More taxpayer-financed sports buncombe

More taxpayer-financed sports buncombe

Here. We. Go. Again. And pay attention, Pittsburgh sports fans.

Here’s the bait: The Chicago Bears say they will “seek no public funding for direct … structure construction” for their new football stadium on the site of the Arlington International Racecourse, 30 miles northwest of its current Solider Field home in downtown Chicago.

Here’s the switch: The franchise is expecting public subsidies to help develop the more than 300-acre site around its new facility.

As if money is not fungible, right?

And what business does the public have being tapped to help this private organization build out this private site?

Other than bona fide public infrastructure, none, of course. But even then, this question looms: If a private project creates a demand for new “public infrastructure,” shouldn’t the developer pay for that “impact” as well?

As the Chicago Sun-Times reports it, citing a public letter released by the venerable NFL team:

“If the Bears exercise their option to purchase the property for $197.2 million and proceed with the broader plan, it will be ‘one of the largest development projects in Illinois state history,’” the letter states.

“The ‘multi-purpose entertainment district’ will be ‘anchored by a “best-in-class, enclosed stadium … worthy of hosting global events”’ such as the Super Bowl, college football playoffs and the NCAA’s Final Four basketball championships.

“Make no mistake,” the letter continues, “this is much more than a stadium project. Any development of Arlington Park will propose to include a multi-purpose entertainment, commercial/retail and housing district that will provide considerable economic benefits to Cook County, the surrounding region and the state of Illinois.”

The Bears say the development could include restaurants, office space, hotel, fitness center, new parks and open spaces and other improvements for the community to enjoy.”

And from which the Bears will handsomely profit – at some level of taxpayer expense.

As the newspaper further reports, “the Bears rolled out a series of tantalizing numbers to describe the potential economic impact of the project,” the latest in a long line of professional sports franchises hoping to play for suckers the people they hope to rob.

“The numbers include: a $9.4 billion impact for ‘Chicagoland’; $3.9 billion in overall ‘labor income’ at $601 million a year; 48,000 jobs, 9,750 of them ‘long-term’ positions; $16 million in annual tax revenue, in addition to property taxes for Arlington Heights.

“The project will also generate $51.3 million in tax revenue for the state of Illinois and $9.8 million for Cook County, according to the economic impact study done for the Bears.”

But as we of the Corporate Wealthfare Naysaying Curmudgeons are wont to say in moments like this – “Buncombe.”

And that’s pretty much what University of Chicago Economics professor Allen Sanderson told the Sun-Times:

“Whenever anyone is offering up an economic impact number, a good rule of thumb is to move the decimal one place to the left,” Sanderson told the newspaper.

While the good professor noted he had not seen the team’s research, past experiences have taught him that it “doesn’t matter if it’s the Bears, or a local chamber of commerce, or a mayor — 90% of that is hyperbole or just inflated.”

And then there’s this:

“It’s especially true in the NFL, because money affiliated with the team is local in nature. People will be watching the Bears whether they’re in Soldier Field or Arlington Heights. Money gets redistributed, but the net addition is usually minimal,” Sanderson said.

And then there’s this:

The large “mixed-use” development the Bears are pitching on the rest of the 326-acre plot probably won’t create the massive economic windfall the team has suggested, Sanderson told the Sun-Times.

And then there’s this, too:

The team’s position that it’s not seeking public financing for the stadium project is a head-scratcher:

“Essentially, they’re saying, ‘We’re not going to ask for public money for the stadium, but we are going to ask for other money to build next to it.’

“In the end, somebody is going to have to fork over something like $2 billion to build this facility. I don’t care what euphemism is used, but it’s $2 billion.”

So, you see, the public is going to pay for this new stadium one way or another. And it shouldn’t. If this ancillary development was such the be-all and end-all, the Bears organization would be paying full freight in anticipation of grand profits.

Do keep all of this in mind as the Pittsburgh Steelers, if not the Pirates, too, start to make similar noises when, in a few short years when their respective stadium leases, are up, they begin pestering their political benefactors for public help of some sort to improve or replace their previously taxpayer-funded playgrounds.

And while the public will say “Buncombe!” on the way to just saying NO!” – or at least it should — there should be little faith that the pols – squeezed and greased and ready to squeal for “The Cause” — will grow anything resembling a spine.

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