May 20, 1997

(No stadium tax vote was held in Metro Denver in 1997.
However, there will be such a vote in 1998.)

When you want the government to do something, you just have to feel good about it. No matter how much the government might botch its attempt to right a wrong, all proponents of government action have to do is claim the moral high ground and remind us of the nobility of their cause. The louder and longer they talk, the more media attention they attract, the more money their lobbying organizations can collect, and the more votes their sympathizers in public office receive on election day.

When you want the government to abstain from something, far more patience and intellectual ammunition are required. It is much tougher to attract media attention and win over elected officials to your way of seeing things. Explanations of why the government should abstain from this or that crusade are generally more detailed and not as easy to, say, fit on bumper stickers.

Such is the challenge facing opponents of the one-tenth of one percent sales tax increase which is proposed as a means of financing a new stadium for the Denver Broncos. Amendment 1 to the Colorado Constitution forbids tax increases without voter approval. Thus, the Colorado House of Representatives created the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, which is composed Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson counties. The proposed tax will go into effect if a majority of voters in these counties vote for it this November 4.

It is easy enough to sell such a proposal with emotional pleas about how the Broncos may leave Denver if voters reject the tax. The challenge of stadium tax opponents is to sell people on the following three ideas:

1) It is possible to build a stadium without raising taxes. Citizens Opposing the Stadium Tax (COST), a Denver organization formed to, well, fight the proposed stadium tax, cites several examples of this. Owners Robert Kraft of New England Patriots (who, excuse me, made it to the Super Bowl after the 1996 season) and Jack Kent Cooke (recently deceased) of the Washington Redskins have vowed to pay the entire cost of their new stadiums; the Carolina Panthers' stadium in Charlotte was privately financed through the sale of seat licenses; San Diego is financing a new stadium through stadium revenues; Baltimore is financing a stadium for the Ravens out of lottery proceeds.

2) A stadium tax would constitute welfare for the rich. Where is the morality in taxing someone making $5.60 an hour in order to build a Taj Mahal for someone making $3 million a year? It is bad enough that the welfare state has made it economically attractive for millions of people to remain in poverty and, worse yet, to persist in reckless and self-destructive behavior. Now, millionaire team owners have found a way to dodge the hard choices that are part of daily life for those of us who earn our living competing in the free market: shift part of the overhead to someone else so they can keep paying $3 million a year to some third-string offensive lineman or some utility infielder who can't hit his weight. If you object to the salaries paid to today's athletes, you need to oppose stadium taxes because they make it that much easier for owners to continue to pay these salaries.

3) Whether or not the Broncos leave, a "no" vote on the stadium tax will send a powerful message to owners throughout sports. Hey, I don't want to see the Broncos leave either. (Although my NFL loyalties lie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, I probably root for the Broncos nine or so times in a 16-game season.) Consider this, though: If voters around the country start rejecting stadium tax proposals (or even voting out of office legislators who support such proposals), teams will not always be able to up and leave town the night after the election. There are only about 40 metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada capable of supporting big league sports franchises. (Green Bay is the exception rather than the rule.) Pro sports teams will always gravitate toward these markets. Denver is such a market.

It is surprising that, with all the conservative furor in recent years over taxpayer funding for the arts, taxpayer funding for sports arenas has not been similarly attacked. After all, some people are just not sports fans, so why should they have to foot the bill for entertainment which is of no interest to them? Also, why should millionaire (and some billionaire) team owners and millionaire athletes be entitled to leech out of the public trough. If someone in Denver's Five Points or South Central Los Angeles has a guaranteed taxpayer-subsidized livelihood, we call it welfare. Why shouldn't we apply the same terminology to the subsidy pro teams receive from stadium taxes? Finally, must people be forced to bankroll venues for the Dennis Rodmans of the world? (Does anyone know if Rodman's technicolor hair is brought to us by the NEA?)

Liberals, likewise, should oppose taxpayer funding of stadiums on the grounds that it is a blatant example of corporate welfare. There has been silence from the Left as well on this issue.

Sports unite us unlike any other form of entertainment. Sports teams very often attain the status of civic institutions. A good game can spark common interest among young and old, rich and poor, communist and libertarian, Bible-thumper and atheist, Ivy Leaguer and ninth-grade dropout, unlike any other event. One of the great joys of sports fans comes from being able to put aside our political, religious, and any other differences we may have, so we can just be Dodger fans, Bull fans, Steeler fans, and Avalanche fans.

It is for these, and numerous other reasons, that we do not need taxpayer sponsorship of sports arenas. Sports attracted broadly based interest long before the idea of taxpayer sponsorship ever occurred to anyone. Undoubtedly, sports would continue to attract such interest, as evidenced by millions of voluntarily paying spectators, long after taxpayer subsidies were removed. The Broncos can figure out other ways to finance a new stadium. Denver area voters should vote no on this tax proposal on November 4.

Paul Allen, the other Microsoft zillionaire, was recently named by Forbes as the world's sixth wealthiest man, with a worth of $14.1 billion. Mr. Allen wants to shake down all the Joe Sixpacks and soccer mom's of suburban Seattle with $325 million in new taxes to subsidize a new home for the Seattle Seahawks.

Let's crunch numbers: $14.1 billion minus $325 million leaves $13,775,000,000. Tell me why he cannot build a stadium with his own money.

Home page of Citizens Opposing the Stadium Tax

Freely Speaking: Essays by Doug Newman

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