Don’t ever say I disagreed with everything Barack Obama did as president (from USA Today):
“If President Obama has his way, the nation’s taxpayers would not help finance a new arena proposed for the Milwaukee Bucks professional basketball team.
“Nor would taxpayer-financed, tax-free bonds be used to help finance a new stadium being discussed in St. Louis for the NFL Rams, or in Oakland for a new complex aimed at keeping the area’s professional football, baseball and basketball franchises from leaving town.
“An obscure item in the president’s new budget would put an end to the long-standing practice of states and cities using tax-exempt bonds to finance professional sports arenas, a practice that costs the U.S. Treasury $146 million, according to a 2012 Bloomberg analysis.”
Now, do I think it’s a little … odd that such a proposal would come late in Obama’s term and right when a leading GOP contender for president (Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker) is pushing for a stadium-financing deal in his home state? Maybe. And do I wish this provision had been proposed and passed into law, say, three years ago so that it preceded the Falcons and Braves stadium deals? Absolutely.
That said, public subsidies for sports stadiums are an egregious practice of funneling precious tax dollars to billionaire team owners who employ millionaire athletes. A Bloomberg analysis from three years ago put the total federal tax subsidy at $4 billion over a number of decades, and that’s just a fraction of the cost to taxpayers. In metro Atlanta alone, bond payments for the new Falcons and Braves stadiums will consume more than $1 billion in tax revenues over the next 30 years.
The political debate in this country tends toward an argument about how much to take from “the rich” upfront in the way of taxes on their earnings. It’d be much more productive to look for ways to stop giving them tax dollars on the back end through these sorts of subsidies, and I’d like to see Congress take up this particular provision from Obama’s budget.