published Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Johnson: Public funds 'gator wrestling


by Drew Johnson

Criticizing stimulus spending is so 2009. Still, as American taxpayers consider how few new jobs and little meaningful economic recovery came as a result of the $800 billion spent on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- a price tag which is actually closer to $1.2 trillion when the interest is figured in -- it's hard not to think about where some of those dollars went.

One last, long look through the piles of pricey stimulus projects reveals one of the most outrageous and alarming stimulus schemes yet.

You, as an American taxpayer, paid for a teenager to wrestle alligators.

No kidding.

The Miccosukee Corp., the business arm of the Miccosukee Indian tribe, pocketed a $20,785 stimulus handout to subsidize a summer youth employment program. The program hired five kids to perform jobs including cashier, handyman and alligator wrestler at the tribe's Miccosukee Indian Village.

While the Miccosukee tribe gets most of its money from gambling, the Indian Village is another method the tribe uses to extract money from dopey tourists. The Indian Village, located in the Everglades about 40 miles west of Miami, features a museum, craft display and, of course, an overpriced gift shop with some of the finest Native American souvenirs ever produced in China. But the village's real draw, as it were, is an alligator wrestling show.

During the show, performers -- like the kid whose paycheck was subsidized by taxpayers -- poke at an alligator with a stick, drag it around by the tail, smack it on the nose and stuff various body parts in the gator's mouth.

Needless to say, it doesn't always end well. In 2009, a Miccosukee alligator wrestler was airlifted to a hospital after a gator clamped down on the man's forearm, taking a hunk of flesh with it. A decade earlier at the Indian Village, the son of the former chairman of the Miccosukee tribe nearly died when a gator gnawed on his head for half a minute.

Despite the inherent dangers of the silly sideshow, as long as tourists are willing to pay to watch gator wrestling, folks should have the opportunity to make a living doing it. If people want to wrestle alligators, however, it shouldn't be at the expense of taxpayers.

The tribe's gator-wrestling show is a private enterprise and it should succeed or fail based on the willingness of consumers to pay for it, rather than relying on subsidies from American taxpayers to keep the doors open. Plus, it shouldn't be on the conscience of taxpayers if an alligator decides to eat a Miccosukee employee for lunch.

As with most stimulus projects, federal projections wildly exaggerated the projected number of jobs that would be created by the $20,785 giveaway to the Indian Village.

Initially, federal stimulus reports claimed the handout would create 34 jobs. The final report for the project lowered that number by more than 2,600 percent -- to a measly 1.3 jobs (representing the five part-time summer jobs the program helped to subsidize).

To this day, it remains a mystery as to how the federal government thought they could "create" 34 jobs with this $20,785 boondoggle.

If there's any benefit to spending taxpayers' hard-earned dollars on alligator wrestling, it's that the gator pits would make for nice place to deposit federal lawmakers the next time they consider spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the name of stimulating the economy.

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