Public subsidies for billionaires
In a recent episode of The Simpsons, Monty Burns wins control over a professional basketball team and moves the franchise to Springfield. He then convinces the town to build him a new arena. On opening night, he tells the crowd: “Welcome to the American Dream: A billionaire using public funds to build a private playground for the rich and powerful.”
Sound familiar? If not here’s a quote from today’s Toronto Star:
Jim Balsillie will seek public funds to renovate Copps Coliseum if he scores an NHL team for Hamilton. The BlackBerry billionaire would foot the bill for initial upgrades, estimated at about $30 million, to get the arena ready for a team. But when it comes to a long term overhaul of the city-owned facility, which could cost upwards of $150 million, Balsillie would ask Hamilton to “work with the two upper tiers of government to seek infrastructure funding,” said his spokesperson Bill Walker.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge hockey fan and would love to see an NHL franchise go to Hamilton. The NHL’s experiment in expansion to southern US cities, where it does not even snow in winter, has been a disaster, revealed by the ongoing recession.
A facility and team that will ultimately charge big bucks for anyone to attend a game should not be financed by taxpayers. It is a nice reminder that everytime the state spends money it is income in someone’s pocket. Most of the time, government spending is progressive, financing income transfers to those in need and providing good-paying jobs in the public sector, as a recent study by Hugh Mackenzie and Richard Shillington for the CCPA points out. But it is extremely regressive for government to foot the bill for (again, in the words of the Simpsons) “a decadent monument to excess” that subsidizes a billionaire owner, plus senior executives in corporations who will buy boxes (they get subsidized twice over by not having to pay tax on the gain of attending these games, with the companies being able to write off the expense against income) and the merely affluent who can afford to attend the games.
Don’t even get me started on the Olympics.