The Williams story helps us understand that development authorities are often run by people who are far too close to the businesses about which they make decisions and this raises ethical concerns and makes us question the independence of the decision makers.
More importantly, we see that our cherished concept that we as voters can control taxes by electing representatives who are responsible for tax-levying decisions (and thus we have some control and influence on them through the ballot box) is denied when a development authority of unelected people can waive taxes previously legislated by our elected representatives.
The Marietta story shows that development authorities can ring up debt on projects that go south and then our cities and counties end up paying the bills.
I remember something about a similar problem with a poorly performing hotel and conference center in Marietta. When debt of this kind — which none of us as citizens have authorized — is transformed into debt that our commissioners and city councils end up paying, we as citizens are stuck with the tab for often grandiose and poorly thought out projects of government planners (usually working with business investors unwilling to take full responsibility and full risk for their ideas), using development authorities to do things they know the voters would never approve or would vote out of office those who made such decisions if taken directly in commissions or city councils.
Development authority problems have been around for a long time. Over 30 years ago, I saw a particularly bad example of city government/development authority conduct. Union City wanted to build a new city hall/police station complex. Some voters thought that was a good idea and would have been willing to vote for the project funded by general obligation bonds.
But city leaders did not trust the voters. Instead they dreamed up a scheme to avoid asking for voter approval by getting the local development authority to borrow the money, build the complex, lease the building to the city, and then call the lease payments revenue, thus avoiding the need for a voter referendum for the raising of taxes on general obligation bonds.
But of course, the money for the lease payments would have come from taxes levied on the citizens by the city. Voters sued to block the project because of this scam and the Supreme Court of Georgia did not allow the plan. Unfortunately, a few years later the state legislature pushed through a constitutional amendment later approved by unsuspecting voters which made it much easier for such schemes to work.
These different stories should cause us to think about how tangled and Byzantine our governments have become, with authorities and agencies and various other organizations operating in the semi-darkness, often hand in glove with businesses over which they have regulatory power or which stand to gain from the decisions of such government groups.
When government tries to manipulate who in the business world will be the winners and losers, economic and political freedom is undermined.
When our economy does not work as well as we think it should, we often hear cries that capitalism does not work. Those complaints are mistaken. The true complaint should be that capitalism is not allowed to work.
For more than one hundred years, government at all levels has become so intertwined with business that true economic freedom has been stifled. Just look at the restrictions on the health insurance industry. Those restrictions are hurting the insurance industry, deservedly so because they sold out to the federal government with the Affordable Health Care Act. But worse, they are hurting you and me.
It is time we rethink the relationships between government and industry. I am for free enterprise with the least amount of government manipulation and interference. We need a level playing field with adequate protections for safety, health, the environment and protections against fraud and unfair dealing, but beyond that, we should unleash the freedom of economic liberty.
Everyone in this nation, on this planet, has skills, energies, dreams and incentives to make themselves better and thus help make everyone better. It is time to start getting government out of the way and, to start washing away unholy alliances between government and businesses looking for favoritism. And as individuals, we need to stop relying on government to take care of the needs of those who are truly in need.
I am quite sure the giant size of government and all its programs dulls our sense of concern for others. To borrow from Hillary Clinton, it takes a community of individuals free to act compassionately towards others, to really bring about a better society.
But if those individuals are suppressed by an overregulated economy and a belief that government will fix everything, such thoughts as mine will remain thoughts without form and substance.
But like the dry bones spoken of by the Bible, they can have life and power if we rely on God, the freedoms which He wants us to enjoy, the abilities which He has given us, and the love and compassion for us for others which He calls us to have.
Allen Hirons of Marietta is an attorney and former member of the Marietta City Council.