The Union-Tribune’s Jeff McDonald — a fantastic investigative reporter — became the latest local scribe on Sunday to dig into and reveal the absurdity of the county supervisors’ yearly handouts of $10 million in taxpayer funds.

This year was supposed to be different. With an ugly, maybe historic, recession gripping the country; local property values plummeting; the state reeling; and a massive deficit in the county’s pension fund, supervisors had indicated that they, for once, would put an end to the yearly arrogant insult to good governance that this program represents.

But, of course, the fun of handing out other people’s money unilaterally is too much for anyone to avoid and the supes, while cutting back the rest of their services to the county, found a way to keep handing out cash.

Supervisor Bill Horn — always a beacon of compassion for the county’s poor — pulled out his latest justification for the program in time for McDonald’s article:

“The fact is that these grants keep kids off the street, provide health care for the needy and elderly, and make our communities, neighborhoods and families safer and stronger,” Supervisor Bill Horn said.

Yes, County Supervisor Ron Roberts’ $50,000 to purchase antique snuff bottles for the Chinese Historical Society undoubtedly will keep kids off the streets. Though I’m not sure it will provide anyone health care.

Let’s be clear on this one more time: Some of the programs, in fact many of them, are truly great enterprises and assets in San Diego and they may be worth the support of public funds. But if the county feels that snuff bottles and the myriad programs and nonprofits that these funds support are vital to its mission, officials should structure a true system of checks and balances to support them.

But the idea of a monarch-like benefactor doling out tax dollars as he or she pleases and then receiving, in exchange, trips to foreign lands and rolling billboards and other displays of extreme gratitude is a little too 16th century for me.

Obviously the political will to correct this system is difficult to generate when so many of San Diego’s most important people oversee organizations that benefit from it. It’s machine politics.


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