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Belated taxpayers concern obscures self-serving issue

While it's a fiscal-only session, legislators should think about efforts from past sessions that tried to reduce corporate welfare to the newspaper industry. The example of the Shreveport Times on this issue should remind again of the wastefulness and hypocrisy involved concerning it.

Although it should have seen this coming given controversy over accepting its higher bid in 2010 for fiscal year 2011, The Times got a bit of a rude shock two years ago when a couple of low-circulation weekly newspapers in Caddo Parish got the parish’s official journal business for 2012, worth tens of thousands of dollars of business annually, when they bid at 24 cents per agate line, 3 cents cheaper than The Times. That snub of the declining daily newspaper got repeated last year.

Then, this decision sent The Times into a bout of specious argumentation about how it was worth the extra money for being a daily paper with greater circulation, confusing the issue entirely in that it misunderstood the concept of an official journal was to provide access to government documents, not propagate them as widely as possible. It also, in a classic pot-meet-kettle moment, implicitly criticized the Parish Commission for using its power in a way it saw as an attempt to boost the small, locally-owned entities when it counted upon those same revenues to offset its steep recent decline in them and would have welcomed them for the identical reason of economic development.

Now, perhaps chastened by the piece in this space last year pointing out these holes in its editorial, this year its response to the latest rebuff came off more chastened and measured, and with a new issue to stick even more in its craw. That’s because in last year's round of bidding, The Times actually came in 3 cents below the pair, yet still got stiffed. This time, taxpayers suddenly became the concern of the missive, questioning whether they were best served by the higher rate and implying that the politics of economic development lead by government were not worth it, in addition to rehashing the failed argument that puts reach before access.

Of course, this new angle does not avoid the inherent hypocrisy of the effort, in two ways. First, for The Times to drop its pricing over 22 percent in just a year, as it is highly unlikely that printing and distribution costs fell that much over that span, shows it had been taking advantage of the taxpayers at the old 2011 rate (which was even higher than its bid for 2012). Second, although it intends not to, by highlighting the issue of awarding on the basis of nonpecuniary considerations, The Times unwittingly demonstrates the entire unclothed emperor aspect of the idea of an official journal – in an era where access to official government documents is instantly and at any time available for practically no cost, why is government wasting taxpayer dollars on this? In the end, whether it’s greater waste at 24 cents per line or lesser waste at 21 cents per line, it’s still waste and acts only as corporate welfare, begging the question of why it even exists.

It continues because, through media interest groups, entities like The Times have prevented changes in state law to eliminate this requirement or to blockade cheaper solutions such as non-newspaper and/or web dissemination, no doubt because their financial positions continue to become more precarious. This alteration could save millions of dollars a year of taxpayer funds that get transferred to these businesses for performing a service government could provide for almost nothing. In fact, in such thrall are policy-makers to continue this payola that last session state legislators changed state law to accommodate the continued printing of legal notices by the New Orleans Times-Picayune as it contracts from a weekly printed publication.

Given the structure imposed by state law, The Times is correct to point out that its lower bid should have been accepted given its new-found, post-2011 concern that taxpayers don’t overpay. But rather than making the disease more bearable for the patient, it’s better to cure the disease. End the entire idea of transferring citizen resources to a private entity to publish on paper what already government put on the Internet, and that which they can print and store on their own. The patient government should be concerned with is the citizenry it’s supposed to serve and the ailing produced by taxation to pay for an unnecessary expenditure, not with newspapers and ameliorating ills that have been brought to them by an evolving economy and society and their own responses to that.

No such bill has been introduced this session to end the handouts, as opposed to the past two years. There's still time to do so by a forward-thinking legislator.

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