Stimulus Bill’s Stadium Ban Mysteriously Erased

With the economy in the toilet, it sure looks good when local governments shell out 80 million billion dollars (number may not be accurate) on new sports stadiums, doesn’t it? For a brief moment last week, it looked like the era of publicly funded stadiums had screeched to a halt. But in the dead of night, some mysterious figure made sure that your tax dollars will still be going toward hot tubs in New Yankee Stadium.

Stadium Construction

The senate version of the stimulus bill included an amendment specifically banning any of the money from going toward stadium construction. But by the time the legislation made it to President Obama’s desk, the wording had changed; the amendment was out. And there’s nothing stopping that trillion dollars from paying for your local arena, rather than the billionaire owners.

Who killed the stadium amendment? Let’s investigate, after the jump.

The amendment was originally proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who’s been against the bill from the beginning. In an attempt to more narrowly define where the money could go, he inserted a clause reading:

None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.

Well, the arts lobby understandably didn’t like museums or theaters being lumped in with golf courses and casinos. So they put their influence to work, including a phone call from Robert Redford to Nancy Pelosi. The result: in the final bill passed, only casinos, aquariums, zoos, golf courses and swimming pools remained ineligible for funds.

So why did stadiums make the cut? They’re certainly not as educational as zoos, nor as community-oriented as swimming pools, nor as healthy as golf courses. It all goes back to the debate over whether a sports team can give back to its neighborhood.

It’s still raging, with a Richmond columnist specifically calling for stimulus money to fund a new baseball stadium. As he points out, WPA funds were used to construct or refurbish stadius around the country, including Alamo Stadium in San Antonio and Doubleday Field in Cooperstown.

Then there’s this survey of economists, in which 85 percent say that government subsidies should be elimated. The money quote:

I have been studying and writing about publicly financed stadiums for more than 10 years and cannot name a single stadium project that has delivered on its original grandiose economic promises, although they do bring benefits to team owners, sports leagues and sometimes players.

So what’s the lesson in all this? That whether it be in the commissioner’s office or the president’s office, the fan/taxpayer/ordinary citizen always loses.