Of bread and circuses, and bicycles

This may be the only time I’ve agreed twice in one week with columnists for The Kansas City Star. In the first instance it was Jason Whitlock for his insightful critique of caustic comedian Bill Maher. Now, I’ve got to second the sentiment of editorial columnist Barb Shelly.

She questions why former Governor Matt Blunt and some other Republicans (Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is the first to come to mind)  are dismayed by the cancellation of the Tour of Missouri. In each of the three years since its debut, the state has sponsored and promoted the five day, five hundred mile bicycle race as part of a public-private partnership. This week, organizers canceled the event because tourism officials would not allocate $1 million in public financing.

Why is the state of Missouri involved with bike races anyway? I never quite understood the justification, particularly coming from Republicans. How could some of the same people who had the wisdom and courage to scale back a sprawling, costly entitlement program like Medicaid then push to spend taxpayer dollars on this athletic and entertainment event?

I’m not saying politics weren’t involved with this decision. The speculation of course has been that Gov. Jay Nixon wanted to strip a feather from the cap of his political rival, Lt. Gov. Kinder. That’s a realistic interpretation of recent events, though at some point it’s irrelevant. Missouri faces serious budget issues, and no program or expenditure – even relatively small ones like the Tour of Missouri – should escape examination. As for the politics,  I’d like to think Peter Kinder could hang his hat on a few other issues to get elected governor.

The implications of funding such an event go beyond the event itself or this year’s state budget. Here’s the kicker: If the state should fund this sort of spectacle, what shouldn’t it fund? Like it or not, that is one messages sent by support for this event. In time, it becomes increasingly difficult to argue with credibility and resonance that a state that throws circuses should not also buy bread.

Republicans must remind themselves of this fact the next time they are tempted to indulge another “Tour of Missouri,” whatever it may be.

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