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‘Hole’ To Be Filled By Taxpayers

By Bradley Harrington

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on September 26, 2014

"As government expands, liberty contracts." - Ronald Reagan, "Farewell Address," 1989

Having scrapped plans earlier this year to fill Cheyenne's "hole" with a children's museum based on a lease agreement that violated Wyoming statutes, it now seems that city and museum planners have figured out a way around that obstacle after all:

"The Cheyenne City Council on Monday gave final approval to an agreement with the Children's Museum of Cheyenne to allow the museum to be built in the downtown 'hole' on West Lincolnway." ("Children's Museum gets final OK from city council, WTE, Sept. 23.)

The original sticking point of the State Constitution (Article 16, Section 6) prohibits any "political subdivision" from granting loans, credit or donations "to or in aid of any individual, association or corporation."

And, since the city owns one-quarter of the "hole," that stipulation effectively blocked the Children's Museum's ability to apply for grants in order to move forward on the project.

Never underestimate the power of lawyers to sidestep such legal requirements, however, when they want something bad enough:

"Under the agreement, the museum will give the city control of the museum-owned portion of the land for four years, during which the city will apply for state grants to be used in the museum's construction. At the end of the four-year period, the city will then sell the entire parcel back to the museum for $100."

Translation: By completely, albeit temporarily, relinquishing control of its three-quarters interest in the "hole" property, the Children's Museum weasels its way past the constitution. Mayor Rick Kaysen says the constitution allows for the reduced price since the property is being used for an “economic development” purpose.

A truly awe-inspiring dodge, I must say, and the lawyers deserve a lot of creative credit for coming up with that subterfuge. I'm impressed.

The lawyers' machinations don't change the essence of the financing situation, however.

Earlier this month, Children's Museum board president Amy Surdam acknowledged that the "full cost to build the museum will be around $8 million." She added that "the museum board has already raised more than $500,000 in 'pledges, in-kind contributions and donations.'" ("Committee approves city-museum agreement," WTE, Sept. 16.)

OK, great. But... What about the other $7.5 million?

Well, we can most probably whack $2.5 million of that right off the top, as the new agreement stipulates that the city has to apply for that amount in grants, i.e., "public funds."

That still leaves a funding deficit of $5 million, however, and the plan for that is ... Well, uh, we don't really know, because nobody from either the city or the Children's Museum is bothering to step up to the plate and tell us.

So, let me guess: Somehow, somewhere, some way, we will end up raiding the taxpayers for the other $5 million as well. After all, it's for "the children," and the money has to come from somewhere.

Count on it: While future donations might cover some of those costs, my prediction is that the taxpayer is about to be fleeced for the lion's share of the rest.

And, in the light of that supposition, I have to wonder: Doesn't the idea of forcing some people at the point of a government gun to pay for a project deemed "necessary" by other people strike anyone else besides me as ... arrogant and elitist?

As further evidence of that pretentious presumptuousness, consider some of the statements right off the Children's Museum's website:

- "More activities for children are needed." According to ... Whom? Why, the museum people, of course.

Observe the tacit assumption that it's just fine for the museum people to force the rest of us, who might disagree, to go along with their plan whether we like it or not. Yep, that is not only arrogant but elitist as well.

- "Current children's activities that provide an education component are limited." Darn, I thought that was what the schools (another humongous taxpayer black hole) were for.

Again, observe the unstated premise: Who gets to decide what qualifies as "limited"?

Why, the museum people, of course. Your possible opinion to the contrary doesn't mean squat; hand over your wallet and shut up already.

- The museum would also "add an additionally culturally desired component... to our downtown area." Hmmm... What, exactly, is "culture"? A decidedly amorphous term, to be sure. But, not to worry - the museum board will be happy to overcome your cultural ignorance and define it for you.

Now that takes chutzpah. Look, I'd like to see that "hole" filled as much as anyone else.

But if it's going to be filled with taxpayer dollars in violation of all principles of liberty, honesty, integrity and choice, it would be better left empty.

How about we give our children a real gift and pass along some of those principles instead?

Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming; he can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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