The Post-Gazette comes clean (in a dirty way)

The Post-Gazette comes clean (in a dirty way)

We would be roundly remiss if we did not note, for the record, a mind-numbing and earth-shattering public policy event that took place on Nov. 1.

That was the day the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette admitted – for all to read and in stark black and white – that it was wrong in supporting the taxpayer-funded construction of new playgrounds for the barons of professional sport in the erstwhile Steel City in the late 1990s.

Well, it really didn’t come out and state that. But the words and the sentiment of an editorial that day stating how an honest-to-goodness credible study “would prove” a “meager … economic impact … from pro-sports” in the erstwhile City of Champions just might be the next best thing.

And, yes, we know: We could hardly believe it ourselves.

What appeared to spark the P-G editorial is a two-pronged proposal by three Republican state legislators.

The first prong would order an audit of payments that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates and Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies have made to the commonwealth under their lease agreements in their heavily taxpayer-funded stadiums.

The franchises are supposed to pay $25 million every 10 years (less deductions based on other tax revenues they generate) under their lease agreements.

Prong two calls for an economic impact study by the state’s Independent Fiscal Office to determine what “financial benefits” the respective baseball stadiums provide their cities.

Why the football stadiums were not included, we don’t know.

Notes the P-G editorial:

“For decades, team owners and enthusiastic fans have argued that public authorities generate new economic activity — and therefore tax dollars — by helping ultra-wealthy franchise owners fund their megaprojects. City, county and state authorities believed them. And for decades, researchers have demonstrated time and again that this never, ever works.  (Pittsburghers may also note that one of those owners hasn’t returned the favor by spending money building a good team.)”

Faithful Allegheny Institute readers (and those of the Tribune-Review, where I served as director of editorial pages for 18 of my 22 years there), of course will note that the P-G shilled incessantly and nauseatingly for taxpayer-funded stadiums in the 1990s.

Ahem.

It was the Allegheny Institute and the Trib that repeatedly used, reported on and editorialized on only the very best scholarly research that showed the economic impact of such sporting facilities to be de minimis.

Goodness gracious, if I didn’t know better, I’d say the following spot-on passage from the P-G’s roundabout mea culpa came directly from the many institute policy briefs written at the time, not to mention the scores of editorials and columns this scrivener authored

To wit:

“Sports stadiums and arenas do generate taxable revenue, but that revenue would still exist if the stadium didn’t exist. In most cases, families would use the leisure money they spend on stadium events for other entertainment activities. In other words, stadiums don’t generate economic activity as much as they attract economic activity that would have happened elsewhere, mostly in the same region, regardless.”

Holy smokes!

Continued the absolutely fascinating Nov. 1 P-G editorial (for its 180-degree reversal from 25 years ago):

“In other words, hundreds of millions of dollars of public aid results in hundreds of millions of dollars of private benefit — and maybe a little public boost on the side. Now imagine if the money that the state and county spend on stadiums went into public transportation, or fixing bridges, or improving services for the disabled.”

Or, we are forced to add, left in the hands of taxpayers.

Now, hold on to your hats, sports fans, but that above passage was just the prelude to the P-G’s slam-bam-big finish:

“The owners of the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins paid only a small share of the costs of their current homes. A study that shows how meager the public benefit has been could save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars the next time their owners come to Harrisburg, or Grant Street, hat in hand.”

Call 911! We need to be resuscitated!

Indeed, we are heartened to see that the Post-Gazette, at least in this instance, has shelved the intellectual vapidity that it has so long been known for on its editorial pages.

But, sad to say, it remains intellectually dishonest for the P-G to pen such an otherwise fine and well-written opinion piece without even the slightest hint of its complicity in the very public policy abuse that it now calls out.

Talk about a dirty way to come clean.

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