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Brodsky Commentary : The Tea Party is Right But...


WBEN News  
& Opinion  

Former NYS Assemblyman Richard Brodsky is a long time liberal who now works as a senior fellow at Demos, a think tank focused on the economy and the middle class. 

As heard on Sunday's Hardline program, (Click here to listen) he writes that the left and the right have uniited at least in one case, and possibly more often in the future,  over opposition to public subsidy of sports:

The Tea Party Gets It Right (Part 2): New York's Yankee-Soccer Boondoggle vs. de Blasio

It never seems to stop. Impoverished American cities can't find money for schools or transit but pump hundreds of millions into sports facilities owned by billionaires.

Last week it was Atlanta's suburban communities subsidizing moving the Braves out of downtown. This week it's an audacious move by departing Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the New York Yankees for a few hundred million dollars in subsidies for a new soccer stadium next to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

The Yankees have an unmatched record in filching taxpayer dollars to enrich their bottom line. The new Yankee Stadium was a $4-billion boondoggle with tax gimmicks, fake property assessments, and direct cash subsidies. We now have an edifice that rivals the Roman Colosseum in grandeur, and a Yankee franchise that has zoomed in value as a result. But there's no money for rebuilding the transit system or schools or parks.

The latest is a deal that Bloomberg and the Yankees are trying to put together before Bloomberg is replaced by Bill de Blasio on January 1. It's for a new soccer stadium for a team co-owned by the Yankees and Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, and the owner of England's prestigious Manchester City soccer franchise. His personal wealth is estimated at around $25 billion. His family worth is around $1 trillion. The subsidies he's seeking are around $300 million.

It's a complicated deal with street closures and buyouts of local businesses being negotiated by Yankee President Randy Levine. But at its heart is a combination of greed and a sense of entitlement of magnificent proportion.

To some extent words fail me. By what measure should taxpayers be asked to pony up to benefit two of the richest persons in the world? What are the best priorities for use of public money in a city whose schools and mass transit systems cry out for repair and investment? Who the hell is in charge of this kind of stuff?

In Atlanta, much to its credit, the tea party is leading the opposition. In New York, there really isn't a functioning tea party presence. So this is going to land in the lap of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. Bloomberg is apparently being cute about it and wants to sign a deal and give de Blasio thirty days to ratify or reject it.

De Blasio brings impeccable progressive credentials to this battle. His key initiative in the mayoral campaign was a proposal to increase the millionaire's tax and use the money for universal pre-K. He's been heralded as the avatar of a progressive resurgence in politics and government. Bloomberg's gift to him is to make his first high-profile decision a choice between more big subsidies to wealthy business interests or criticism for killing a big sports deal. Thanks, Mike.

De Blasio has little real choice. On the merits and on the politics, he's got to show up on the side of rational economic policy, where any public investment must show a clear public benefit. Sports subsidies never do. And he needs to be seen as making a clear break with the failed subsides of the past, with a focus on the needs of middle-class, working families and the poor. In fact, he ought to embrace the opportunity to say "no" to greed and waste.

So our two champions for rationale economic policies are the tea party and America's most progressive mayor. This could be the start of something big.

The Tea Party Gets It Right: Atlanta's Baseball Boondoggle

One of the more intriguing "what-if"'s of American politics is to wonder what the Tea Party would have looked like if it hadn't been bought and paid for by Dick Armey and the Koch brothers. Whatever credibility the movement could have earned vanished when it took that money and became an arm of the Republican/corporate/austerity movement. At the beginning, there were elements of the Tea Party that viewed corporate dominance as a threat to liberty and democracy equal to the threat of big government. Tea Party populism could have been balanced and non-partisan. Imagine that.

Rumblings from that genuine populist element of the Tea Party just resurfaced in Atlanta. The local suburban Republicans came up with around $600 million in taxpayer money to move the Atlanta Braves from downtown to the suburbs. "Economic development" trumpet Cobb County Republicans.

"Nonsense," says Atlanta Tea Party leader Debbie Dooley.

"It's all 'appalling hypocrisy' and 'arrogance,' particularly from the four Republican commissioners who pitch their conservative credentials and champion the idea of a free market. Dooley and other tea partiers typically associate active, expensive government with Democrats, but it was the commission's lone Democrat who cast the only dissenting vote," according to an AP story.

Well, well. These kind of deals for wealthy sports team owners remain simply awful wastes of public money. The teams do not need the subsidies, there is almost no economic benefit to taxpayers, and the use of tax exempt bonds is probably illegal. The mother of all such boondoggles was New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's $3 billion giveaway to the New York Yankees, a deal which incentivized the demolition of the venerable old Yankee Stadium and built a marble and granite edifice enshrining waste and greed. And just when the economy bottomed out. So now the Yankees charge thousands of dollars for a seat for a single game, most middle-class New Yorkers can't afford to go to games, the value of the Yankee franchise has skyrocketed, and New York's City's schools, subways, parks and roads are all facing austerity cuts because we have no money. I'll leave the A-Rod and Cano contracts for some other time. If you want to read about that deal in detail, click here.

It's not just the waste that's appalling, it's the way in which the political establishments of cities all over America become the lackeys of sports magnates. Grown-ups turn into adolescents when professional sports comes a-calling "Many Cobb business leaders back the plan, and they were vocal at the series of hastily arranged town hall meetings ... Supporters wore T-shirts paid for by Cobb business owners. They read: 'Come to Cobb: Home of the Braves.'The spirited residents waved foam tomahawks..." Try those kind of tactics when you're lobbying for building new schools and see where it gets you.

The Tea Partyers aren't backing down. "They're exploring a range of legal options, from lawsuits to petitions to oust the commission. Whether it's Republicans, Democrats, whatever, what's going on here is that the chamber of commerce types run the county, and the politicians are doing their bidding."

It's worth pausing and imagining a national Tea Party movement that was as tough on banks, and corporate excess as it is on food stamps. Our liberty and prosperity are as much affected by the power of large corporations as they are by large governments. Coalitions are built on that kind of thinking.

It's also worth asking the budget conferees trying to jumpstart a budget deal in Washington to end federal interest subsidies for these kind of deals. There is absolutely no national economic interest in subsidizing the move of the Atlanta Braves from downtown to Cobb County, and we could save hundreds of billions in wasteful tax expenditures if we stopped these kind of deals.

Two interesting and important "what-ifs." Let's see what comes of it.

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