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Opinion: Opposition to Public Stadium Funding Benefits Taxpayers

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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)

 

In a positive move for Virginia taxpayers, candidates in the commonwealth's gubernatorial race have expressed skepticism toward using public subsidies to construct a professional football stadium. Even more encouraging, the skepticism came from members of both major political parties. The academic research on stadium subsides shows they lose money for taxpayers, but politicians often cannot resist the fame associated with bringing a team to their state or district.

As a Redskins fan living in Virginia, few things would make me happier than a shorter drive to see the Burgundy and Gold play on Sundays. But my desire for a shorter drive should not come at the expense of my fellow taxpayers.

The candidates' positions on stadium subsidies are especially relevant because the Redskins' lease for FedEx Field expires in 2027. So, it's possible that one or more elected officials could try to force Virginia taxpayers to fund a new football stadium.

It wouldn't be the first time. Last year, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and state Sen. Chap Petersen worked on a legislative proposal to lure the Redskins to the commonwealth using taxpayer dollars. Petersen's proposal would have expanded the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority beyond baseball to finance a professional football stadium. Ultimately, Petersen never submitted the bill to the state Senate and it appears McAuliffe's term may expire before a deal with the Redskins can be struck.

That means the next governor of Virginia will have significant say in whether commonwealth taxpayers are forced to finance a new football stadium.

The candidates should remember the General Assembly faced a $1.2 billion shortfall in the last legislative session. Spending taxpayer money on a football stadium is not only an improper use of limited funds, it would also put Virginia at risk for future budget shortfalls.

Moreover, D.C. and Maryland may be wisely moving in the opposite direction of Virginia on stadium subsides if two local lawmakers have their way. Maryland Del. David Moon and D.C. City Council member David Grosso each introduced legislation this year prohibiting public funds or land to be used for an NFL stadium.

Importantly, the respective bills go into effect only if similar legislation is passed by the three entities in the D.C. area (i.e., the District, Maryland, and Virginia), so no one entity gains an advantage over the others. Unfortunately, the pair did not find a willing legislator in Virginia to join them this year.

The resistance in Virginia may be because some still believe in the promised economic growth from stadium subsidies. But countless examples and studies have shown the gains almost never materialize.

Academic research going back decades demonstrates that cities lose out when subsidizing stadiums. In their book "Sports, Jobs, and Taxes," published two decades ago, economists Roger Noll and Andrew Zimbalist surveyed dozens of stadiums subsidized by local governments. None of the facilities analyzed produced a reasonable return on investment or generated enough additional tax revenue to pay for the facilities.

Professional sports teams should pay to build their own stadiums. If the Redskins, which Forbes valued at just under $3 billion with an operating income of $115 million, believe a new stadium is too expensive, then they can stay at FedEx Field. Regardless, the team should play at a location that best meets the desires of its fans and the needs of its players and personnel - not in whichever locality hands out the most money.

It's time D.C., Maryland and Virginia band together with a multigovernment compact and say no to stadium subsidies. If successful in the D.C. metro area, other states should follow suit and stop letting NFL teams pit cities against each other while taxpayers foot the bill.

J.C. Hernandez is the Virginia state director of Americans for Prosperity. Contact him at jhernandez@afphq.org

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May 7, 2017
 
 
 

 

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