Scary Halloween handouts

Scary Halloween handouts

October 31st, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Halloween is here. That means a fun day of candy, costumes, Jack O' Lanterns and cute trick-or-treaters filling neighborhood sidewalks. For taxpayers - especially those here in Tennessee - Halloween is also an excuse for government to waste a terrifying amount of tax dollars on some pretty ridiculous projects.

An "a-MAZE-ing" Waste of Money

Many of Tennessee's taxpayers would be horrified to learn that the Tennessee Department of Agriculture wastes tax dollars subsidizing corn mazes, pumpkin patches, hayrides and other businesses that make money hand over first this time of year. Yet, that's exactly what is happening, thanks to a ghastly $1.2 million grant scheme intended to boost agritourism and encourage diversification and innovation in farming.

As a result of the state taxpayer-funded grants, Tennesseans buy bees, Christmas tree seedlings, websites, blackberry plants, grape vines, materials to make goat milk soap and other supplies and services for farmers who, oftentimes, make much more money than the taxpayers paying for the items.

The grants disproportionately provide treats to farms and farmers who rake it in during the Halloween season. Locally, Old McDonald's Farm in Sale Creek pocketed $10,536 of taxpayers' money this year to pay for a hay ride wagon and signage promoting the farm's corn maze.

On top of selling thousands of pumpkins, Guthrie Pumpkin Farm and Corn Maze in Riceville features a haunted corn maze, redneck zombie paintball and a hay ride. Despite long lines of East Tennesseans paying to patronize the McMinn County business, the state gave Guthrie's owners a $15,000 grant.

Handouts for Horror Movies

The Tennessee Arts Commission shelled out $117,400 of state taxpayers' hard-earned money to three Nashville arts organizations to, among other things, subsidize horror films and scary plays this Halloween. Included in these giveaways were:

• $84,900 to the Tennessee Repertory Theatre, which is putting on a production of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" with an injection of "Sex, drugs [and] violence," according to the organization's website.

• $27,000 to the Belcourt, a Music City movie theater and performance venue hosting Halloween screenings of the cult classic horror movie parody "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and a 3-D version of "The Creature from the Black Lagoon."

• $5,5000 to Nashville's Street Theatre Company, which celebrated the Halloween season with the questionable play "Macabret," a cabaret-style show that takes an "outrageous look at the morbid and the macabre."

Why should the state charge every taxpayer in Tennessee a chunk of change to frighten the few theater-goers who attend these events? Chattanoogans shouldn't have to pay so that folks in Nashville receive tickets to these movies and plays at a discounted rate.

Carving a Chunk Out of Taxpayers' Wallets

Government spending on Halloween-related programs isn't limited to Tennessee. The federal government has gotten in on the act, too.

Agricultural subsidies for products like peanuts, milk and sugar are fairly well known. Most taxpayers aren't aware that the federal government also carves out subsidies for Jack O' Lanterns. In fact, federal taxpayers spent more than $1.74 million to underwrite pumpkin growers and subsidize the cost of federal pumpkin crop insurance programs between 1995 and 2011.

That cost has been swelling recently. From 2008-2010, the average cost of subsidizing pumpkins was $134,589 annually, according to estimates from the Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database. Last year, that expense spiked to $540,000 as a result of heavy rains and flooding from Hurricane Irene that destroyed hundreds of thousands of pumpkins in the Northeast.

October 31st is scary enough without lawmakers in Nashville and Washington shaking down taxpayers to fund their favorite Halloween-themed pork projects. These government ghouls should make it a point to put an end to the frightening practice of tricking taxpayers into paying for other people's Halloween treats.