Ballparks, Corporate Welfare; Why the D.C. Baseball Deal Strikes Out

Article excerpt


How did Mayor Tony Williams decide that D.C. government should get in the business of entertaining its citizens as opposed to educating them, and providing other essential public programs and services that benefit D.C. residents? Mr. Williams' plan for $383 million in public money to bankroll a stadium to lure a profit-motivated, monopoly entertainment corporation like Major League Baseball is corporate welfare run amok.

Art Modell, former owner of the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns and beneficiary of a taxpayer-financed stadium deal to relocate his own franchise, once told reporters, "The pride and presence of a professional football team is far more important than 30 libraries, and I say that with all due respect to the learning process."

This is proving to be the civic philosophy of Mr. Williams. In a city with a 37 percent functional adult illiteracy rate, the mayor's public giveaway offer for the "pride and presence" of a baseball franchise continues to rise, while the District's 27 woefully underfunded neighborhood libraries have fallen to 51st out of the 50 states and the District (according to Hennen's American Public Library Ratings). Mr. Modell must feel prescient.

Last year, a few public meetings were held by representatives of the mayor and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission to discuss the benefits of the stadium plan. Residents saw through the stale promises that a stadium would pay for itself. The plan was hammered for its excessive public financing; diversion of tax revenue away from the general treasury; disruption and displacement of residents; the mostly low-pay, low-benefit seasonal job creation; and the likelihood that most D.C. families would not be able to afford tickets while the favored ownership group, reportedly worth $3 billion, would enjoy a financial windfall on the backs of those families.

Independent economists agree that stadiums do not boost the economy, as Mr. Williams claims, but rather divert tax revenues from other areas. As Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist wrote last year, "There are very few fields of economic research that produce unanimous agreement. Yet every independent economic analysis of the impact of stadiums has found no predictable positive effect on output or employment. Some studies have even concluded that there is a possible negative impact."

This year, as baseball's infamous game of pitting cities against each other for the best taxpayer-squeezing deal wears on, Mr. Williams continues to encourage baseball's pathological greed. …