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  • Government run contest awards $20k in essay contest - but not everyone is allowed to enter

       March 30, 2005

    What's more egregious, the government giving away $20,000 of taxpayer funds to a private party in an essay contest or restricting that contest such that not all taxpayers are eligible to enter? If you ask me, it's a tough call.

    Montgomery County, MD seems to disagree with me,as they are doing both for what looks like the ninth consecutive year:

    The "Break the Barrier to Home Ownership Contest" provides a $15,000 grant to help with closing costs and a down payment.

    To qualify for the reward you must write a 200 word essay titled "What Home Ownership Means To Me."

    The contest is in its 9th year. To date, some $72,000 has been awarded.

    Along with the essay, contestants must fill out an entry form and live in Montgomery County.

    (Editor's Note: the official contest rules say that the total prize is $20,000, not $15,000 as this article states.)

    I'm the first to admit that promotion of home ownership is arguably a valid government objective, but I can't for the life of me see how this reasonably works to attain that objective. After all, this plan can help, at most, ONE FAMILY. I can think of thousands of better ways to spend the money than this.

    Putting aside the fact that it seems fundamentally wrong for the government to be running giveaway contests like this with taxpayer funds, consider this: this isn't even a random drawing - it's an essay contest, which means that it effectively excludes the very people that it's supposed to be helping, namely uneducated, low-income people.

    And then there is this, from the official rules:

    To be eligible, applicants must be first- time home buyers who live in Montgomery County, Maryland. The following maximum income limits apply:

    Household Size Maximum Income*
    1 $59,360
    3 or more $97,520

    So the very people that are paying for this egrigious contest are themselves ineligible to enter - I know that my liberal friends will disagree, but I think that this is also fundamentally unjust. It's not quite the same thing as taxing X to pay Y, which is done all of the time - this is taxing X to run a contest that only a certain subset of people can enter.

    Ignoring, for the moment, all other issues and causes of action, I'd point out that
    this seems unconstitutional to me in at least one key way: the people intended to benefit, namely low-income first-time home buyers, aren't all equally qualified to win. Many don't have the proper education to write an essay, many are non-native english speakers, which puts them at an inherent disadvantage. It can't be the case that the government can dole out benefits selectively in a such way that disenfranchises members of the targeted group, especially where that targeted group will be disproportionally composed of members of a protected class, otherwise that would be a violation of Equal Protection. (I think i have a Due Process argument along the same lines as well)

    Hmmm, as a matter of fact, it just occured to me that the Court might hold this to be a violation of the recently resurrected privileges and immunities clause, ala Roe v. Saenz, 526 U.S. 489 (1999). I'll have to review the case. Anyone with more knowledge of Con Law than me have an opinion on that?

    Posted by jkhat at March 30, 2005 04:25 PM

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    #  March 30th, 2005 9:29 PM      Daddy
    Here are some more things that are bloody STOOPID about this:

    1) 200 words?! Are you freakin' kidding me? There are COMMENTS on this site longer than 200 words!! Do you think anybody is so talented and interesting that they should be paid TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS for 3 paragraphs?

    2) 200 words?! Who's this geared toward; sixth-graders? How is someone with a sixth-grade education going to understand mortgage interest, home owner's insurance, etc., etc., etc?

    3) TWENTY K?! Are you freakin' kidding me?? There are already government programs in place that allow broke-ass young people to buy their first home with significantly less of a down payment--like ZERO! Hell, I bought my condo with my tax refund, and I financed the closing costs.

    4) Who in the HELL is going to judge this thing? Are they looking for a 200 word sob story? Or maybe they're looking to help a certain ethnic's something: along with your essay, include a photo of a downtrodden minority person. If it isn't you, how are they gonna know until after they awarded you the prize? *snicker* Oh, to see the look on a beaurocrat's face if that was their motive... :)

    5) It's local money. LOCAL TAX MONEY!! Local taxes are the lowest in terms of gross revenue. They must not need any public service in Montgomery County, MD.

    There's a contest out here in L.A.--actually a raffle--where someone can win a million-dollar home. Tickets are 180 bucks. That seems much fairer to me. Oh, and the winner is stuck with the property taxes...which they probably can't afford.

    Think anybody who strains to put down 200 words would understand that concept?  
    #  March 31st, 2005 2:35 PM      mbrlr
    I haven't looked at Roe, so I'm not sure, but I think your equal protection analyis sounds good.

    The intent is good, but the execution wasn't. There might be a way to aim this at lower incomes and manage what they wish, but I don't think that was the way.

    Up until comment #4, I wasn't that much in disagreement with the first post, although it shows some lack of acquaintance with the lives of those on the lower end of the economic scale. But just as liberals must avoid certain things, I'd suggest so must conservatives. Even though the point about some sort of verification of minority is good, the way it was made is so...modern day Republican. Take a deep breath and think of Lincoln before throwing those out.  
    #  March 31st, 2005 9:12 PM      Daddy
    Up until paragraph #3, I was surprisingly not irritated with the second post, although it shows a lack of acquaintance with one's own insolence. Even though the point was....uh....what WAS the point?...anyway, the covertly condescending way it was made was so....modern day liberal. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and ask yourself--am I REALLY in a position to judge others and give them advice?

    Seriously, what's your point? That I'm right but I shouldn't have said it? What the many much rage...a mile a minute. Freedom of speech, oppression, political correctness substituting for....

    OK, I chilled out a little--what in the HELL makes liberals think they can judge others and give everybody advice? I guess they think they're being gentle, or subtle, or....classy? Intellectual? We see right through that. It amazes us that liberals can't pick up on how haughty and supercilious they can be.

    OK. I'm done. Back on subject:

    Just who are those at the lower end of the economic scale? I was there briefly. I think it's a transient place. Those who are stuck there, I believe, share one important common trait--they have, to varying degrees, mental illnesses and emotional troubles that impair their ability to make the decisions that would get them out of their present financial strait.

    They need extensive psychological counseling, not a house.

    The fact that they cannot afford such care is truly sad and tragic.  
    #  April 2nd, 2005 3:21 PM      mbrlr
    You capitalize just about everything, don't you? Have trouble holding in your anger, especially in political discussions?

    For many of those on the lower end, it ain't transient. It's their life and the glowing economic forecasts and the near-religious belief in the market, let us all genuflect, means absolutely nothing. As I've mentioned before, our minimum wage makes many of the jobs these folks obtain absolutely meaningless as a way of clawing their way up from poverty. But, of course, it's their fault and they're all mentally and emotionally ill. They just need extensive psychological counseling, but we can't help pay for it! That would violate the 10...15...20...oh, however many commandments of the market. You were poor, so you say. I represented the poor and prosecuted them. My wife and I have two kids and are ostensibly middle class and it's still tight. I worry for my children's future, but I don't believe that throwing away our fellow citizens and just going "aw, it sure is tragic" is sufficient. "They need extensive psychological counseling, not a house". How condescending and so typical of the right and such an example of the nonsense that I believe to be dangerous to the republic and to the body politic. I'm that dangerous combination of a liberal and a christian, but one absolute devoted to separation of church and state, btw. Just to make that clear. For all of Catholicism's problems over the years, we've usually been pretty good about standing up for the poor.

    As for what liberals think we can judge others, it's probably the fact that conservatives do it all the time, but then take great offense when liberals do the same. Judge not lest ye be judged. Well, ye've been judged. It's called back at you, right-wingers.
    #  April 2nd, 2005 4:13 PM      mbrlr
    BTW, il papa, next time I'll do an outline and I won't have one paragraph covering three or four subjects that then end in calls to battle. It's not the way I was raised. Southerners may secede, but we're never rude. Except to those who weren't white, at least pre-1965 or so. A bit tacky on our part, wasn't it?

    Anyway, if I outline and limit the paragraphs to one subject, that'll make it a bit easier to follow and perhaps result in fewer ellipses in your response.

    Why didn't you call yourself "Daddy-O"? Just curious, man.

    Yours haughtily and superciliously,





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