Obviously, there are some differences between a city-funded facility for a double-A minor league baseball team and a state-funded stadium for a triple-A team, but Joseph De Avila’s Wall Street Journal article on the Hartford Yard Goats caught my attention yesterday because it illustrates some of the perils:
Hartford, a city of about 124,000 residents that is facing a fiscal crisis and a high poverty rate, is on the hook for $68.6 million in bonds issued to cover most of the construction of Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
Mayor Luke Bronin, a Democrat who opposed the stadium but is now reluctantly dealing with it, said the ballpark alone will never generate enough money to pay back the debt. The original idea was that surrounding development will generate funds to pay off the loans and bring in additional tax revenue for the city.
Given the incentives and structure of government, advocates for some big expenditure have a narrow objective to get a project approved. They just need some authority — whether an elected official or an electorate passing a ballot initiative — to give the go ahead. Then, decision-making enters a weird realm beyond the reach of the people actually paying the bill, but with a those in charge obligated to continue on the public behalf.
So, we start out with promises and grand visions and wind up scrambling just to make something work without loosing too much money.
Mr. Bronin plans to borrow $20 million in bonds in the coming weeks to cover a shortfall in the city’s budget, and next year the city is already projecting a $65 million deficit.
Despite the challenges, Mr. Bronin said: “There is no question it’s better for the city to have a baseball park than a vacant parking lot.”
Why is there “no question”? Hartford is now borrowing money for operating expenses. That’s insane. Unfortunately, many people have a vision of government in which it is a means of doing things that really make no sense at all.