January 27, 2012

But that all started changing a few decades ago. The Cleveland Browns now play in a $290-million stadium, 74.7% of which was provided by taxpayers. The Indianapolis Colts gallop around in a $720-million monstrosity, 86% of which was derived from taxation. Since 2000, over half of the funds used to build 28 major-league stadiums came from the public coffers.

Ironically, the greater the public funding, the less likely it became that the building would be named after public heroes or landmarks. Stadiums used to be named after cultural icons or local streets or—perish the thought—the team itself rather than, say, banks, chain stores, and orange juices.

Supporters of public funding for stadiums cite the “multiplier effect” and claim that any initial tax burdens are easily offset by the increased tax revenues and jobs that major-league sports bring to a city. They cite a huge influx of revenue to local hotels, restaurants, and other tourist-related services. They also claim that sports teams bring intangible benefits in the way of civic pride and an unquantifiably vague feeling of rah-rah municipal camaraderie.

Opponents say that if consumers weren’t paying grossly inflated prices for tickets and parking and popcorn and souvenirs, they’d spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere and the city would be no worse for it economically. They cite numerous academic studies that claim public funding of sports teams only benefits the owners and players.

What makes the current situation in Florida even more anomalous is exactly who’s supporting the push to knock down the gates and fill the coliseums with unsheltered barbarian hordes, as well as the rhetoric they’re employing to achieve their goal.

It’s the Republicans, and they’ve trotted out the sort of anti-corporate, bring-the-wealthy-to-their-knees class-war jargon typically reserved for MSNBC commentators and writers at The Nation. Apparently the Florida GOP has done extensive test marketing, and “soak the rich” is what’s selling with voters this election year.

The Senate bill’s main sponsor, Republican Michael Bennett, defends the legislation thusly:

All of the sports teams always preach up and down about playing fair….We have spent over $300 million supporting teams that can afford to pay a guy $7, $8, $10 million a year to throw a baseball 90 feet. I think they can pay for their own stadium….[This is] yet another example of how taxpayers are supplementing the super rich owners of sports franchises while the taxpayers of Florida are receiving very little in return.

A supporter of the House bill, Republican Frank Artiles, echoed this unexpected new GOP strategy:

I cannot believe that we’re going to cut money out of Medicaid and take it away from the homeless and take it away from the poor and impoverished, and we’re continuing to support people who are billionaires….

Maybe Florida’s Republicans have suddenly had a change of heart. Or maybe they are only shedding alligator tears for their state’s disgruntled indigents. Perhaps they’re cynically seeking votes while slyly avoiding leftist criticism by offering to let downtrodden street urchins rush the 50-yard line and soil the corporate bird’s-nest. Politics is politics, ma’am, and just like the homeless, it usually stinks.



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