A reversal, a better way & a shibboleth

A reversal, a better way & a shibboleth

The Post-Gazette has editorialized against a proposal to further tap the coffers of the Regional Asset District (RAD) to help pay for maintenance and upgrades at the city’s professional sports complexes.

It argues that $13.4 million annually in RAD money already goes toward paying off the construction debt for PNC Park and Heinz Field and that there are better uses for RAD dollars “for other worthy organizations” that “could go wanting.”

Oh, the dichotomy.

Not referenced in the P-G editorial is that 21 years ago, it was one of the leading proponents of perverting the will of the people, who rejected the Stadiums Tax at the polls, and the RAD’s original mission to support true regional assets by transferring public money to the rich barons of sport.

One can only wonder what “other worthy organizations” went “wanting” because of RAD’s long-term diversion of tens of millions of dollars to the Pirates and Steelers.

The P-G chides the teams and the Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA), which owns the stadiums on behalf of the public, for seeing RAD’s “pot of money as an easy way out of a thorny situation.”

As the P-G itself did in 1997.

Of course, there’s a better way to deal with the issue of continued demand for public money to maintain and/or upgrade stadiums with taxpayer dollars – either sell or simply give the facilities to the sports teams.

That’s not necessarily a new idea; it has been bandied about for years locally. But the concept was revived last week by Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat.

Seattle is going through a similar debate though writ larger with demands by baseball’s Mariners for hundreds of millions in new public dollars to upgrade Safeco Field.

As Westneat wrote in a Sept. 4 column:

“We, the people, own Safeco Field, as the Mariners keep reminding us. So what if we just sold it to them – or even gave it to the team for free?

“The public would get more return,” given the stadium would go back on the real estate tax rolls, “and we would finally be rid of this perennial tug of war over subsidizing pro sports,” he offered.

And as noted sports economist Neal deMause told Westneat:

“Technically, yes,” Safeco Field is owned by the public, “but that was a bookkeeping dodge designed, as it is with most publicly owned stadiums, to get the team out of having to pay property taxes.”

Such facilities are “’publicly owned’ solely on paper,” deMause told Westneat, because the Mariners control the revenues, pay below-market rent and have gotten all the profits.

Selling or giving the Pirates and Steelers their places of business remains a great idea. Which, unfortunately, is exactly why such a long overdue public policy never will be promulgated by our local elected leaders and the unelected authority officials they control.

A recent op-ed post at pennlive.com repeats the shibboleth that food stamps (now known as SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) somehow are a great economic stimulus.

From the commentary:

“SNAP stimulates the economy. Consider this: According to Moody’s Analytics, even in a weak economy, each dollar in SNAP benefits generates $1.70 in economic activity. SNAP enrollment is also countercyclical, expanding when the economy weakens and contracting when the economy recovers, which makes this program one of the country’s most responsive.”

But as economics scholar Mark J. Perry has often reminded:

“Wow, it seems like all we have to do to create a huge economic stimulus is to get more Americans using food stamps. If raising the national food stamp participation rate by 5 percentage points generates $2.5 billion in new economic activity, imagine the economic stimulus that could be created if the food stamp participation rate increased to 100 percent!”

As Perry further explains, “the economic effects from a transfer program always sum to zero. Simply put, there can be no economic stimulus from increased food stamp usage.”

“Given the massive inefficiencies the government creates in transferring resources from one group to another, along with the disincentive effects for those Americans who are de-stimulated through higher taxes, there might actually be overall negative net effect on economic activity,” Perry said.

Public policy grounded in shibboleths is poor public policy. Yet, such myth-making persists.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).