mostly resisted selling our souls for a Nordstrom or another Princess Cruises.

If and when they do, how should the rest of us local business owners feel when we’re compelled to still pay full boat?

Into this scenario enters Scott Wilk, a respected leader who truly has the SCV’s interest at heart, yet has unwisely forgotten the story of Esau and Jacob.

Scott is promoting legislation providing increased tax breaks and credits to the entertainment industry in hopes of beating other states’ bribes to keep them in California.

There’s little doubt that the SCV benefits from entertainment industry in city limits, but paying film companies to come, and providing long-term subsidies to stay, has been proven time and again to simply fill coffers of film producers living in Malibu and Beverly Hills, while shifting costs for public service funding back onto ordinary wage earners and existing businesses left out of the giveaway extravaganza.

Friends, these tax giveaways for businesses are nothing more than selling an appropriate business tax base for a mess of potage of temporary jobs that can quickly be bribed away again by the next higher bidder.

We’ve learned nothing in the millennia since Esau and Jacob.

Republicans are right when they say that government shouldn’t pick winners and losers.

We should attract businesses to our community not because we trade away proper tax bases, but rather, because our city structure, logistics, quality of life, and quality of local employees make us the best choice for businesses, period.

Entertainment firms will locate to the SCV regardless of tax credits. We’ve got the talent, the venue, the scenery, and the services required for their success.

So, please, please, let’s not give away our proper tax base birthright just for temporary jobs that may come and go with no guarantees.

It’s unfair to our existing businesses paying full boat, and unfair to our SCV workers who end up subsidizing these upper 1/10th of one-percenters wheeling-dealing these elaborate giveaway deals.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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