Ever married to their “Job Creators” mantra, Republicans gave their national convention the theme “We Built This.”
The phrase comes in response to a speech President Obama gave earlier this summer, in which he (much like Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren a few months back) suggested that, regardless of how smart, hardworking and industrious any financially successful person is, he or she has been aided by the security provided by our police departments, the transportation facilitated by our nation’s highways, and many other societal investments made by our government.
Apparently unwilling to divorce themselves from the cherished myth of the self-made man, Republicans took the offensive for their convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum this summer, christening their slightly-less-than-week-long celebration of all things GOP with the motto “We Built This.”
The 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.
We are living in a time when billionaire owners use the threat of moving beloved franchises to new cities unless the local citizenry, whether fans of the teams or not, agree to spend their tax dollars on new, privately owned sporting arenas. It’s a scene that has been played out over and over again in the last quarter-century.
“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.”
As we continue to endure the current economic recession, it’s hard to imagine any city that wouldn’t welcome re-allocated tax dollars to fund the reopening of schools and libraries, let alone the upkeep of highway bypasses, roads, bridges and levees. But membership does indeed have its privileges. And sports owners have made a habit of taking theirs to the bank.
“It’s going to be seen … as one of the real crimes of American government,” suggests former major league baseball all-star Jim Bouton, a crusader in the fight to save Pittsfield’s Wahconah Park, “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.
Yet again and again, year after year, wealthy sports franchise owners continue to demand publicly funded stadiums.
“Robert A. Baade of the Heartland Institute, a research group in Chicago that promotes free markets, examined 48 cities over a 30-year period and found ‘no factual basis’ for the argument that professional sports stadiums and teams have a significant impact on economic growth,” the Bloomberg editors continue. “A study by Judith Grant Long, an associate professor of urban planning at Harvard University, found that public subsidies for stadiums are typically 40 percent more expensive for taxpayers than initially advertised.”
It’s like a horrific paraphrase of the famous line from Field of Dreams: 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.”
Indiana’s taxpayers won’t fully pay off the old Hoosier Dome, which was demolished in 2008 to make way for the swanky new $720 million Lucas Oil Stadium, current home of the Indianapolis Colts and venue for last season’s Super Bowl, until the year 2021.
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 GOP: $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.