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When Private Interests Capture the Public Purse: The Fillmore Example
There are budget crises at all levels of government. The reasons for the fiscal crunches are many and range from recession-induced tax shortfalls to unsustainable entitlement promises. One type of expenditure, however, deserves particular note - spending public money to fund private interests.

The planned Fillmore music hall in Montgomery County, MD is a small-scale illustrative example of private interests capturing the public purse. Fillmore is a brand name owned by Live Nation, Inc., a multi-billion dollar company which recently merged with Ticketmaster following permission from the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

The Montgomery County Council decided that there should be a music hall on the site of a former JC Penny store. The Council then agreed to a set of complex transactions including: 1) providing the site owner with a variety of land use concessions in exchange for "donating" the land to the county; and 2) spending $8 million in county and state taxpayer money to build the hall which would be leased to Live Nation for a nominal sum. It was recently revealed that county taxpayers will also be paying at least three million additional dollars to cover cost overruns.

The $11 million taxpayer subsidy to Live Nation comes at a time when the county is cutting back on basic services such as buses, parks and school programs.

The county is spending millions to finance one company's business venture even though a competitor, I.M.P. which is based in the county and owns the successful 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, has stated that they would pay all of the construction costs if they were allowed to operate a music hall on the site.

It is increasingly difficult for governments to afford basic public services. It becomes impossible when private interests are publicly subsidized. Whether the spending is a Congressional earmark to a favored donor or a local government subsidy to a global entertainment conglomerate, we can't afford it anymore.

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