There’s No Such Thing as a Free Food Festival
Some aldermen in Chicago are objecting to the bids coming in to operate the city’s famous “Taste of Chicago” event. In a prior blog post, we discussed the proposal by the city of Chicago to privatize its famous festival. Until this year, Chicago has used tax dollars to fund its food festival, just as the city of Clayton has used tax dollars to pay for part of its prior “Taste of Clayton” events. In all honesty, it is hard to think of anything that governments fund that should be more obviously left to the private sector than food festivals.
The Chiacgo aldermatic objections to the privatization bid center on the private operator’s proposed plan to charge an admission fee and (gasp!) sell tickets to the accompanying concerts. Chicago has been a leader in privatizing public services, and you might think that a major food festival should be an obvious choice once you have privatized a highway, parking meters, and (almost) an airport. But apparently some alderman are drawing the line at food and music festivals:
“Is there a cap? What contract are we signing? Is it gonna be another thing where they can increase the rates every year?” [Ald. George] Cardenas said, referring to the deal that privatized Chicago parking meters. “It’s a tragedy that we have to be in this situation where people can’t even enjoy their own city, enjoy their own lakefront. They have to pay for it.”
By “enjoy their own city, enjoy their own lakefront,” he does not mean taking an evening stroll along the beach. Rather, he’s suggesting that attending an enormous food festival with booths, bands, security, sanitary facilities, promotional marketing, street and parking adjustments, and scores of other necesities that all cost money … that should all be free of charge to the people who attend, until they actually buy something. (I will give the alderman the benefit of the doubt that he does not think even the food should be free.)
This relates to issues in Missouri. The city of Clayton recently attempted to pass a hotel tax increase that would have been partly used to fund the Taste of Clayton. Instead of trying to fund Taste of Clayton with tax dollars, Clayton should allow restaurants (or any private operator) to host it themselves, and charge the private actor for any extra costs incurred by the city, or not host it at all. A food festival is something that private organizations can provide, and is not a core function of local government.
I hope that Clayton follows Chicago’s example and bids out the entire management and operation of the “Taste of Clayton” to private operators, without any taxpayer support.