The Gifts that Keeps on Taking…
Traditionally, a white elephant is a valuable possession whose upkeep exceeds its usefulness, and it’s therefore a liability. The term derives from the sacred white elephants kept by Southeast Asian monarchs. Since then, a white elephant has taken on other connotations, especially in the U.S. where they’re rare – unless used to reference the GOP elephant after a lopsided defeat (e.g. 2006 midterm elections). Americans may also participate in a white-elephant gift exchange, wherein participants give away something they’ve had trouble giving away for whatever reason --usually because they received it as a gift from a close friend or relative, thus deeming the gift sacred-by-association (e.g. a sequined Christmas sweater from a great aunt, a porcelain Liberace statue from a grandmother, or a penis-shape toothbrush holder received from the maid of honor at a bachelorette party).
Without further adieu, here are the 2006 winners:
(Warning: Please remove shoes and socks before entering the “Money Pit” and swim at your OWN Risk!)
5. Iowa Values Fund: $50 million
This economic development gift became a hot item during the Democratic Primary race, when gubernatorial candidate Ed Fallon not only called into question the number of supposed jobs created, but some of the Fat Corporate Cats (e.g. Wells Fargo (left) who received some of the funds ($10 million in 2003). Granted, the Wells Fargo Arena did draw me into Des Moines to see the legendary rockers Bruce Springsteen and The Who, but my experiences at the concession stands (One Brat + One Beer = priceless) told me that Wells Fargo could’ve managed quite well without the Values Fund handout. (White Elephant set to expire in 2013)
After playing a scathing rendition of Pete Seeger's "Pay Me My Money Down," The Boss flips off the Wells Fargo corporate cronies stowed away in the luxury skyboxes.
4. Steve Alford: estimated upkeep = $1 million/year
Had Alford’s heavily favored team made it past the first round of the NCAA tournament last March, the Hawks could have passed this White Elephant off to some other sucker looking for a Bobby Knight clone to help revitalize their program. So what does outgoing athletic director, Bob Bowlsby, give Alford for blowing it? Answer: A one-year extension on his contract, which included a 16.7% bump in his annual base salary to $500,000. Add this to his endorsement deals, camps, apparel contracts and income from his radio show (he actually gets paid for this?), Alford’s annual salary is estimated at $925,000. In addition, Alford gets a longevity bonus of $300,000 each year he stays in his position. So what does Bowlsby’s replacement, Gary Barta, do to reward Alford? He extends his contract one more year, meaning we’re stuck with Alford until at least 2011. Not bad for the third best team in the state of Iowa this year (assuming the Hawks could beat the top ranked high school teams).
3. Outlawed Touch Play Machines: $40,200,000 (est. 6700 banished machines x $6000 = $40,200,000)
You can touch, but you cannot play. Iowans and politicians got very touchy about TouchPlay machines this year (even more so than the onslaught of bad puns on blogs). Both houses passed and Vilsack signed legislation in 2002 that opened the doors to TouchPlay machines, and businesses, who made good-faith agreements with the Iowa Lottery, invested in the machines at about $6000 a pop. Cha Ching! Within a year, TouchPlay machines began popping up all over Iowa, turning convenient stores into Super Convenience stores where patrons could buy food, cigarettes, alcohol, and also gamble at one stop. How convenient indeed. And now that the machines have been banished, lawsuits filed by businesses have been popping up in their absence. Although, no business has yet to win a suit, the state has to keep its lawyers’ coiffeurs full so they can defend the blitzkrieg of litigation. Who knows how much this will cost Iowa’s taxpayer in the future.
2. Iowa Rainforest (Earthpark):$180 million (-$50 million federal earmark)
Like the proverbial yuletide fruitcake, Grassley’s pet-earmark project keeps getting passed around, this years’ exchange being between Coralville and Pella – the latest proposed site of the Dutch Amazon Rain Forest. Move over Tulips, this town ain't big enough for the both of us. The initial costs of Earthpark are estimated at $180 million. While Senator Grassley has procured $50 million of the start-up costs, the burden to run this operation will inevitably fall upon the taxpayers, assuming the venture runs in the red. If the project ever goes through, it will probably go under within five years, before being outsourced to South America, where the day-to-day operations will be much cheaper.
1. The Occupation in Iraq Costs (Iowa): $2,693,615,000