Taxpayers aren't only funding source for stadiums

  • Article by: JASON LEWIS
  • Updated: November 26, 2011 - 10:51 PM

There are plenty of ways a highly successful enterprise like the NFL could accomplish this privately.

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It's quite the spectacle watching Minnesota leaders vie over who gets to raise taxes in the Vikings stadium saga.

Ramsey County says, "Let us pass a $350 million sales tax."

To which Mayor R.T. Rybak and the folks in Minneapolis respond, "No, subsidizing professional sports is what we do."

Meanwhile, Gov. Mark Dayton insists that taxpayers need not fear a state commitment to fund 60 percent of the billion-dollar edifice because revenues would surely come from ticket taxes and gambling.

And if they don't?

The sports industry cheerleaders, along with a generation of sports fans who long ago reconciled ripping off their neighbors, are engaged in all sorts of contortions to justify this latest round of corporate welfare that they so heartily condemn for every other business.

On the one hand, the Minneapolis site is preferable because the tab is only $900 million, compared with $1.1 billion in Arden Hills. Yes, but the Vikings (and the league) are pledging $407 million for the old ammo factory, money that may disappear if we don't move now ... and so it goes.

Yet no one bothers to ask if a taxpayer "investment" of $600 million is the best way to jump-start economic growth. By any standard, it's hard to see how yet another new stadium stands to increase worker productivity.

We can go over the studies if you'd like, but nearly every economist not retained by a professional sports league maintains there is simply no significant correlation between stadium construction and long-term economic development.

Target Field aficionados may contend that it's done wonders for downtown (well, except Block E), but the Twins' $400 million subsidy merely represents a shifting of resources, not a net gain.

Unless, of course, you believe our economic woes are due to the NBA lockout.

The "substitution effect" is fancy jargon for the fact that if folks weren't going to the game, they'd be going to Valleyfair, or a movie, or better yet, they'd be saving their money, adding to the pool of capital that inevitably finds its way to real private investment.

Which is not to say there isn't great demand for NFL football, but that only makes it all the more nonsensical for taxpayers to be subsidizing multimillionaires. Indeed, the irony here is that Zygi Wilf's bargaining chip appears to be a privately funded stadium in downtown Los Angeles.

The L.A. consortium reportedly sold the naming rights to Farmers Insurance for $700 million and -- presto! -- state and local taxes off the table.

The Green Bay Packers' ownership model, grandfathered by the NFL, consists of a publicly owned corporation whose bylaws plow every penny of profit back into the franchise in an effort to keep ticket prices down. The team has sold out 300 consecutive home games and is set to sell additional stock to expand Lambeau Field.

Granted, the city owns and operates Lambeau Field, and in 2000, Brown County voters approved a half-cent sales tax for partial renovation, but Lambeau has been around in one form or another since 1957 and is the longest-occupied stadium in the NFL.

Though it's modest by today's stadium standards, no one in Green Bay is talking about a $1 billion Taj Mahal whose chief beneficiary is a single owner.

The point is: For the most lucrative sports league in world history, there are myriad ways to finance a new stadium -- few of which involve soaking the taxpayer.

If the NFL wants to avoid having all of its teams in L.A., Chicago or New York, it needs to step up to the plate; if Minnesota sports fans (as well as the Chamber of Commerce types) really love the Vikes, let the bidding begin for personal seat licenses.

In the meantime, consider this: When so-called free-market conservatives and anti-corporate-welfare liberals eagerly abandon any pretense of principle in the name of subsidizing (with other people's money) their favorite franchise, you know we won't be talking about balanced budgets any time soon.

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Jason Lewis is a nationally syndicated talk-show host based in Minneapolis-St. Paul and is the author of "Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States' Rights" from Bascom Hill Publishing. He can be heard from 5 to 8 p.m. weekdays on NewsTalk Radio (1130 AM) or online at jasonlewisshow.com.

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