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Mayor Andy Berke speaks Jan. 6, 2017, in Lupton City about plans to clean up the former R.L. Stowe Mills site.
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Columnist David Martin

After a presidential election that often called logic into question, it's important to remember that many political constants remain. One we're seeing played out in Chattanooga recently is that nothing opens up public coffers like an upcoming election.

Sure most folks might assume that's the case, but there are academic studies galore showing this is a common worldwide practice. It's called "opportunistic" or "electoralist" spending. A 2016 paper in the Journal of Comparative Economics explains: Governments "will manipulate economic policies around elections to raise their chances of being re-elected."

And talk about opportunistic. Chattanooga City Hall is churning out goodwill in the form of taxpayer funded financial commitments at a dizzying speed lately.

"You get some money! You get some money! Everybody gets some money!"

It's starting to look like one of those old "Oprah's Favorite Things" episodes when studio guests walked out of tapings lavished with goodies from kitchen mixers to cars.

If you've lost count of all the recent spending announcements, you can hardly be blamed.

First was the mid-December news conference detailing the city's $1.5 million lighting, heating and air conditioning investment at the Chattanooga Public Library in an attempt to slash the building's electric consumption.

Next came the four-year, $1 million commitment to help build a new children's hospital at Erlanger hospital in memory of victims of the Woodmore Elementary School bus crash.

Then there was last week's announced partnership between the city and the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, wherein the United Way will administer $100,000 of early learning opportunities on behalf of the city.

Whew, that's a bunch of dollars. But wait, there's more. Don't forget the $1.5 million cleanup of the old Lupton City Dixie Yarns mill site, a 12-acre plot of land long in disrepair.

OK that's it (I think) for now. Some feel good stuff, right? Some textbook "opportunistic" stuff, of course.

Because, think about it. These are all expenditures that could quietly be placed in the city's next annual budget. The thing is, though, it's yet to be known who Chattanooga's mayor will be when the next budget is rolled out and voted on by the City Council.

Which, naturally, is why we're doing this now. Each well-planned announcement is made from behind a podium with a full complement of local media getting video and penning headlines featuring our mayor-turned-public benefactor.

Though transparent, it's a fairly strong public relations play. The attention-getting pledges do a decent job buffing some shine into the image of an administration that hasn't had its best year. Forget the uptick in homicides. Forget the WhatsApp saga. And forget the soap opera City Hall storylines. "We've got to keep all this positive momentum going, people!" That's the pro-spending angle, anyway.

Of course there's also a more hard-edged strategy to the gifts. After all, it's a tough dance for political opponents to criticize the financing of a new children's hospital and also seem like they're cheery kinds of people. Especially since the Woodmore crash was used as justification for the city's contribution. But good luck trying, guys.

"Come on. Doesn't everyone do it?"

That's what a friend of mine asked me over the weekend as we talked about Chattanooga's election season Oprah impression. He was right. It's called the spoils of incumbency. All an incumbent needs to allocate money toward is Facebook ads, yard signs, and all the other typical campaign spends.

The taxpayers can pick up the rest of the tab.

"Stop complaining," another friend said later on. "That's how it is. What do you want?"

I don't know. A thank-you card. Or a kitchen mixer, maybe.

Contact David Allen Martin at davidallenmartin423@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.

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