Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fund Our County Needs Not Wants of Wealthy Sports Owners

Today's Tampa Tribune includes a front page story warning us that the Rays could move to Montreal or some other city if they don't get a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred enthused about Montreal as a viable baseball city. That follows October reports in the New York Daily News that Rays Principal owner Stuart Sternberg had discussions with Wall Street associates about moving the team to Montreal and his recent comment that the team is ‘doomed’ to leave if it cannot get out of its contract to play at the Trop through 2027.
I love sports as I've played sports and participated in sporting events my entire life.  Here at the Eye we love the Rays and we'd love to keep them in the Tampa Bay area.  But if the Rays want a new stadium, the private sector needs to foot the tab.  

The Tribune is taking the same tactics with a new Rays stadium as they do advocating for high cost rail systems. The same day they publish an article on their front page they also collaboratively and collusively publish an editorial pushing "their" agenda. So today's editorial is conveniently titled Editorial: Professional sports subsidies bring many good returns

We've seen this tactic used by the Tribune consistently on the rail issue since 2010. We thought there was supposed to be this "fire wall" between Tribune reporting and their editorials. Apparently not when it comes to expensive baseball stadiums and high cost trains.

The Tribune's editorial even attempts to rebut a recent study done of actual data that documents the state gets very little back on every public dollar spent on sports complexes.
...the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research considered the return on $48 million in state subsidies to eight professional sports facilities over three years. It concluded the state received 30 cents for each dollar spent. The findings resemble similar studies by academics over the years. 
But the formulas don’t account for the intangibles that result in added tourist visits and that fuel Florida’s growth.
You read right - let's redistribute more of our tax dollars to wealthy sports owners based on intangibles that can never be quantified.  

If that recent study showed that the state only gets 30 cents back on every tax dollar spent on sports facilities, why would it be any different at the county level?  

Noah Pransky of WTSP Channel 10 has been writing a blog called Shadow of the Stadium where he has been writing regularly about a Rays stadium and other Florida sports business topics. Subscribe or bookmark and keep up with his posts.  

In addition, Pransky reported for WTSP Channel 10 that Pro teams may exaggerate "need" for tax money such as
The Miami Dolphins told state legislators in 2013 they needed public help to pay for $350 million in stadium renovations. Governor Rick Scott reportedly lobbied for the bill, saying Florida may not host any more Super Bowls without the contributions. When the financing was rejected, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said, "there won't be a renovation...simple as that." Team CEO Mike Dee said the team's future in South Florida is "clearly bleak." But a year later, the team announced it would pay for the renovations itself. Sun Life Stadium already receives $2 million/yr from the state.
In other words, it appears these pro teams are lying to coerce getting our tax dollars but when they don't get the tax monies, they figure out how to pay for what they want themselves. 

Also for WTSP Channel 10, Pransky reported here that
Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday he would defer back to the Legislature when it comes to four pro sports organizations seeking state tax dollars. 
One of the co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, said Wednesday he is personally "dead-set against" providing tax dollars to professional teams and leagues. But Corcoran, expected to be House Speaker in 2017-2018, said the issue would be hotly-debated since stadium spending has been "near and dear" to the heart of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.
We'll be anxiously awaiting the debate....

Today's Tribune article also reports
Hillsborough County commissioners in October set up a working group that includes Hagan, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Eric Hart, chief executive officer of the Tampa Sports Authority, to handle initial negotiations with the Rays. 
They also approved a list of several financial institutions to underwrite potential bond issues to pay for stadium construction and agreed a contract with Foley and Lardner, a law firm with that has represented MLB teams and represented Guggenheim Baseball in its $2 billion acquisition of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
The questions not answered are:
  • What tax dollars are behind any bond issue? 
  • How much tax dollars are going toward a new baseball stadium and where are those tax dollars coming from?
  • Are taxpayers paying the law firm of Foley and Lardner?  If so, how much? Why?
We are in a very different economic time than when county taxpayers voted for a tax increase in 1996 to build the Glazers a new football stadium. Taxpayers feel tapped out amidst a still uncertain economy and skeptical that what we already pay is being spent wisely and prudently. Don't we have much higher priorities and needs at the state and local level that should be addressed first before shoveling our tax dollars to new sports complexes benefiting wealthy sports owners?    

There is a difference between a need and a want. Roads are a major responsibility of local government yet Hillsborough County cannot fill our potholes. We continue to see millions of county tax dollars earmarked for soccer complexes, cultural centers, the film industry, other special interests and other much lower priorities than for our local roads and other aging county infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, our county "needs" aren't sexy; they are not like a shiny new toy and apparently don't win you any friends with the Tampa Tribune editorial board. But In Hillsborough County, a new taxpayer funded baseball stadium, like a high cost taxpayer funded train, is a want and not a need.

The county does need to "get its ducks in a row" but that requires the county to make the difficult decisions to ensure our highest priority needs are funded first. 

Baseball stadiums since 1991
Almost $4.5 BILLION of public monies

NFL Stadiums since 1990
Almost $6.5 BILLION of public monies
It is not the role of government at any level to fund the billionaire sports owners and sports facilities special interests. Let the private sector fund them and NOT the taxpayers!

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