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Government's entry into haunted house business is scary

Government's entry into haunted house business is scary

Wayne Hoffman
October 19, 2009
Wayne Hoffman
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October 19, 2009

Each year I get a better understanding of why masks of politicians are so popular at Halloween. Government is scary.

Faced with a choice, I'd much rather race through a moonlit cornfield toward the sound of brain-eating, chainsaw-wielding zombies than toward Big Government. At least I know what to expect of the zombie. (My critics will argue I prefer the zombie because I have no reason to fear creatures that eat brains, but I digress).

For a decade, Steve and Scott Ethington have been delighting Idahoans by filling the fall air with ghoulish terror at The Haunted World in Caldwell. This year, however, the businessmen fear for their own survival because Canyon County has decided to go into the horror business, too, with "Scare at the Fair."

The Haunted World "is a major source of our livelihood," said Steve Ethington. We have invested a considerable amount into this business."

Ethington said 10 years ago the brothers decided to scale back their farming operation and put 75 percent of their resources into the Halloween entertainment endeavor. The brothers' haunt is 40 acres of hellish delight featuring living corpses and a 15-acre corn maze. Into their operation, they've woven the dark tale of a murderous farm couple that used the blood of their victims to feed their crops. Today, the Ethingtons feel they're the ones being bled by the government.

"Our business pays taxes in support of the very business taking revenue away from our business," said Steve Ethington. Ethington is correct: The fair received $391,000 last year from taxpayers, the brothers among them. This year, the fair is slated to get $268,000. In true horror movie fashion, the Ethingtons are being forced to provide the weapon to facilitate their demise.

The county fair contends it is merely trying to cash in on a concept that's proving to pay the bills at fairs nationwide.

"We are charged with coming up with revenue-generating ideas to keep running," said Rosalie Cope, the administrator of the county fair. Cope said the county fair has a building that is vacant nearly the entire month of October. "Scare at the Fair" would fill the void and possibly raise revenue to cover the fair's expenses.

Cope said the county isn't trying snag business or money away from the Haunted World or similar venues, though she conceded, "It may happen a little bit."

I asked Cope if the fair board was concerned about the fact that businesses like the Haunted World were already in existence before the county's entry into the horror circuit. Cope's answer is telling: "We talked about it and if we would have any attendance."

Kevin Spainhower, chairman of the fair board, said the government operation's chief concern is the management of the fairgrounds as an asset for the community. The impact on the private sector wasn't addressed.

"I guess we didn't look at it that way," Spainhower said. "It's not something that was forefront in our minds."

So the barebones fact is that the government decided to enter into a business already well-covered by the private sector. The leading concern was not whether the private sector would be hurt by the decision, but rather whether the county could scoop up enough attendees.

This is another example of government trying to ensure its own survival at the expense of the private sector. It defies logic and expands well beyond any possible construct of the proper role of government. And if you think that you're not aggrieved by the county fair's rationale, consider the possibility of the county entering the car, grocery, clothing or fast-food businesses. That sort of makes the government an unstoppable entity in a diabolical quest to be properly satiated. See, that is scary.

Wayne Hoffman is the executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit, non-partisan think tank. E-mail him at [email protected].

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