Should taxpayer money ever be used to fund a sports stadium?
That is one part of the political debate/mess in Minnesota concerning the building of a new stadium for the NFL’s Vikings, even though failure to build them a new stadium will almost certainly lead to the team leaving.
But it is a legitimate question for all communities in these challenging economic and budget times. I’m not going to get into the value of sports to a community, economic benefits, etc...
My simple answer is yes, but with a few caveats.
First, it depends on which taxpayer’s money you are using. I have no problem with “user” taxes — whether it be revenue from gambling or cigarettes as part of the funding. No one is forcing anyone to use what is being taxed.
Second, I have no problem with so-called “tourist” taxes being part of the funding. I have lived in Southwest Florida since 1999. The number of nights I’ve spent in a Lee or Collier hotel room is four. I don’t know many other full-time residents who have spent many nights in local hotels, either. Is increasing the bed tax raising taxes? Yes. Is it raising yours and my taxes? I would argue no.
But if a stadium is being funded any other way, then I think the community that is being asked to pay for it should get to vote on whether they want to. On top of that, the team that is asking for the stadium money should want the public to vote on it. Because the team is going to get their new stadium from someone, somewhere. The fans know it. So they’ll give you what you want.
It’s just better to make us feel like partners when really the feeling is more like extortion.
I know, I know. That’s ludicrous and if they put it up for a vote they would never get their money. Really? Community after community votes to improve or build new stadiums for its sports teams because sports is a major part of American life.
And it’s getting bigger and more important by the day (we can debate whether that should be the case some other time).
I am rarely critical of Craig Brush and the Florida Everblades. Why? I’ve realized in part because whatever issues I have seem small when compared to the fact that they built Germain Arena and paid for it themselves nearly 15 years ago. Because they did that, Southwest Florida has benefited greatly. As a sports fan, they have earned my good faith.
Which is why when they came out in the last couple of years wanting some help from Lee County about selling the arena, I thought the county at the very least should give the matter serious consideration (which they have not done). To me, the Blades have earned public trust.
Almost all of these major pro sports teams don’t care about public trust, they just want the public’s money. Which is why we should demand the first if we are to give the latter.
Even if it could cost us our favorite sports team.