We’ve talked for years about how taxpayers subsidize baseball stadiums via tax exemptions for the owners, bonds or direct expenditure of tax dollars for the construction and operation of sports facilities. The fact such things exist is not exactly controversial, even if the reason for their existing is. No one actually claims, outside of a couple of examples, like San Francisco and some of the older parks, that ballparks are not at least in some ways subsidized by taxpayers.
But Yankees President Randy Levine. Does. Or at least he wants you to believe that and is willing to tell you that up is down and black is white in the hopes that you do.
That is apparent in Michael Powell’s interview with Levine in the New York Times. An interview in which Levine actually tries to argue that Yankee Stadium is like some mom and pop shop, built with the elbow grease of businessmen like himself as opposed to the dollars of taxpayers:
Mr. Levine opened our discussion with a big play.
“There are no subsidies,” he said.
He folded that hand soon enough. According to the city’s Independent Budget Office, the stadium received about $270 million in federal tax-exempt financing. There was an additional $58 million for the parking garages, which the Yankees don’t own but from which they benefit.
“The bonds don’t cost the city or the state anything,” Mr. Levine said. “It costs federal taxpayers all over the country.”
That might not comfort a taxpaying plumber in Tulsa.
The city and state gave the Yankees a $40 million sales tax exemption on their construction costs. Mr. Levine argues that the stadium now generates sales tax, which is true but is beside the point. Most women and men start businesses without government subsidies and pay sales tax.
Levine goes on to argue that other public assistance to the Yankees — the building of a train station, the granting them public parkland to build Yankee Stadium and the subsequent construction of another park to replace it — are all things that are good for the public. Gifts to them, even, that he sort of implies they should thank the Yankees for. In this Levine sounds like one of those crooked Enron executives who argued that liabilities on balance sheets were actually assets.
Powell is having none of this and explains how all of these things and many other aspects of the construction of Yankee Stadium were clearly functions of, in essence, public welfare. A spending of public money that many if not most people were no doubt happy with, but a spending of public money all the same. The issue isn’t whether it was a good idea to do all of this — people can totally think it was — it’s whether or not it was, in fact, a gift. All of which, Powell, points out, is rather rich when you hear Levine rail against revenue sharing as some sort of abhorrent form of socialism.
Which is pretty typical of the class of people who hang with Levine. Welfare? The use of tax dollars to assist others? Public works? Bah! That’s socialism! Unless of course they need it, then tax dollars freely given are just part of the genius of capitalism.