Public Sports Stadium Financing Revisited

public_funding_for_stadiumsOne of the frustrating things about being a thinking adult is how many confusing shades-of-grey moral choices we face. The ethical clarity we enjoyed as a child or even as a ‘woke’ teenager seems to cloud over. Isn’t anything pure? How do I know what’s right or wrong? Why can’t things just be simple? Sigh. Adulthood.

On the other hand, it’s comforting to know that a few areas still provide us opportunities for PMCs, so-named by Paul Farmer as “Positions of Moral Clarity”(in a completely different context from the way I’m going to use the acronym).

Using public money to build sports stadiums represents, for me, one such PMC. My answer can always be summed up with just two words.1

I expended a few more words than that on a recent local news program, which helpfully picked up on a good Brookings Institution report summing up the public subsidy for private owners of sports teams nationwide.

The bulk of the subsidy calculated by Brookings is hard to explain in a television program, but essentially comes down to qualifying stadium-building bonds as tax-exempt municipal bonds, through a loophole in a 1986 law and in cooperation with local authorities, despite the clear fact that a stadium financially benefits the private ownership of a sports franchise. And there’s no measurable financial or economic benefit for the neighborhoods where the stadiums get built.

The lower interest rate of the tax-exemption amounts to $3.2 billion in private benefit since 2000. This is a more subtle form of subsidy via cheap financing than is employed by some state, county or municipal authorities to attract or retain professional sports franchises. Sometimes cities just promise to spent public money outright on shiny stadiums, as Las Vegas, Nevada appeared to promise yesterday to the soon-to-be-former-Oakland Raiders.

AAA_baseballI had previously expressed alarm at attempts to woo The Oakland Raiders to my city, but I had under-estimated the cost to the public at $500 million. It now looks like Las Vegas will commit $750 million to entice Mark Davis’ Raiders. I had also written about the terrible idea of building a stadium with public money to attract a AAA baseball team to my city, although the good news is that – for now – city leaders have backed away from that nonsense, for lack of interest.

Anyway, it’s nice to have a few areas, a few PMCs, in which I don’t worry that I’ve got it wrong.

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  1. Fuck. No.

Mike Bloomberg: More Bucks for Less Bangs

I try to approach contentious political issues with an open mind, willing to be swayed by new evidence, or at least willing to acknowledge that the other side has some valid points. Surely my ideological opponent has logical thoughts, given their starting principles, right?

Mike_Bloomberg_gun_control
My hero this morning

I have no monopoly on good ideas, I remind myself, and the other side usually isn’t crazy. At the same time, people who I largely agree with, I also remind myself, deserve a skeptical look every once in a while. I think it’s a good idea to disagree with my ideological allies on a regular basis, because I’m a contrarian and it helps to sharpen my ideas.

I hope this makes me not wishy-washy but, rather, nuanced. I want to be a complex thinker. Most things in the world are not black and white.

And then there is the issue of guns in America.

Stricter gun control, for me, is what a hero of mine calls a PMC – a Position of Moral Clarity. When it comes to gun control, I’m not interested in your nuance, your different starting principles. Don’t tell me about your 2nd Amendment Rights.

Paul_Farmer_PMCs
Paul Farmer: He has PMCs

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson did not contemplate automatic weapons and ammo that could be picked up at a traveling gun show with a gym-membership ID card. Our right to “A Well-Regulated Militia” is a far cry from the angry 19-year old with an anti-social personality disorder, irregular access to mental health care, and an addiction to playing Call of Duty.

Fuck that.  Kids are slaughtered in schools. Soldiers are shot on their own home bases. Office workers are cut down in their own workplaces. Cops are fired on regularly by people who should never be armed in the first place. Every week.

In other countries in the world – so-called ‘developed’ or so-called ‘developing,’ it doesn’t matter – their weekly violent episodes do not involve automatic weapons. Their mentally ill citizen hurt others with their fists, or possibly, a knife. The result in other countries is hospitalization and trauma, but not mass terror and death, like we have in this country. Every. week.

When I think about the gun control issue, I get so angry I start spitting, because it all seems so intractable. The only other time I wrote about this – in the wake of the Sandy Hook killings of elementary school children and their teachers in December 2012 – I noted that gun control advocates have absolutely zero chance of making an impact while they get out-spent by the NRA 100 to 1.  The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence spent $20,000 in federal lobbying in 2012, compared to the NRA’s $2.2 million, according to opensecrets.org.

But today’s rant is not just another angry and sad one, because the finance side of this story just got better.

The New York Times reports today that Mike Bloomberg will dedicate $50 million of his fortune to seeding gun control advocacy organizations. Bloomberg will specifically target grass-roots organizations on the MADD model – groups founded and energized by pissed-off moms. One of these groups sprung up recently in my city, and this seems to me a great beginning. Bloomberg’s pledge is certainly not going to win the war against the gun lobby, but if the moms groups can get a running start, we’ve got a start at least.

So, I’m fired up this morning about the power of money to do good, especially Bloomberg’s money. He’s my hero today.

Two other inspirational quotes that fit my mood.

winston_churchill
Some people have a way with words

As another angry man once said: “Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

And then there’s my favorite mom-power clip of Maggie Gyllenhaal at 2:20 to 2:27 – this gets me fired up every time:

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