In a historic move, President Obama’s new budget proposes eliminating the longstanding practice by governments of forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for wealthy sports franchises to build, renovate, and maintain costly stadiums. For far too long, this shameless giveaway has left city budgets in ruins while showering the franchise owners with hundreds of millions in corporate welfare.
Sports franchises and their stadiums are a very emotional subject for many Americans. Love of the game and pride in their cities, the trophies in the box and the envy of the nation bind them close to our hearts. Unfortunately, a loophole in laws regulating government bonds for public works has allowed the billionaire franchise owners to hold city governments hostage unless their taxpayers and fans shell out millions to build or renovate the stadiums on top of the exorbitant prices one must pay for tickets, jerseys, and eight dollar Bud lights. In a recent example, the Atlanta Braves just moved to Cobb County after prodding a bidding war with Atlanta for renovations; they finally got $397 million from Cobb, most of which will come from taxpayers.
President Obama’s not having it any more. In a small article placed in his 2016 budget proposal, he called for ending tax-free government bonds for sports facilities, which have cost taxpayers $4 billion over the past thirty years. Republicans, of course, have immediately refused to pass it because it would mean the franchises would have to pay taxes on it like the rest of us, which they see as just more “big government” restricting businesses. In reality, they just protecting a significant source of campaign donations- over a quarter million dollars to Republican candidates in the last year alone- and it’s common sense to lift such a burden off the taxpayers; as sports economist John Vrooman puts it, “Pres. Obama ends up being the fiscally conservative responsible adult.”
It’s about time the taxpayer-funded ride for franchise owners ends. It’s not like they show any particular loyalty or gratitude towards their fans, as the people of Baltimore learned the hard way on March 30th, 1984. They awoke that morning find that their beloved Colts had up and moved to Indianapolis in the night, to a new $95 million stadium built with public funds. Countless studies have shown that stadiums do not usually bring the promised economic growth and jobs that are advertised. The new stadium in Miami for the Florida Marlins is going to cost the taxpayer a mind-boggling two billion dollars over the next fifty years! As cities across the country struggle with budget deficits, cuts and layoffs are leveled on schools and libraries while multimillion dollar corporations enjoy undeserved tax cuts, all for the fear that their beloved teams might leave for a city willing to shell out more.
The recent building of Metlife Stadium in the Meadowlands for $1.6 billion of private money shows that it doesn’t have to be this way, but if the option is there, the owners will abuse it. It’s a shame that even a comparatively minor budget proposal by President Obama, with the taxpayer’s interests at heart, probably won’t make it through the corporate backed Republican Congress. We love our teams and we love our stadiums; but sometimes we forget they aren’t really ours; it’s even worse that some of our Congressional ‘representatives’ aren’t either.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.