“Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton agreed on little publicly, but they did agree that when the public treasury becomes a public trough and the voters recognize that, they will send to the government only those who promise them a bigger piece of the government pie.” 

Judge Andrew Napolitano 

I've consistently asserted that, were I a member of the Montgomery County Commission, I would have balked at the Montgomery Whitewater project. Yet, now that tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have been funneled into this “public trough,” I can't help but hope the endeavor doesn't become another over-budget, government-backed initiative that devours more of the economic pie than it generates. 

Regrettably, such naïve hopes for the project have progressively given way to disheartening realities. The moment the trough was filled, a feeding frenzy commenced, and financial shortfalls promptly followed. 

Early in 2022, the project was deemed $25 million over budget due to inflationary pressures and cost overruns in construction materials, shipping, and labor shortages. Montgomery County Commissioner Doug Singleton remained hopeful saying: “We’re not going to tap into the taxpayers’ dollars. We’re not raising taxes to finish this project out,” and “We will be the premier outdoor recreation facility in the United States.”  

He then somewhat contradicted himself about not tapping into taxpayer dollars, suggesting federal, state, and local tax money (along with allocations from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians) could help make up the over-expenditures.  

In June of 2023, the whitewater project was deemed $35 million over budget. (Fun fact: the project started with a $35 million construction price tag at its groundbreaking in 2021.) “Montgomery whitewater project loses $20M in funding” was the recent headline from WSFA News, explaining that Gov. Kay Ivey’s initial budget proposal of $25 million in ETF funds for the whitewater project was cut down by legislators to $5 million from the state’s General Fund.  

Now, on the cusp of the park’s grand opening in July, most of that $5 million in state taxpayer money may be eaten up through litigation. The public trough can’t catch a break. 

As part of their “initiative to ensure 30% of the project’s work went to minority- and women-owned businesses,” the Montgomery County Community Cooperative District (MCCCD), the entity that oversees the project, hired the minority-owned construction company, MDG, to construct the whitewater park. Now the 95% owner of MDG, Gilbert Berry, is suing MCCCD because of RACISM

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Berry, a black man, “accuses the cooperative of engaging in racist behavior,” reports the Montgomery Advertiser

Berry’s lawsuit claims “a vile stew of greed and racism plagued construction” and that MCCCD “sent work to those within its 'good ol’ boy' network, and at times performing the work with a largely undocumented—and cheaper—workforce.’” 

The truth of Berry’s claims will be decided in court. I remain undecided on who is conning who in this case, but I’m willing to entertain the idea that all involved parties are acting as grifters to one degree or another, even if only unconsciously or wrapped up in the mind-numbing mashup of public service with economic development.  

No one should be surprised by this. When the public treasury becomes a public trough, it’s not only voters who desire a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. Big special interests want to have their cake while they eat it too.  

I hope the Montgomery Whitewater project will thrive as so many public officials and private boosters have predicted (the district’s backers project a $40 million dollar economic impact every year), but just know, if the project falls underwater with deficits year over year, those in charge can always go back to the public trough for another piece of the people’s pie — all while claiming to grow the pie in the name of the people.

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email newsandviews931@gmail.com.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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