Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bonds & Bondage: Indentured To The Sports Entertainment Cabal

The parade of boosters continues. The chairmen of Johnson Controls and Briggs and Stratton, and the former chief executive of Bucyrus International feel Investing Public Money In A New Arena Is A Smart Bet. Seeing as all three are millionaires, I'm curious how much of their own money they'll be betting? [Just an aside: the belief that their is a smart "bet" is actually what is known as the gambler's fallacy - "When an individual erroneously believes that the onset of a certain random event is less likely to happen following an event or a series of events. This line of thinking is incorrect because past events do not change the probability that certain events will occur in the future." With regards to stadium and arena building, history shows us these are not economic catalysts, to believe the latest construction is going to be "the one" is delusional.]

Robin Vos has called on the city and the county to "Step Up Their Game." The $50 million they've proposed thus far, just isn't enough according to Vos. The city and the county need to offer more corporate welfare to the Bucks billionaire owners.

Even the Commercial Association of Realtors is actively lobbying legislators in favor of more public funding for a new arena. But they're just hoping for a commission on the imagined new units in the area that they'll be able to sell. Too bad, according to the state's proposal, much of the development could be exempt from taxation. Add that to the fact that these are mostly low-wage jobs and most can see this is not a "good bet."

State Representative John Nygren also feels Milwaukee Needs To Commit More Money To New Arena. His main reasoning is that other cities have been blackmailed out of a higher percentage of the total project costs, hence, Milwaukee should put up the same amount of welfare as other cities. He cites flawed and inflated research from other boosters. But the ruse comes crashing down when Nygren writes, "The arena alone provides thousands of jobs and the gross dollar impact of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, both direct and indirect, on the Milwaukee metro area totals $204.5 million annually. However, should we do nothing, taxpayers are still left on the hook for $120 million in maintenance costs and debt related to the Bradley Center." How can anyone claim the Bradley Center is the huge economic driver and money-maker if after all its "greatness" since being built in 1988 it still owes $120 million (debt plus repairs)? Maybe it's time to get out of the stadium subsidization business. If it's so profitable, why are we in debt $120 million because of it?

It's a wonder the Moderne was constructed and all the redevelopment of Pabst City has occurred despite the fact that we haven't had a new arena. How necessary is all this money for an arena? The area is growing despite the "old" Bradley Center and the perpetual cellar-dweller Bucks.

I should note, I'm not saying public financing should never be used on projects. But it is one thing to build housing, provide good jobs, and redevelop blighted areas, it's quite another to subsidize billionaire sport team owners.

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the actual cost to the taxpayers, including debt service, could be as much as $488 million. Other monies include: $150 million will be from the new owners; Herb Kohl would kick in $100 million; and $220 million in bonding would come from the State.

Tax-exempt bonds are a loophole that has allowed sports stadiums to get a giant federal tax break for nearly 30 years. Bond buyers don't have to pay taxes on their earnings. President Obama's latest budget would bar the use of tax-exempt bonds to finance professional sports facilities. Just like the good little party and plutocratic shill he is, Paul Ryan Opposes Obama's Plan To Bar Tax-Exempt Arena Bonds. Sometimes you really have to wonder if our elected representatives have Wisconsin's best interest at heart or just their paymasters'.

Bruce Murphy, in numerous articles analyzing the subject, wrote about a Secret Tax Subsidy Society. Basically discussing how most of the details of the costs are hidden from taxpayers until it's too late. Murphy has even opined Bucks Owners Must Build Without A Subsidy. Here Murphy highlights the fact that other cities (only a few) have actually built stadiums with complete private financing, while also pointing out that the Bucks owners are billionaires and can afford to build the stadium. He also notes, "A study by University of Michigan professor Judith Grant Long found that, in recent years, the average public-private partnership has saddled cities with 78 percent of the cost and the teams with 22 percent. In 2010, she found, 121 professional sports facilities in the five major sports leagues required $43 billion in investments in new construction or major renovations."

In looking deeper into the State's plan for funding a new arena, Murphy discovered some disturbing facts:
Though the deal as revised by legislators calls for the state to provide $150 million in funding and the city and county to cough up as much as $100 million, in addition to providing a huge tax exemption to the Bucks, the “sports and entertainment district” spelled out by Gov. Scott Walker’s administration gives all control of the district to the state. It calls for 11 board members, with nine appointed by the governor, one by Milwaukee’s mayor and one by the Milwaukee County Executive. The language calls the sports district a “local government unit,” but the overwhelming majority of state appointed board members leaves no real power to local governments in Milwaukee. When asked, Walker’s spokesperson Laurel Patrick offered no answer as to why the board membership was structured this way.

The proposal also fully protects the state’s investment, noting that “if the team breaks or otherwise fails to fulfill its obligations under the lease, the professional basketball team would have to pay the state an amount sufficient to retire the state appropriation obligation issued for the sports and entertainment facility.” But there is no such protection for any investment provided by the city or county. Patrick offered no explanation for why the proposal offers protection only to the state...

Then there is the matter of the proposal’s lavish tax exemptions for the Bucks. The language of the proposal is quite sweeping, calling it not an NBA arena, but a “Sports and Entertainment District,” and specifying that a property tax exemption will be extended to “parking lots, garages, restaurants, parks, concession facilities, entertainment facilities, transportation facilities and other functionally related or auxiliary facilities or structures.” It would appear that nearly anything the Bucks owners develop in the area is going to be exempt from property taxes.

It was hardly coincidental that when the Bucks owners made their recent announcement of a $500 million, downtown development plan they called it a new “sports and entertainment district” and a “dynamic entertainment district (that) will serve as a destination that draws the people of the region together.” It suggests that the owners and Walker made sure each was using the same language. Indeed, the Bucks’ proposal for an entertainment district calls for building a separate “state of the art” practice facility, a 60,000 square foot public plaza and a new parking facility. By a neat coincidence, the state proposal for the district specifically awards an exemption for a practice facility and “parks” like the public plaza the Buck plan to build. Additionally, any “restaurants” or other “auxiliary facilities or structures” would be tax exempt...

In short, Walker will assure the estimated $10 million in state income taxes on ballplayers isn’t lost, but has created legal language that allows the Bucks a massive property tax exemption. Not only will the $500 million arena be tax exempt, but so will the beer garden, practice facility, public plaza, probably any Bucks apparel and merchandise shops and who knows what else? Assuming everything within the entertainment district will cost at least $700 million (a very conservative estimate) and figuring that value times the current property tax rate of $29.97 per $1,000 of value, that would equal a property tax payment of nearly $21 million per year, meaning local taxpayers would lose far more in tax revenue than state taxpayers would gain. Over the likely 30-year life of the arena that’s a total property tax exemption of $629 million. (That might be a high estimate as property tax assessments for new buildings are often set below construction costs. On the other hand, I’m applying the current tax level for all 30 years of use, while the buildings’ value and taxes are likely to rise over time.)...

The proposal’s language also specifies that the “income of a sport and entertainment district would be exempt from the state corporate income and franchise tax.” This language is very broad and would seem to include anything the Bucks develop under the banner of an entertainment district. Given the state corporate income tax of 7.9 percent, this exemption could be huge and wipe out most of the $10 million in annual income taxes Walker says he wants to protect.

It’s almost comic to hear state legislators repeat the mantra that the city and county must contribute to the Bucks because they will benefit from this huge development coming downtown. In fact, they are getting nothing but a massive non-profit eating up acres of developable land that will now be stricken from the tax base, and at a time when Downtown has become a magnet to new businesses. For the city, county, Milwaukee Public Schools, Milwaukee Area Technical College and Milwaukee sewerage district, this will represent a huge loss of property taxes that could have been paid by business, residential and retail development. This tax exemption is so far-reaching it leaves no way for the city to create a Tax Incremental District to finance a contribution to the proposed arena because no taxes will be collected in the district.
On top of all this, an American City Business Journals report found, "Milwaukee and Green Bay are among 20 markets where total personal incomes (TPI) were deemed to be insufficient for their existing teams, let alone any new franchises. TPI is the sum of all money earned by all residents in a given year." The report, "Analyzed the income bases of 83 major markets across the United States and Canada. It investigated whether those areas have the financial ability to adequately support their existing teams in baseball, football, basketball, hockey and soccer -- and determined whether they have the wherewithal to support new teams."

The promises are false, the costs are high and the jobs are bad. Sounds more like a stupid bet to me.

For Further Reading:
A Public Plan
Drowning in Delusions
Loot, Loot, Loot For The Home Team
Nudging Away Nonsense
Professional Sports Subsidies
Should Cities Pay For Sports Facilities
Stadium Subsidies
Subsidy Resources
Welcome to Walmart
Basket Case 
Buck The System 
Buck You 
Economic Engine Or Albatross? 
Is There Anything A Stadium Can't Solve? 
Overblown Bradley Center Impacts
Stadium Swindle
More Bradley Center Bull
Bradley Center Booster Keep Pounding That Drum
Will Herb Kohl Blackmail Milwaukee?

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