Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Times Hates Corporate Welfare; Except for Maybe Pro Sports Teams

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board penned another piece this week calling for a "Crack Down on Corporate Welfare."  The paper suggested an end to tax-exempt bonds for private corporations, which provide companies low-interest loans at the expense of the government tax rolls:
For instance, Chevron Corp., a company that made $26 billion in profits last year, has been the biggest single beneficiary since 2003. And it is far from alone. Tax-exempt bonds have been used to fund a golf resort in Puerto Rico, the construction of the Goldman Sachs Group offices and the Bank of America Tower in New York and even a winery in North Carolina.
The piece follows another Times editorial last month criticizing the soon-to-be-approved Bass Pro Shops subsidies.  The February editorial criticized a $6.25 million subsidy to lure the outdoor retailer to Hillsborough County:
Bass could indeed be a welcome addition. But there is nothing here that cries out for special treatment. Bass should be held to the same standard as others in the business world who pay their own way to compete in the private market, and the County Commission should reject this one-sided deal.
So how does any of this relate to the Stadium Saga?

In January, Shadow of the Stadium pointed out that tax-exempt bonds are one of the leading mechanisms to fund baseball stadiums.  So of course, you would think the Times - against "corporate welfare" and "special treatment" - is against public subsidies for private sports teams.

Except the editorial board has been nothing but a cheerleader for the Rays' efforts, even after a group of local businessmen analyzed stadium funding options in Tampa Bay and said the region would need to rely on tax-exempt bonds and other government help.

In fact, the Times has done very little to explain why it supports the attempt by a private corporation (the Rays) to escape its contract with the City of St. Pete, presumably, so other municipalities could help build it a new stadium.  The paper even celebrated the Marlins' controversially-funded new stadium.

Yes, pro teams provide a civic boost to the communities that support them, And yes, MLB's $7.5 billion in revenues pale in comparison to Chevron's $26 billion in profits.  And no, neither the Rays nor MLB have officially asked for public dollars since the waterfront stadium plan blew up in 2008. 

But while the Times hasn't officially supported public dollars for a new Rays stadium yet, either, there seems to be a disconnect in their editorial logic.  Since it's pretty clear to everyone this side of the Floribama line that public dollars would be required to build a new Rays stadium, it's surprising the paper has taken such a different approach to a professional sports corporation.


  1. I appreciate the work you do, but it appears you have become a parrot of irrational logic supported by untrue "facts." There is still time for you to improve your reporting, but you'll have to open your mind and dismiss the false perception you have,thus far, accepted. Public infrastructure investments are no more corporate welfare than public roads are consumer welfare. Governments invest in all sorts of infrastructure which creates a quality of life desired by residents. Investment in a new stadium will create jobs, stimulate tourism, and provide measurable economic benefits far in excess of the cost of the public investment.

    From Multiple professional studies of the economic impact of the Rays, not one has concluded that the Rays create a negative or neutral economic impact. The Times takes the same position as nearly every business whose success depends upon regional growth and vitality. Their economists tell them the Region would suffer without the Rays, and the suffering would exceed the cost to locals of any public subsidies of a public stadium.

    Also, there is considerable difference amongst various types of public subsidies. Subsidizing a STADIUM is more accurately likened to subsidizing the construction and maintenance of airports, public beaches, marinas, public universities, cruiseports, major roadways, dams and bridges. It is entirely possible to build each of these without ANY public subsidies, but that creates less public control. Public ownership often yields additional benefits not attainable via private ownership.

    Additionally, your assesment assumes false facts. Nearly all public subsidies for a baseball stadium would be paid by out of towners and from stadium users, as opposed to general taxes levied on all citizens. These are the BEST types of taxes. Many of these subsidies would not be collected were it not for the stadium. And, in the case of the Rays, the economic benefits from the investment far, far exceeds the cost of the investment. THEN, when we add the indirect economic benefits and the non-financial benefits, we end up with a net plus for the Region.

    It's important to remember that ALL government expenditures benefit some much more than others. Our airports allow airlines to generate billions in revenue and millions in profits. Our beaches draw hotel visitors who spend billions. Libraries send millions to publishers. Live music performances not only pay bands, but also help them sell records. Art museums benefit rich artists and investors. Sailing races, the Grand Prix, Taste of Pinellas. All involve public subsidies that benefit rich ownership. But MORE importantly, all help to create a dynamic region which attract and retains residents and tourists.

    When it comes to the Rays Stadium, we encounter some who ignore the facts and focus on their personal dislike for the stadium. These folks ignore other public subsidies that they embrace and irrationally act like they are very different. Using tax free bonds to build the Veterans tollway, which bonds are then paid back with tolls, to alleviate traffic congestion on surface streets and stimulate real estate development is a win-win for the region. Using public subsidies to support an improved mass transportation system in the Bay Area may also be. And the Rays definitely are.

    Pretending otherwise is a dishonest pursuit.

  2. So Rick, point me to the definitive information that shows how much a net gain the Rays are for the region.

    Also, please do the same for the Bucs.

    Please substantiate your statement "Nearly all public subsidies for a baseball stadium would be paid by out of towners and from stadium users"? So are you saying the funding of the stadium is already determined. If so, how much is it going to cost, and how much are the Rays going to pay?

    Maybe, Noah and others (including me) feel that shipping public funds to billionaires who don't need them is just flat out wrong.

    And the reality for the Tampa Bay area, because of its weak economic demographics, is that no matter where a new stadium is built, if unemployment continues at around 8%, attendance will continue to suck. On the other hand, if unemployment shrinks to 5% AND the Rays remain competitive, they will draw much better than they are drawing now.

    As a parent of an autistic child, whose school aid gets paid $8.29 per hour with NO BENEFITS, I would much rather see more funding going toward the truly needy, then to billionaires. Taking care of the least fortunate among us is good for the community too!


    1. So are you Scott saying that the people of Tampa Bay that oppose places like Raymond James or the TB Times Forum shouldn't enjoy the economic benefits Tampa enjoys by using our stadiums? It should be a double edge sword. But because it isn't, you get to live in a nice "progressive" city because of it's investments. I also think a lot smarter economist would disagree after over seeing the revenue generated from Super Bowls, Republican conventions, Bowl games, Showjumping events, Monster Jam truck events, big soccer games, concerts, WWE events, college hockey championships, All-Star games, etc., (not including the games of the Bucs & Lightning, and playoffs), AND let's just say it's not just people from Hillsborough county going to these events. Believe me, you would be singing a different tune if you owned a business or hotel around a stadium...

    2. Dear Anonymous,

      I am singing the very simple tune that we don't need to be giving billionaires public money. Please show me the "a lot smarter economist's" report.

    3. Then maybe "billionaires" shouldn't use their money to help our community grow through investing. Let me know how that scenario works out for the not billionaires or millionaires...

    4. Dear Anonymous,

      "billionaires" will invest where ever they see the opportunities. Please document the correlation between having to 'bribe' "billionaires" first with public funds before they invest in the community from which they are getting the public funds.

      Also, please document where once the "billionaires" have been bribed by a community, they then invest in that community substantively beyond the scope of the what the initial bribe targeted.


    5. News flash! Almost every huge corporation gets tax deductions and/or public funds to help attract their business to your town/city, like most recently, Bass Pro Shop, DUH! Big business is "i'll scratch your back, you scratch mine" type thing...

    6. Dear Anonymous,

      Thanks for educating me on how 'Big business' works. I'm very happy that I never invested $100K or so to get an MBA.

      Asking again - please document where once the "billionaires" have been bribed by a community, they then invest in that community substantively beyond the scope of the what the initial bribe targeted.


    7. Anonymous, the Bass Pro subsidies are very similar to stadium subsidies. This post is about how it could be seen as hypocritical to criticize one and support the other.

  3. "There is still time for you to improve your reporting, but you'll have to open your mind and dismiss the false perception you have,thus far, accepted.", nice!

  4. Rick, thanks for taking the time to write. I don't think I subscribe to any facts right now other than the fact that the Rays are following a blueprint countless other teams have followed to get stadiums built. It includes leveraging media power, shielding their finances, and pitting one community against another for leverage. Many of these blog posts aren’t taking a side, but pointing out hypocrisies in the stadium debate.

    I agree government investment in stadiums could be comparable to government investment in other quality-of-life amenities, but the questions I’ve asked for 4yrs on this blog are: How much will it cost? And how much will it improve the quality of life here? How much in local investment should pro leagues, raking in record revenues, expect with each new stadium?

    When it comes to bang-for-the-buck on government investments, there have to be some very big questions asked of a stadium plan designed to merely to “keep up with the Joneses.”

    As for your comparisons to other public infrastructure, I think economic studies would show the money spent per tourist on sports stadiums far exceeds beaches, airports, etc. Stadiums are designed to bolster a community’s spirit and reputation – they aren’t really designed to stimulate economy. But again, it comes down to bang for the buck. Would $400M be better-utilized funding a stadium or funding a light rail extension once approved? Or would those funds be better used keeping taxes low on rental cars, hotel rooms, and local sales taxes?

    Just trying to provide perspective and get all the facts out there. Appreciate your readership.

  5. "I don't think I subscribe to any facts", "I think economic studies", lol; "Would $400M be better-utilized" I think the figured figures of investment were only around $100M...

    1. I haven't seen a single report, study, or column that suggested a MLB stadium could be built in Tampa Bay for only $100M in public money.

      Every estimate (some educated; some not) puts a stadium at $500-600M with Rays' commitments in the $150-200M range.