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Uncle Sugar

America has grown used to the idea of “Uncle Sugar” taking care of everything. Uncle Sugar, the kindly rich uncle who steps in and takes care of our needs; the never-ending source of financial rescue. Uncle Sugar keeps the trust fund plussed up so you can do what you do and spend what you spend without fear of recompense. Uncle Sugar just wants you to be comfortable. 


Uncle Sugar doesn’t want you to know the hardships of taking risks – because risks are scary. Uncle Sugar wants to make sure you know that your actions, regardless of how irresponsible, will not result in consequences – because consequences are not fair or equitable. 


Uncle Sugar is not really your uncle. He’s your government. 


But I found one man who refused to be the checkwriter-in-chief for Uncle Sugar. One man, who said, “Enough is enough, you will have to live with the consequences of your actions.” That man is Alabama State Treasurer Young Boozer. He took a stand against bailing out Birmingham-Southern College (BSC). Some decry this stand, but they also respect it, and Boozer deserves some kudos, even though it will likely come with pained expressions and wringing of hands. 


Yet Uncle Sugar still lives. We see him every day.


No one minds government funds being used to help in actual emergencies. But this is not that. Too often Uncle Sugar rushes in with the endless checkbook. In an era filled with promises and efforts to pay off student loans, finance high-priced electric vehicles, and fund transgender rights abroad, Uncle Sugar won’t blink a beady eye as he pledges to end your so-called suffering himself. 


That’s what government does, right? Government is not about security, it’s about financial security. Sure. 


But this past week, in a not-so-surprising move, the trustees of BSC announced that, after 168 years of continuous educational service to the community and state, the school will forever close its doors on May 31.


BSC has been in dire financial straits for some time. A series of bad moves drained the college’s endowments, which were reported to contain over $110 million just over a decade ago. An ill-advised building campaign was launched, spending incredible amounts on massive landscaping and state-of-the-art green energy dormitories. By their own admission, massive accounting errors miscalculated the amounts due to the college through federal resources, but by then the bad numbers had been baked into the budget and the spending did not match the revenue. Tranches of federal relief dollars were made available to BSC during Covid, but at the same time, the college announced that students who dared not show vaccination proof must pay more in campus fees than students who complied with the campus vaccine mandate.


Enrollment is half of what it was just a few years ago, so the call to Uncle Sugar went out, with BSC announcing its need for a $45 million local- and state-funded bailout. Keep in mind, this is a private institution that admitted to grossly mismanaging its resources. They spent badly, accounted badly, and showed disregard for members of their student body … and then they wanted Uncle Sugar to rush to their aid. 


The Alabama Legislature, cajoled and brow-beaten, crafted a unique situation allowing BSC to borrow $30 million in low-interest loans from the state. It would save BSC! It would be the panacea for all their financial ailments! But it turns out there was an actual underwriting process … they actually had to apply for the loan and be approved. 

“But I thought it was a gimme,” they said. “I thought it was a check from Uncle Sugar,” they said. Nope. 


Alabama’s Treasurer Young Boozer felt the gravity of the situation required some actual due diligence. He felt BSC should pass the most moderate of underwriting reviews… you know, the kind you and I must do before buying a house or a car. An actual credit check of BSC! 


What he found was very telling. 


Because of existing loans against campus facilities, Boozer learned that BSC would put Alabama in second place, subordinated to other lenders. If the college ever went bankrupt (a real possibility), the citizens of Alabama would likely never see the loan repaid. BSC filed suit, but the Court dismissed the case. 


“But, but, but, this is for BSC! This is to save us from ourselves. You’re supposed to be Uncle Sugar!” 


Boozer denied the loan because the Alabama Legislature gave him the authority to actually be responsible. The legislature tried an end-around this year by amending the law and removing Boozer and his discretion. The thought was to give it to somebody who remembers that Uncle Sugar keeps his promises. That effort appears to have died in the Alabama House. BSC announced that it will close its doors in just over 60 days. 

I do not relish this. I hate the idea of BSC going away. I have friends and family who have attended BSC. It is a jewel in many ways – a jewel that has been squandered. 


But I also hate that actions should have no consequences. Bad form should not be bailed out with our tax dollars. It’s a tough call, but maybe it’s the government version of tough love. 


Thank you, Treasurer Young Boozer. Thank you for daring to take a stand.


Uncle Sugar ain’t all he’s cracked up to be.


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