The sporting life — with public money

The sporting life — with public money

It was in an 1824 letter to his acquaintance William Ludlow that Thomas Jefferson said it best:

“I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious.”

Pittsburgh knows that all too well. But past is prologue in the erstwhile Steel City. Just witness what’s going with the latest brain flatulence of bureaucracy, the SEA Sports Commission.

The commission was created last August but just received its formal marching orders – its bylaws and guidelines — from the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA).

It says the new commission, expected to be up and running in July, will be charged with attracting all manner and size of sporting events to the city, “from Super Bowls to Little League tournaments,” the Post-Gazette reminds.

But why can’t the SEA do that on its own?

And what about the already existing SportsPittsburgh, the offshoot of VisitPittsburgh, the tourism group?

Let’s see, that’s one, two, three other groups – two of which have the word “sports” in their titles – that could be, should be, doing the job.

But we need yet another raid on the public kitty – this time to the tune of up to $1.7 million annually – to get the job done?


Mary Conturo, the SEA’s executive director, told the P-G that a key purpose of the money is to help fund sporting events interested in Pittsburgh. The commission, she said, is looking for “high-quality sports events that drive economic activity to the region.”

But why should the public help bankroll – up to $75,000 per event – any sporting event?

State Sen. Wayne Fontana says “It’s about economic development, economic stimulation to our economy.

But the only proper “stimulation” is what any event, “unjuiced” with public dollars, brings to an event through ticket sales, hotel stays and the ancillary purchases of meals and this-whats and what-nots.

Curiously, part of the criteria for a group getting public dollars is “sustainability of events.” But by definition, shouldn’t such events be sustainable without being handed public checks of up to $75,000?

Sounds like the kids who declare their independence from Mom and Dad but only with that parental money still flowing to them.

By the way, the Sports Commission board is packed with, you guessed it, SEA board members. And it even has a seat for the state senator who raided gambling taxes to shake loose commission funding.

And don’t you know it, there already are plans to expand the five-member commission board to who knows what number.

Oh, did we forget to mention that 25 percent of this latest bolus of public dollars will help pay for capital repairs to already heavily taxpayer-funded PNC Park, Heinz Field, PPG Paints Arena and, of course, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center?

And 5 percent of the annual allocation will go to the SEA to administer this latest cluster cluck. Everybody gets a cut, you see.

It was during a March 2, 1930, radio address that soon-to-be president Franklin Roosevelt reminded that if we “do not halt this steady process of building commissions and regulatory bodies and special legislation like huge pyramids … we shall soon be spending many billions of dollars more.”

Or in the case of the new SEA Sports Commission, the annual confiscation of up to $1.7 million in public money better not spent and returned to the public.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (