Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday November 23, 2014 Is it time to stop using Tourist Tax money to pay for Big Boy Toys?

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD

Wednesday the Pinellas County Commission voted to restrict the funds being used to pay off the Tropicana Field construction bonds when the bonds expire in 2015.

The tourist tax dollars have long been eyed as pot of money for a new stadium for the Rays and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman also has his eye on some of those dollars for capital improvement projects like Al Lang field and the Walter Fuller Baseball Complex.

While the Tourist Tax was originally conceived to actually promote tourism, like most taxes it was a target for every high dollar idea that came down the road.

Same with Penny for Pinellas.

The County Commission was wise to restrict these funds, but the whole issue begs a bigger question; is it time for local governments to stop funding stadiums where private enterprises make large profits at the expense of taxpayers.

Here in Pinellas County we have seen how much impact major league baseball has had. It’s time for Major League Baseball to lose its federal tax status, fund its own venues and generally start acting like the big business it has become.

If the venue is as important as the team owners would have us believe, then it seems to me that any organization that can sign a single individual player or group of players to  multiyear multimillion-dollar contracts, can eke out a mortgage payment on the facility they play in without taxpayer support.

Baseball and most major league sports see government as a honey pot of money. They tell the sports impact story, which is rarely true, pass out a few hats, some autographed bats, balls or sticks and the politicians swoon. Same story over and over again.

For now the Pinellas County Commission has taken a good step to gain control over the tourist tax revenues. Keeping that control will require significant diligence.

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