By Bradley Harrington
“In private, competitive markets, investment in businesses is directed by the wishes of the consumers. With government-funded projects, however, the whims of politicians tend to replace the desires of consumers, and the result is always economic inefficiency and political corruption.” — Thomas DiLorenzo, “How Capitalism Saved America,” 2004 —
If the bureaucratic turf-war I discussed last week surrounding the Hynds Building isn’t enough to make everyone downtown run for cover already (Time to Clear Out Bureaucrats,” WTE, March 5), now we’ve got Hynds owner David Hatch demanding a free-lunch handout on top of it:
“The Cheyenne City Council approved a resolution Monday to support the renovation project … The resolution says the city is willing to contribute up to $750,000 to build a parking facility for the Hynds Building. The facility would be located in a section of vacant land next to the Hynds Building known as ‘the Hole.’” (“Cheyenne City Council supports redevelopment of Hynds Building,” WTE, Feb. 28.)
Aside from the fact that Hatch has absolutely zero “right” to any public money whatsoever for this project, such a future “donation” of public funds by the City Council would violate the Wyoming State Constitution’s Article 16, Section 6, as well.
That article reads, in part:
“Neither the state nor any county, city, township, town, school district, or any other political subdivision, shall loan or give its credit or make donations to or in aid of any individual, association or corporation, except for necessary support of the poor …”
There are exceptions to that article (Sections 9, 10, 11 and 12), but none of them apply to this scenario.
Despite these realities, however, City Attorney Sylvia Hackl does not seem to view the relevant constitutional articles as a problem. In an earlier story on the council’s Finance Committee approval of the same resolution a week earlier, she said that she’s “confident it can be done legally.” (“Cheyenne City Council panel supports plan to redevelop Hynds,” WTE, Feb. 22.)
Other than observing that lawyers always seem to be upbeat about their abilities to circumvent clear constitutional restrictions, it bears asking at this point: Why does our state constitution contain this article in the first place?
After spending a fair amount of time researching that question, two overall answers emerge: (1) Because other state constitutions had made similar stipulations, and (2) Because government funding of such private projects, wherever and whenever tried, had proven themselves to be such utter disasters that the need developed for (1).
Both of these issues merit further exploration:
(1) Since the Wyoming Territorial governor at that time (1889), F.E. Warren, wanted Wyoming voters to vote on statehood by that year’s November election in order to get their proposal to Congress prior to the end of its session, “Warren, in his message to the delegates, emphasized the necessity for haste.” (“The Wyoming Constitutional Convention and Adoption of Wyoming’s Constitution, 1889, and the Aftermath,” Phil Roberts, University of Wyoming Dept. of History.)
Consequently, Roberts states, “Knowing they had 25 days to debate and draft the document, the delegates borrowed articles from many other constitutions.”
This included Article 16; and, since this article is a word-for-word verbatim repeat of North Dakota’s State Constitution, Article 10, Section 18, ratified immediately after Wyoming’s own Constitutional Convention convened, it’s probably pretty safe to say that’s where our delegation got it.
Further research indicates that dozens of other states, throughout the 1800s, had either included such stipulations into their constitutions from the get-go, or — as in the case of states further east, such as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan — had added them in throughout that time period, which takes us to the next point:
(2) In every state where such “internal improvement projects” were funded by government — such as canals and railroads — the resulting corruption, mismanagement and cost overruns were so overwhelmingly catastrophic that those constitutional provisions were added by those states to forever prevent such ruinous reoccurrences.
As historian John Bach McMaster relates, “In every state which had gone recklessly into internal improvements, the financial situation was alarming. No works were finished; little or no income was derived from them; interest on the bonds increased day by day and no means of paying it save by taxation remained.” (“A History of the People of the United States, Volume 6,” 1914.)
Indeed, as DiLorenzo, already quoted at the top of this article, puts it: “The failures of government-subsidized internal improvements were so pronounced that by 1860 Missouri and Massachusetts were the only two states in the Union that had not yet amended their constitutions to prohibit internal improvement subsidies.”
So, Dear Readers, that’s a “quick-and-dirty” history of Article 16, Section 6. In view of it — and of all that it implies — isn’t it time to deep-six any ideas of a Hynds handout? Build that parking lot on your own dime, Mr. Hatch, or don’t build it at all.
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: email@example.com.
NOTE: This column was originally published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on March 12, 2017. Here is this column’s original downloadable PDF file.