Jack and John have been friends since childhood. Now in their fifties, both have enjoyed successful careers. Jack is a local business man with a company that he inherited from his grandfather. John is a local activist and powerful member of county commission. Now these two men have many times been political rivals in public, sparring over local issues, but their friendship remained intact no matter how heated the headlines.

One summer night while at Jack’s house John revealed to his long time friend that he was looking to move into state politics and needed a big issue to generate support across the state. Jack was certainly not surprised to hear this and told his friend that he might have just the issue for John to champion.

You see Jack’s grandfather had purchased quite a bit of mountain land hoping to cash in on the coal industry. A few small mines operated for over 30 years and made the family a good bit of money and employed a lot of locals. But now the coal industry was suffering at the hands of some mighty foes and the land was nearly worthless. And Jack was looking for a way to turn that land profitable again.

“John, I’ve been thinking about your environmental concerns and I think I am ready to join your side,’ Jack said laughing.

You see, Jack had come up with a brilliant scheme that he laid out for his friend. John would hold a press conference and announce a bold new initiative for protecting the environment while also boosting the local economy, providing relief for suffering homeowners and even attract more visitors to the community.

The plan: County government will pay every land owner a subsidy for every new tree planted on their land. Also, the county will offer long term subsidies for landowners that agree to place a portion of their land into a “greenway land trust.” The plan would beautify the community which in turn would raise property values and increase tourism traffic.

John loved the idea and the two went to work putting the pieces into motion. One year later, John was elected to the state senate, and the “Green Up” plan had been hailed as the perfect balance between environmental responsibility and good government. As John readied his plan for public announcement, Jack had quietly bought thousands of acres of additional land from other suffering coal miners, never revealing the plan at hand. Once the plan was enacted, in a very unceremoniously fashion, Jack received his initial check for $850,000. His subsidies on the land (which was now tax exempt sitting in the land trust) would provide him just over $200,000 a year in tax free subsidies.

Sound far-fetched? Or maybe you are thinking that the “Green Up” plan sounds like a pretty decent idea. Ask yourself: Where do funds come from to pay the subsidies? What happens when the government runs out of money? What happens if the property values never increase and the tourists never come? What if the subsidy was for building waste sites instead of planting trees?