The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports today that a group that is against public funding for stadiums — they’re actually called “the Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums” — is giving the city of St. Louis hell over the fact that it apparently isn’t keeping tabs on whether the Cardinals are keeping the promises they made to the city when Busch Stadium III was built.
Of specific interest: whether owners who sold shares in the team were, as they were required to do, pay the city back the money they received in tax abatements. There were apparently sales — team President Bill DeWitt sold some of his shares as did others — but no collection of the putatively required taxes. Why? It’s unclear. The city and the Cardinals say it wasn’t owed. The Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums says that’s not true, and the article at least suggests that the Coalition is right.
I’d normally be inclined to believe the city — since when does the government not try to get all the taxes it’s owed? — but in this case there is reason to doubt. Why? Because the city has apparently never asked the Cardinals to keep track of such things or any of the other promises they made such as the furnishing of free tickets for charitable purposes and the like. When the media finally started asking about free tickets and other things the Cardinals eventually reported — on the honor system, it seems, not pursuant to any standard auditing — that they were holding up their end of the bargain there. The taxes situation is, well, still a little gray.
I don’t know what’s going on here and I don’t have any reason to believe the Coalition people over the city or the team. The Coalition may be a bunch of loony tunes. To the extent we know about what the Cardinals have done pursuant to the stadium agreements, they have performed. But the fact that no one at city hall is keeping tabs on this and that no one knew anything until some angry citizens group and the newspaper started asking questions is troubling to me. Oversight and good bookkeeping always seems to fly out the window when governments get into the ballpark business. They’re fans too. They get a little star struck. No one wants to be seen as hounding a local institution like the Cardinals.
Which of course is yet another reason to keep governments out of the ballpark business.