when is corporate welfare, not?

Apparently when it is (proposed to be) happening in Seattle, and the corporation in question is the NBA:

When we rejected previous arena proposals, ultimately leading to the [Sonics'] departure, it was because we collectively determined that keeping the Sonics was not worth the price being asked. This deal is better. It's not perfect. It's not free. But it's a helluva lot less costly and less risky to taxpayers than anything we've seen before or anything we're likely to be offered in the future.

The fact that when it comes down to dollars and cents this deal is likely to be better for Chris Hansen and his partners than it is for taxpayers is beside the point. If we want the Sonics (and possibly an NHL franchise too) it's gonna cost us something. The decision council members have to make is whether this cultural amenity is worth the price of admission, or whether we're going to continue to hold out in the hope of an even better deal.
To be fair to Goldy, he opens his post by saying that he's "not yet taking a position" on the arena proposal. But I can't help but think the only reason he doesn't seem to see any deal that involves taxpayer financing as the massive public subsidy to private, for-profit business that it is, is that asserting so would put our resident cantankerous liberal on the same side of an issue as the editorial board of the Seattle Times.

I think his blind spot is made apparent earlier in his post:

That said, one could make the same claim about taxpayer investments in parks, libraries, museums, opera houses, zoos, and other public amenities. Yet all of these investments collectively improve our region's overall quality of life, even if most taxpayers don't avail themselves of all of them.
Parks and libraries are free and accessible to everyone. Transportation infrastructure benefits everyone, whether you use it directly or not. Ditto public education. I'm just going to quote myself from the comments section:  If you pay $50+ to make use of a facility, and the overwhelming majority of that money goes into the pockets of team owners, the league, and Ticketbastard...IT IS NOT A PUBLIC AMENITY.

Look, sports are great. I think it would be dandy if Seattle had an NBA and/or NHL team. I'm all for it. But let teams and leagues buy the land and build the palatial arenas they require themselves.


Mr. D said...

Yes, yes and yes. Wish more people in Minnesota saw it this way.

Bike Bubba said...

It's worth noting that most of the great public works of the past in this country were privately funded. Examples in my native Chicagoland include the Brookfield Zoo (still private), the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum, and Wrigley Field.

Of course, sports fans back in those days actually were working men watching other working men play the game. It would be a nice change to have that again.

Brian said...

The way I see it, you can roughly divide stuff that governments tend to invest in into three tiers:

1. Obviously public stuff: transportation infrastructure, essential utilities (water/power), parks, public schools.

2. Stuff that has intangible public value, generally run not for profit, probably worth subsidizing if you can afford to do so, but the costs of which should be mostly borne by the people that really use them: arts programs, museums, zoos, etc.

3. Stuff that has intangible public value and possibly adds value to the local economy, and runs at a profit: high-end arts companies, professional sports teams. Government really shouldn't be subsidizing for-profit enterprises.

That's not a perfect scheme (are airports 1 or 3, for example?) but I think in general, that works pretty well. The problem with Goldy's post (and a lot of other people) is that he completely conflates the three categories.

More to the point, I don't think sports teams are a marginal case.