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Give voters the final say on baseball stadium subsidies

John C. Mozena
John C. Mozena
The Oakland Athletics played the Texas Rangers at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California, on Friday, May 12, 2023. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

When it comes to pro sports stadium subsidies, politicians across the country have demonstrated that they’ll ignore their own constituents in favor of listening to well-funded lobbyists. That’s why Nevada’s voters should have the final say in any potential subsidy for a new Las Vegas baseball stadium.

The American model of government means that either elected officials or voters get the final say in stadium subsidies, and we’ve seen both options in action within just the past month.

The first was April 26, when county councilors in Nashville, Tennessee, voted 26-12 to approve a $1.25 billion subsidy deal for a new Tennessee Titans NFL football stadium. Unfortunately, they made this decision despite polling from Vanderbilt University showing that their constituents opposed the deal by a 52 percent.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Tempe, Arizona. voted last week on whether the local government should subsidize a new arena and surrounding development for the NHL’s Coyotes. They ended up rejecting the $100 million deal by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin.

This raises an obvious question as the debate over the use of public money to build the proposed A’s baseball stadium plays out in Las Vegas. Why should Clark County taxpayers deserve less of a say in a stadium subsidy deal than voters in Tempe or places like Albuquerque, St. Louis, San Diego, Long Island or elsewhere around the country where local citizens have had the opportunity to decide that the promised benefits of stadium subsidies aren’t worth the costs to their communities?

Why should Nevada’s taxpayers be put in the same position as New Yorkers, who saw a widely despised billion-dollar stadium subsidy for the Buffalo Bills get jammed through the legislature? In fact, the Bills’ subsidy wasn’t just unpopular among New Yorkers as a whole; it would even have been a loser among voters in the heart of “Bills Mafia” country of western New York.

An April 2022 Siena Research Institute poll found that 63 percent of voters across the state opposed the subsidy, with only 24 percent in favor. Meanwhile, both opposition and support were more pronounced among western New York voters, with 65 percent against in the region to just 31 percent for the deal. Despite this, legislators included the subsidy in the state budget at Gov. Kathy Hochul’s request.

Americans — even passionate sports fans — are beginning to realize just how much of a racket the stadium subsidy game has become. We’ve gone from the “biggest stadium subsidy ever” record being set by the Raiders’ $750 million Allegiant Stadium deal in 2017 to the Bills breaking the billion-dollar barrier last year, to a new $1.25 billion record being set in Nashville last month

At the same time, we’ve also seen team after subsidized team fail to deliver on “economic development” promises in places like Atlanta, Detroit, Louisville, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere across the country. The real-world evidence against these stadiums delivering more in benefits to communities than they impose in costs has gotten to the point where a University of Chicago survey of the nation’s most high-profile economists could only find a single one who thought subsidies might be worth it. On the other side, seven Nobel Prize winners were among the 83 percent of expert economists who rejected stadiums’ “economic development” claims.

Faced with this history and this evidence, there’s no principled reason for voters not to have the final say in Las Vegas baseball stadium subsidies. The only reason not to give that choice to voters would be that if the powerful interests who stand to benefit from public stadium funding are concerned that the public might reject the deal, which means they want to protect the ability to impose costs on Nevada’s taxpayers whether or not they want to pay the price.

That’s not how things are supposed to work in America, and it’s not how this deal should go down.

John C. Mozena is the president of the Center for Economic Accountability, an independent and nonpartisan think tank working for state and local economic development policy reform across the United States.


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