Apparently unwilling to divorce themselves from the overly cherished myth of the self-made man, Republicans took to the offensive for their convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum this week, and christened their slightly-less-than-week-long celebration of all things G.O.P. with the proclamation “We Built This.”
The only problem is, they didn’t.
“The Tampa Bay Times Forum,” Adam Peck writes for ThinkProgress, “was built in 1996 for $139 million, 62 percent of which was provided by the taxpayers of Florida.”
“It serves to underscore the point that President Obama was trying to make,” Peck continues, “that private companies — from professional sports franchises to small businesses alike — rely on government spending to succeed. Businesses don’t buy roads or police departments or even stadiums, at least not without government help.”
Especially stadiums. Not in this current era of publicly financed sports venues.
“In the past twenty-five years,” notes Dave Zirin in his book Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining The Games We Love, “more than $30 billion of the public’s money has been spent for stadium construction and upkeep from coast to coast … $500 million welfare hotels for America’s billionaires built with funds that could have been spent more wisely on just about anything else.”
“It’s going to be seen … as one of the real crimes of American government,” suggests former Major League Baseball All-Star Jim Bouton, an active crusader in the fight to save Pittsfield’s Wahconah Park, here in Western Massachusetts, “to allow the funneling of people’s money directly into the pockets of a handful of very wealthy individuals, who could build these stadiums on their own if it made financial sense. If they don’t make financial sense, then they shouldn’t be building them.”
So much for fiscal responsibility.
“Public funding for sports stadiums has been found, in dozens of studies over several decades, to fall short of its promised benefits and to cost taxpayers more than expected,” write the Editors of Bloomberg.
It’s like the famous line from Field of Dreams, now horrifically refracted to reflect the unholy relationship between the wallets of tax payers, and the bank accounts of wealthy team owners: if you don’t build it, they will leave; and if you do build it, you’re stuck with the bill. Oftentimes, long after the stadium construction is done.
“From the Kingdome in Seattle to the Astrodome in Houston to the old Giants Stadium in New Jersey,” note the Bloomberg Editors, “today’s taxpayers are on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in debt for stadiums that are no longer in use or no longer even exist.”
The Tampa Bay Times Forum, site of this year’s RNC, is regularly home to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, who are owned by Jeff Vinik. Vinik, like most wealthy sports owners, not only votes Republican, but also donates large amounts of cash to the G.O.P. as well, $30,000 and counting to the Romney campaign for this election year so far.
Of course, it’s easy to write campaign checks for tens of thousands of dollars when your privately owned franchise is riding a welfare wave of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.
(Happy Labor Day!)