Super Bowl XLVI is history. The sight of a 53-year-old woman unsuccessfully trying to dance and act like she was 21 is but a vague, creepy memory. The commercials, thank goodness, are forgotten. What remains is the National Football League's insatiable greed for taxpayer subsidies. What always remains is the greed.
Buffalo, Erie County and the state of New York are about to again fall victim to this greed. Oddly silent in this heist of public tax dollars are voices that seem to be concerned about the inequality of wealth in the United States. We are scolded about the inherent evil of the "1 percent," the need to pass the "Buffett Rule" and making millionaires pay their "fair share."
But when it comes to the greed of the NFL, Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Occupy movement seem to find taxpayer funding of millionaire sports teams uninteresting. In fact, in Buffalo the Occupy movement could be called "Occupy Buffalo, Occupy Wall Street but don't Occupy Ralph Wilson Stadium."
The Buffalo Bills want upward of $200 million from the city, county and state to renovate the stadium. This is a staggering figure given that Buffalo is one of the poorest cities in the nation, our city school system is crumbling almost beyond repair, our infrastructure is deteriorating, our mass transit system is imploding, taxes are among the highest in the nation and the college educated are fleeing the area in droves.
We are not alone. A few recent examples include the Minnesota Vikings, which claims to need $300 from the state of Minnesota and $313 million from the city of Minneapolis to rebuild the Metrodome at a cost of close to $1 billion. The St. Louis Rams want approximately $60 million to renovate Edward Jones Dome. This is in addition to the $153 million the city, county and state already owe.
Greed is not limited to the NFL. To build a new baseball stadium for the Miami Marlins, the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County taxpayers are responsible for almost $500 million. Even Memphis, a city as poor as Buffalo, years ago spent $250 million to acquire an NBA franchise.
Professional sports teams sell the public a myth that building a new stadium, or refurbishing an old one, creates more economic wealth than it costs the taxpayers. This is simply not true. Numerous studies have shown that there is no economic payoff. Certainly the lack of any economic activity around Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park over the last 40 years is an indication the myth is untrue. Since 1973, the only real economic activity has been the building of a Tim Hortons coffee shop, which is attributable more to the South Campus of Erie Community College than the stadium.
The main benefit, to quote a Memphis socialite who was promoting the Memphis Grizzlies, is " there will be benefits to our self-image." Self-image is elusive and not easily quantified. Is our self-image worth $200 million of taxpayer money in addition to the previous hundreds of millions we've already spent on the Bills? I think our self-image is better enhanced by keeping more of our tax money in our own pocket and deciding how to spend it in our own best self-interest.
There is a solution, but it becomes reality only if Cuomo, Schumer, Gillibrand, our congressional delegation and the Occupy Wall Street movement decide to take relatively easy steps to reduce income inequality. The solution? First proposed by former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Stop Tax-Exempt Arena Debt Issuance Act would create federal legislation to prevent public money from being used for professional sports teams. Moynihan understood that subsidizing multimillionaire team owners and millionaire players is wrong. Schumer and Gillibrand should understand this, too. To work, it has to be a federal law to prevent franchises from playing one state or municipality off against another.
Passage of this law would end a small bit of corporate welfare. Are Schumer, Gillibrand, Cuomo and the Occupy movement really interested in taking steps toward ending the inequality of income in the United States, or are they just showboating? Do they want to end the greed, or do they agree with Gordon Gekko, who infamously stated in the movie "Wall Street" that "greed, for lack of a better word, is good." Why don't we all write them and see what they have to say. After all, it is our money.
Remy C. Orffeo, a resident of Orchard Park, is a professor of Business Administration at Erie Community College and a freelance writer who has published business case studies in "Decision Making in Business."