Friday, March 13, 2009

Goldwater Institute: Why is Phoenix in the golf course business?

In economically troubling times when governments are faced with crushing budget deficits and massive layoffs, you can count on Phoenix and other cities to get their priorities right. Which means that one vital service that surely is not on the list of cuts is government-owned golf courses.

golfPhoenix publishes a ritzy brochure that assures us, "No matter where you are in the Valley of the Sun, there is a City of Phoenix golf course just minutes away." The city describes its "roster" of golf courses in such superlative terms as "stunning mountain and city views" and "gently rolling fairways and undulating greens." I'm not sure I've ever seen a green undulate, but it must be golf heaven.

It's a good thing Phoenix has those golf courses, because otherwise there wouldn't be any. Surely it's a classic case of market failure. Wait, you say, the dozens of resort golf courses throughout the Valley were privately built? Imagine that!

Cities argue that municipally owned businesses can turn a profit and offer a desirable service. Then why doesn't Phoenix open up gas stations and sell fuel at subsidized costs? By contrast to golf courses, that might actually help working people make ends meet.

Trust me, I'm not suggesting that cities get into more businesses. Rather, cities should stick to providing essential public services like police and fire, and leave it to the private sector to furnish the goodies.

Phoenix ought to sell its golf courses and collect taxes on them to fund the essential services that are in such dire straits. Or perhaps they can use the proceeds to provide a "golf course dividend" rebate to taxpayers, who can use it to pay their mortgages, buy food--or among the lucky, play golf.

Clint Bolick is director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.

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