Government’s Five G’s: Gobbling, Gorging, Gulping, Grasping, and Guzzling

Once upon a time, decades ago, before the School Board’s Taj Mahal and Palm Beach County’s Governmental Center and Criminal Justice Building, our elected officials suited up as knights in shining armor and rode out on white horses to smite the taxmongers at the county gate. They kept at bay the tax-and-spend government juggernaut.

But that was long ago, and time moves on. Smiting the tax barbarians is a distant memory as government escalates more schemes to divorce you from the hard-earned bucks in your wallet. We’re talking about using tax money to buy oodles of land.

This is not a new practice. Did you know that the government at all levels already owns over half the acreage in Palm Beach County? Let that sink in. Yes, over half. Data from the County Planning Division and Property Appraiser’s office reveals this startling statistic. But as a coercive monopoly, the government wants more.

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The county commission, over the years, has proposed and supported hundreds of millions of additional sales tax dollars to pay for land “acquisition and management” costs. It all started in the 1990s when two referendums raised more than $250 million to buy land for conservation purposes. This money was spent to acquire “conservation lands,” lands for “open space,” and $100 million to acquire agricultural lands to “preserve farming” in the Agricultural Reserve. This was after the county spent $100 million to buy land in 1991. And the School Board owns thousands of acres of land, which is used for school buildings and classrooms, athletic fields, administrative buildings, auditoriums, parking areas, sports complexes, storage space, and open areas.

The properties owned by Palm Beach County are 98 typed pages long. Owning this much land causes unending problems, of course, because funds must then be raised for upkeep and repair to “manage and restore” the land purchased, drainage, flood control, and to “enhance the ecosystems” on the land. This requires perpetual annual expenses paid for by the taxpayer.

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Using our citizens’ money to buy land is a bottomless swamp. Get a gander at the Water Management District’s decisions to spend mega-millions of our money to buy more land all the time. In 2021-2022, their reports announced they spent $637 million for “Land Acquisition and Restoration”. I remember when they bought the Brady Ranch so they could “flood it to make a government-owned swamp”. And environmentalists are forever seeking hundreds of millions every Legislative Session to “purchase more land under Florida Forever”, Florida’s land acquisition program.

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How much public land does the government really need? Is it smart to buy land when our public funds could be spent elsewhere? Shouldn’t we be content to enjoy the land that the government has already bought? As public relations consultant Keyna Cory said, “To protect our state’s natural beauty,” we need to make sure that the lands already owned by the government are well managed.

Here we are, trying to make ends meet with rising property taxes and soaring insurance premiums, and politicians are digging our hole deeper. Let’s call it the government’s Five G Tax Plan for Land Buying: Gobbling, Gorging, Gulping, Grasping, and Guzzling.

It’s an unwise misuse of funds to spend taxpayer dollars to purchase land which is not required for any defensible and essential public purpose. Certainly, such expenditures go beyond the government’s three essential purposes: public safety, education, and “infrastructure,” a policy-wonk word for the permanent installation of roads, sewers, and bridges.

I was told in 2005 that if you draw a line straight across Florida, east to west, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf, and the line is at the southern tip of Lake Okeechobee, governments own over 50% of all the land south of that line. This area includes Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Ft. Myers, Naples, and south Palm Beach County. And, since 2005, governments have bought over 100,000 more acres. Remember these facts the next time some no-growther or radical environmentalist gets red in the face about all our Florida land being “paved over.”

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When the government owns the land, it moves off the tax rolls, which means that the rest of us must pay more. And when government takes such huge amounts of land out of private hands, leaving smaller amounts available to build on, home-building is curtailed dramatically. This produces heavy housing demands, forcing land values and building costs of homes to skyrocket on the private land that remains. Zooming values means higher taxes to pay and leaves no incentive to build workforce/affordable homes. This is a major reason why many people can no longer afford to live in our county.

Here is my suggestion to governments to help solve affordable housing needs: deed over some of your ample lands to the homeless as homesteads to begin a new chapter in their lives. If they can’t afford to build a home, they can sell part of the land to get the money. It will work out great for the government because taxes can also be imposed on them.

Where are the knights in shining armor when you need them?

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