Jordan Candler / Jul. 28, 2017

The Staircase to Government Corruptocracy

In Toronto, common sense is severely lacking after a man’s $550 staircase is rejected.

In Toronto, common sense is severely lacking. A resident spent a relatively paltry $550 — provided through the benevolence of him and his community — to erect a park staircase on a dangerous slope. Apparently, government officials were upset over the initiative shown by the resident, who had serious and legitimate qualms with the city’s project estimate of at least $65,000 (and possibly as high as $150,000). Under the guise of safety requirements, the city considered destroying the stairway to install what it deems is a regulatory-compliant structure. Fortunately, new indications are that demolition is probably off the table and refinements will be pursued.

> Update: The city moved forward with destroying the structure and a new one will be assembled for roughly $10,000. Which begs the question: Where in the world did the original estimate come from?

According to Mayor John Tory, “We just can’t have people decide to go out to Home Depot and build a staircase in a park because that’s what they would like to have.” The question is: Why not? To be fair, the mayor did also call his government’s price tag “completely out of whack with reality.” But that’s not stopping him from venting frustration. We’re literally talking about eight steps. Park-goers were getting injured. And for $550 residents solved two issues: unnecessary government expenditure and a dangerous situation that wasn’t being sufficiently remediated. It may not be the most well-built structure, but it’s better than government either doing nothing or wasting tax dollars. It would be easy to mock Canada for this uncanny situation, but it’s hardly a Canadian specialty. Taxpayers here in the U.S. know just how pitiful the government is when it comes to frugality.

John Stossel chronicles a similarly obnoxious case of government waste in his most recent column. He writes, “Did you see the $2 million dollar bathroom? That’s what New York City government spent to build a ‘comfort station’ in a park. I went to look at it. There were no gold-plated fixtures. It’s just a little building with four toilets and four sinks.” He adds, “No park bathroom needs to cost $2 million. An entire six-bedroom house nearby was for sale for $539,000.” But no matter: “Everything costs more when government builds it.” For the record, another bathroom located at nearby Bryant Park was constructed for a far more reasonable $300,000 — because, Stossel says, it’s privately managed. He notes, “Since government spends other people’s money, they don’t care that much about cost and they certainly don’t care much about speed.”

The fact is, government is just about the worst money manager there is. Take Barack Obama’s “stimulus,” for example. According to The Washington Free Beacon, some of the waste that occurred from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included funding for studies analyzing duck penises, erectile dysfunction and obesity, alcoholic effects on mice, as well as funding for puppet shows vilifying free enterprise and, least but not least, the infamous Solyndra debacle.

Even Obama conceded that “shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.” And no wonder — a good deal of it was spent on frivolous and unnecessary things. This underscores too the importance of making frugal decisions when it comes to infrastructure repairs. As Tony Caporale and Marc Poitras write at Real Clear Policy, “Infrastructure Spending Must Justify Itself.” And the private sector has to play a critical role. Otherwise, you risk outlandish outcomes. Like $2 million bathrooms, multi-thousand-dollar staircases and even research on duck private parts.

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