March 28, 2016

Will Phoenix taxpayers strikeout?

By Will Phoenix taxpayers strikeout?

When the green grass has been freshly cut, each piece of gravel in the infield is in place, and the pitcher’s mound is perfectly raised, it can mean only one thing. It’s baseball season. The New York Mets and the Kansas City Royals are set to open the 2016 Major League Baseball season this Sunday in a rematch of last season’s Fall Classic. And as young prospects get their first opportunity to prove they belong in the Big Leagues, the prospects of taxpayer dollars wasted on sports stadiums is already making headlines.

Recent reports suggest that the Arizona Diamondbacks (D-backs) are threatening to leave downtown Phoenix if Maricopa County does not pay for upgrades to the stadium. The D-backs currently play at Chase Field, an 18-year old stadium, with a swimming pool and retractable roof. But the team’s president is demanding upgrades to Chadownloadse Field, arguing that the stadium may soon be unsuitable for continued use. At issue between Maricopa County—where Phoenix is located—and the D-backs is roughly $187 million in maintenance costs. The team contends that the County is solely responsible for the maintenance costs. The County claims that that it is not a proper use of taxpayer dollars, and points out that it has already invested nearly a quarter-billion dollars into Chase Field.

Simply stated, this situation is a mess.

But this predicament is not unusual given the many issues surrounding sport teams, public stadiums, and public financing. I have previously written on this issue, noting how taxpayers are regularly on the hook for expensive athletic facilities. And if local governments refuse to pay for exorbitant stadiums, sports teams often hold the localities hostage by threatening to move. Proponents of stadium projects typically tout the economic boom these enterprises bring, but these benefits never seem to materialize. And even if there is adequate private funding to support building a new stadium, new projects often require massive use of eminent domain. Such use of eminent domain may interfere with landowners’ constitutional rights because it is questionable whether sport facilities fit within the “public use” requirement of the Fifth Amendment.

To save taxpayers from future burdens, local governments must stop subsidizing sports teams and their stadiums. Sports franchises have the finances to pay for facility upgrades or a new stadium. The D-backs are seeking to shift $187 million to Maricopa County taxpayers, yet they had enough money in December to pay $200 million dollars for a star pitcher. And they just signed a $1.5 billion television contract. So put the financial burden on the D-backs (or any other sports team)—they can afford it. This may mean that teams pay their star players less, their general managers give up part of their bonus, and fans pay $2 more for an already $12 stadium beer. So be it. The average taxpayer should not have to shoulder the burden of subsidizing multi-billion dollar sports teams. And I’m not just saying all of this as a bitter Dodger fan.

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