Enough to spend, enough to share

By Walt Braun

Someone in Manhattan is spending money. In fact, lots of us are spending money — buying things from groceries to golf clubs to Grand Cherokees, and, very possibly, driving those new cars to restaurants or the movies, as well.

The most recent sales tax revenue data from the City of Manhattan, reported in Thursday’s Mercury, is heartening. And not just because sales tax revenue the city received in March was up 6 percent from March 2011. That jump came to about $67,000, by the way.

As welcome as that one-month increase was, it pales in comparison with the trend that has developed this year. So far, sales tax revenue has risen 9.2 percent from the same period last year. That’s impressive.

How much of the increase is attributable to the return of soldiers to Fort Riley is a matter of speculation, but as the city’s finance director, Bernie Hayen, observed, the biggest single increase in the last month came in automobile sales.

The same issue of the Mercury contained several other stories pertaining to the economy, though their focus was national. Two were mostly positive: “Jobless claims fall to lowest level in 4 years” and “Economy grew 3 percent in final quarter of 2011,” Another, “Best Buy to cut costs, open and close stores,” was mixed.

The snapshots form a picture of an economy rebounding, if not quite booming — locally as well as nationally. Myriad problems remain, including stubbornly high unemployment in many parts of the country, uncertainty in the housing market and a monumental national debt, the servicing of which siphons vast sums of money that could be so much more productively invested.

In our corner of the country, the sales tax numbers reflect understandable optimism. The unemployment rates in Riley and nearby counties are regularly among the lowest in Kansas, and Kansas’ jobless rate is generally among the lowest in the nation. That’s worth celebrating.

But it’s also worth noting that even enviable unemployment numbers obscure the reality that too many of our fellow citizens who want jobs can’t find them, and many of those who find work are underemployed. They’re not buying golf clubs and cars; instead, often, they’re making partial payments on overdue bills and skipping meals or medicine so they’ll be able to feed their children.

We hope the economy continues to strengthen. And we hope that as we collectively boost local tax revenue figures, we also remember to contribute regularly to the many organizations that assist area residents for whom prosperity remains a fantasy. If we have plenty to spend, we ought to have at least a little to share.

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