By Paul Gable
One of the state budget items to be discussed this week by the House/Senate conference committee is the proposed purchase of additional land at the current site of the state farmers market in Lexington.
The House put $1 (one dollar) in the budget for the purchase while the Senate was much more generous with $13 million. Quite a large range to discuss and there are many reasons why.
When the state moved the farmers market two years ago, sites in Lexington and Richland counties were considered. Sources in the General Assembly say the Richland site was preferred for a long time until a late drive with petitions and the like secured the market in Lexington.
What wasn’t known at the time, according to legislators we talked to, was that the Lexington site has considerable environmental issues. It was a toxic chemical waste dump for many years and there are EPA warning signs on the property to this day. There are also restrictive covenants due to the contamination that seriously limit the available uses of the site.
Nevertheless, it is now the site of our state farmers market. And, the Senate wants to spend an additional $13 million to purchase more contaminated land for what is called Phase II of the farmers market project.
In addition to contaminated land, another example of what a good deal the state got with Phase I of the farmers market project and what is waiting in Phase II is the Corbett building.
Before the building was built, the state agreed to lease it for $195,000 per year for a period of 20 years. PAYABLE IN ADVANCE. That’s right, the state paid $3.9 million dollars to the developer for use of the building for 20 years, after which ownership of the building reverts back to the developer.
To make this better, the state is renting a restaurant in the building for $10 per year and has a couple other vendors in the building who pay little or no rent.
Phase II proposes another good building deal with it!
We are told the land in the deal may be worth $1.5 million, but it would take considerably more than that amount to decontaminate the toxic waste site so it could be used for private development. The land, as it sits today, is essentially worthless so it is easier to dump it off to the state.
Talk about your basic corporate welfare project, this one goes beyond the pale.
Why? Political donations and influence go a long way into turning bad government policy decisions into reality.
One of the owners of the property, developer Bill Stern, has reportedly spent approximately $500,000 in campaign donations in and around the statehouse. See a list of his donations here: Bill Stern Donations
We have no proof of a quid pro quo here, you know, ‘I donate to your campaign, you vote to buy contaminated land from me’, but it sure smells funny and that’s not just from the chemical contaminants.
Maybe the conference committee will come to its senses and throw the whole deal out of the budget, but there is an awful lot of donor money riding on the outcome.
We can hope can’t we? It’s time to stop voting for these clowns. We should know by now that just because they have an “R” behind their name doesn’t mean low taxes, reduced spending and good government.
Maybe there is a greater plan to the whole thing than just rewarding a big campaign donor. Maybe it’s an experiment in energy savings. You not only eat the tomatoes and peppers you bought at the market, but they double as night lights also?