NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

There's No Joy in Mudville, After All

November 10, 2010

From New York to Florida to Arizona, some taxpayers are opposing agreements to fund baseball projects after a decades long boom in publicly financed ballparks.  The fights are complicating plans for stadiums, pitting residents against one another and driving some local governments to turn to U.S. stimulus programs, says the Wall Street Journal.

The issue is on display in Mesa, Ariz., where city officials tussled with taxpayers for months over a plan to spend $100 million on a 15,000-seat spring training facility for the Chicago Cubs.

  • The plan won a vote Tuesday, though nearly 40 percent of voters objected to building the park by selling city-owned farmland and raising hotel taxes.
  • Mesa already has cut library hours and other services amid declining tax revenue.
  • Critics say the money could be better spent.

Public support for such projects always has ebbed and flowed.  Some taxpayers recently have been influenced by studies showing stadiums generally aren't the economic boons many thought they were; people would be spending money elsewhere if not at the ballpark, some economists say.

  • In Ramapo, N.Y., officials proposed spending $16.5 million for a minor league baseball stadium and recreation center in an idea dubbed "Project Grand Slam" -- it has been anything but.
  • Voters in August rejected funding for the 3,500-seat stadium for the Canadian American Baseball League, dismissing officials' estimates that Ramapo would receive enough in revenue to repay the $1.3 million annually in debt payments.

Ramapo officials say they will consider issuing Build America Bonds, taxable municipal bonds that carry federal subsidies.  The bonds generally are targeted for government construction projects, such as roads, bridges and schools.  The U.S. refunds more than one-third of the interest costs to states and local governments.

In Sarasota, Florida, Build America Bonds also are financing a spring training facility.  Sarasota, critics say, can't afford the stadium expenses, as it lays off workers, teachers and police, and cuts services to offset some $40 million in declines in real estate taxes.

Source: Ianthe Jeanne Dugan, "There's No Joy in Mudville, After All," Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2010.

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