Pumpkin festivals a raw deal for taxpayers

Pumpkin catapults, zombie paintball and corny games are being funded by state and local taxpayers all over America this fall.  

Autumnal attractions are raking in piles of public money, government financial records show. Critics say autumn events, which include pumpkin patches and corn mazes, could get by just fine without outlays by taxpayers — especially those in urban areas, far from the leafy locales that host these festivities.

Pumpkins, the ubiquitous symbol of fall, receive significant public funds. Taxpayers pay for people to grow them, carve them, have parties honoring them and even destroy them. Some 625 pumpkin farmers received crop subsidies between 1995 and 2012. These payments have ranged from $75,000 to $225,000 a year, depending on weather conditions. 

In a one-year period between 2011 and 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered pumpkin growers nearly $840,000 in subsidies, according to data from the Environmental Working Group.

Once pumpkins are harvested, many end up decorating taxpayer-financed fall festivals, fairs and other events. The Humboldt County Chamber of Commerce received $5,000 in Nevada state tourism outlays this year to develop a website and design a corn maze for the Lazy P Adventure Farm’s annual Fall Farm Festival.

Nebraska taxpayers spent $2,395 to advertise the Seward County Fall Festival.

In Rhode Island, the state government paid $1,250 to subsidize a fall festival in the Providence neighborhood of Olneyville.

The Freeport Fall Festival, which takes place early each October on the campus of L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Freeport, Maine, receives subsidies of $10,000 or more.

Tennessee taxpayers underwrite a $1-million fund for agricultural tourism efforts every year, much of which goes toward advertising and signs for autumn events such as pumpkin patches, corn mazes and hayrides.

A haunted hayride and a “redneck zombie”paintball experience in Riceville, Tennessee received $15,000 of government money last year. Volunteer State taxpayers paid more than $7,000 to improve business operations and expand social media efforts for a corn maze in 2012.

Memphis resident Cheryl Love believes the state should let her keep the money spent to underwrite other people’s fall fun.

“Why am I having to pay for some silly zombie paintball game or pumpkin patch that I’ll never have the time or money to go to? I’m paying for people on the other side of the state to go (and) have fun while I’m working to put food on the table,” Love, a mother of three boys, told AMI Newswire. “It’s just crazy.”

In Keene, New Hampshire, the city’s annual Pumpkin Festival leaves taxpayers with event planning, police overtime and cleanup costs that, in some years, can total more than $90,000. Billed as the world’s largest display of lit jack-o’-lanterns, the event has become so notorious for drunken riots by unruly revelers that Keene leaders requested, and received, a $286,000 armored personnel carrier from the federal government to control the gathering.

After the Pumpkin Festival left city taxpayers facing a massive bill last year, the city refused to host the event in 2015. This year’s Pumpkin Festival took place 80 miles northwest in the town of Laconia.

But for real publicly funded pumpkin destruction, nothing beats the Punkin Chunkin Colorado. The two-day bash in the Denver suburb of Aurora costs city taxpayers from $10,000 to $40,000 annually to provide a place where competitors can hurl pumpkins hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of feet. The event is a “zany activity,” according to the city’s website, in which people “see how far they can lob a gourd” using massive slingshots, catapults, air cannons and other contraptions.

The tax dollars used to promote and host the event is money well spent, said Gary Wheat, the president of Visit Aurora, the town’s travel and tourism organization. “The city has been a very good steward of tax dollars,” Wheat said, noting the event draws visitors from “across the state, as well as other states like Wyoming and Kansas.”

Wheat and other proponents of government grants and subsidies for autumn events frequently claim that public financing is justified because visitors to fall festivals, corn mazes and pumpkin patches pump money into local economies. This is difficult to prove. Tourism officials and economic development leaders could not provide AMI Newswire any reliable evidence to demonstrate that towns that spent tax dollars on pumpkin festivals generated more revenue. It is also likely that the events would have taken place without public funds. 

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a Denver, Colorado-based free-market think tank, said watching pumpkins fly through the air and explode on the ground “sounds cool enough,” but the money “could be much better spent on something that actually is a proper function of government.” If the event is worthwhile, according to Caldara, private organizations, such as area nonprofits, should operate it without taxpayer assistance.

Government-waste expert David Williams of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance agreed.

“No matter how much fun a fall festival or corn maze or pumpkin-tossing event might be for the people who attend, it’s completely unfair for the people who don’t go and are stuck footing the bill,” Williams said. “These government-funded autumn events take money from the pockets of taxpayers, and from legitimate government functions, like police, schools and fire departments, and waste it on parties and events that a few bureaucrats and elected officials want to take their kids to.”