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Can Worcester Really Support the PawSox?

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PawSox Hearings Giving Troubling Insight into Officials’ Thinking

The final Senate Finance hearing about the proposal for a new PawSox stadium in Pawtucket, as reported by Kate Bramson of the Providence Journal, has a couple of details that ought to be warning signs to Rhode Islanders with respect to the attitudes of government officials in the state:

[Pawtucket City Commerce Director Jeanne] Boyle said city payments could be made in early years from money set aside in a capitalized-interest account from bond proceeds. She said the city could also assess a fee on property near the stadium so some additional money would flow into the city’s general fund right away.

If this is correctly reported, then it’s new.  Up to now, the hints that we’ve heard have been that the city might expand the tax increment finance (TIF) area around the stadium so that more taxes would go to the stadium.  Ultimately, that’s just a sneaky way to force an increase in taxes without immediately blaming it on the development.

This sounds like a direct tax on businesses and residents around the stadium under the assumption that they’re profiting somehow from the stadium.  That would be a terrible way to go.

On a different matter, consider this evidence that Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton Senator James Seveney isn’t really representing his own constituents:

… Sen. James A. Seveney pinpointed that the legislation says money from a surcharge on premium tickets (in corporate suites, for example) might help the state pay off its $23-million contribution. But as it is written, the legislation doesn’t allow that for the city’s payments.

“Maybe that should be in yours,” Seveney said, to which Grebien responded: “We’d gladly take that. Having said that, it was very difficult negotiations.”

Seveney continued: “I’m not too worried about the state’s position, and I’m not worried about the team’s position. I think they’re going to be fine. I am worried about you guys.”

Why is an East Bay senator more concerned about Pawtucket taxpayers than about the liability of the people who elected him?  Sure, we should care about Pawtucket’s problems, but Seveney is essentially putting forward his constituents as a cash cow.

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About the Other Stadium…

Tim White raises an important point that seems to have been avoiding discussion related to the PawSox deal:

If approved, there will be another cost associated with building a new stadium in downtown Pawtucket to host the PawSox: tearing down McCoy Stadium.

The city of Pawtucket owns the land that 75-year-old McCoy is on, and officials have indicated there are no plans to keep the ballpark if the PawSox leave, whether by moving across town to the proposed Apex site or out of state.

The options on table range from likely to certain to require more government money and debt.  Rebuilding the high school on the spot will mean a big bond and a state taxpayer fund match and still leave the city with a plot of land to repurpose or dispose of.  A private buyer would probably negotiate and receive subsidies for some part of the property redevelopment.  Or just leaving it alone will mean a tax-free chunk of land in the city.

Whatever the final ask for the new stadium is, don’t forget that the project isn’t done with taxpayers, yet.

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Talking Yourself into Too Much Debt for Baseball

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.

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State House Report with John DePetro, No. 4: Flanders in the Outside Lane, Ruggerio on the Inside

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, the topics were Robert Flanders’s play for the U.S. Senate, Raimondo’s tuition talking point, and Dominick Ruggerio’s insider senate presidency.
Click full post for audio.

I’ll be on again Tuesday, April 11, at 2:00 p.m.

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Political Football

Trump wins again.

On the largest sports and media stage in the world, several news outlets somehow got it into their heads that Brady’s sole responsibility wasn’t to concentrate on football and lead his team to a fifth Super Bowl title. No, he also had a moral responsibility to denounce his friend and golfing buddy, Donald Trump.

In their attempts to put Brady and the team on notice about their problematic friendship, the media somehow managed to convert former Patriots haters into fans. Because while few institutions are more hate-able than the Patriots, the media is definitely one of those institutions.

Obviously, we New Englanders don’t hate the Pats and it’s not our fault the rest of the country – or the NFL offices – can’t handle their success (but those of us who grew up as Yankee-haters do sorta get it!).

That being said, the week leading up to the Superbowl saw Brady, Belichick and Kraft join the ranks of other celebrities who have fallen afoul of the media moralizers.  “Spineless Feminist” Taylor Swift came in for criticism when she didn’t attend the Women’s March on Washington.  Fellow Diva Lady Gaga has now fallen afoul of the Progressive Prudes for not properly politicizing her Superbowl Halftime show. “[I]t’s disheartening to watch someone with so much heart (and guts and spleen) stare down a moment of this magnitude and blink.Twitter was full of lefty media types gloating over the Pats performance and correlating the blowout to their support for Trump.  Karma or something.  But then at least some of those tweets got deleted once the Pats won.

Here’s hoping things calm down soon. I don’t think we can take this amped up environment that politicizes everything.  Can we?

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Even Playing Field, Equal Trophies!

At the Rhode Island State Field Hockey Championships on Oct. 30, seventh-seed Pilgrim High School upset the top-seeded Lincoln School to win the Division II championship. It was an outstanding achievement, and the team’s hard work and perseverance was rewarded with the receipt of the traditional championship plaque — well, traditional for every champion except for the Division I champion. For earlier that day, the Division I state champion Barrington High School team received a more elaborate and impressive trophy.

Source: Marc Comtois: R.I.’s ‘second-class’ champions – Opinion – providencejournal.com – Providence, RI

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Rich, Poor, and the Nature of Politics

Basketball star Charles Barkley has hit the news now and then recently with some unexpectedly common-sensible statement or other, and he hits close to the mark when he says:

“All politics is rich people screwing poor people,” he said during the NCAA basketball tournament media day, according to The Guardian.

However, when he elaborates, he slips back into the received wisdom of people who, like him, have “always voted Democratic — always” and emphasizes that Republicans are especially good at “dividing and conquering.”  I think he’s got that exactly backwards, with Democrats’ being especially good at pushing divisive policies and ideas to the point that Republicans look to be dividing the wave by standing firm.

But be that as it may, Glenn Reynolds contributes two key points:

  • When people suggest, as Barkley does, that the poor ought to “band together,” politically, they’re very often rich people hoping to use poor people for their own political purposes.
  • The inevitable use of government to disadvantage the poor is a central reason conservatives argue for keeping as much of society outside of government-related politics as possible.

The second point merits detail.  For one thing, other institutions in society are less prone to total capture by an elite and, in any event, aren’t empowered to force people to do things or to confiscate money from them as government is.  For another thing, when the inherent power of society is divided up across a variety of institutions, even to the extent that they’re all captured by “the rich,” they’re directed by different rich people whose interests might conflict and create a friction that gives the middle class and poor leverage.

The basic principle underlying all this is so simple and obvious as to be axiomatic: Consolidating power helps the powerful.  The more people consent to be ruled by their leaders, and the smaller the group of leaders whom they consent to follow, the more likely the poor will be screwed.

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Stadiums and Economic Activity

With the push for a taxpayer-subsidized minor-league baseball stadium in Providence continuing, this quotation from a 2012 essay in The Atlantic seems like something worth keeping handy (emphasis added):

… according to leading sports economists, stadiums and arenas rarely bring about the promised prosperity, and instead leave cities and states mired in debt that they can’t pay back before the franchise comes calling for more.

“The basic idea is that sports stadiums typically aren’t a good tool for economic development,” said Victor Matheson, an economist at Holy Cross who has studied the economic impact of stadium construction for decades. When cities cite studies (often produced by parties with an interest in building the stadium) touting the impact of such projects, there is a simple rule for determining the actual return on investment, Matheson said: “Take whatever number the sports promoter says, take it and move the decimal one place to the left. Divide it by ten, and that’s a pretty good estimate of the actual economic impact.”

Others agree. While “it is inarguable that within a few blocks you’ll have an effect,” the results are questionable for metro areas as a whole, Stefan Szymanski, a sports economist at the University of Michigan, said.

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MLB Banning Catcher Collisions

Major League Baseball has decided to ban the ability of a baserunner to intentionally collide with a catcher in an attempt to score a run. Personally, I’m in favor of this. It never made any sense to me. If people want to see those kinds of collisions, go watch football. A catcher is all geared up, but his protection is intended to lessen the blow from a baseball, not a 220 pound man charging into him at full speed. The equipment is negligible. Also, why is it an accepted practice to barrel into a catcher like this but no other fielder? Imagine if a runner were able to simply run over a first baseman on a routine ground out? I bet those close plays at first wouldn’t be so close when the fielder is shying away.

Do you like the ban? Or is this a part of the game’s history and should still be allowed?

Here are some examples of the collisions:
Pete Rose vs. Ray Fosse:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Fj2B9z4Dbw
(Fosse, the catcher was never the same again)

Buster Posey two years ago, ended his season:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKCT5mcOmYU

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Shut Down the NCAA

The NCAA handed down a one half of one game suspension for current Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel for taking money for autographs. However, they have a bit of a history with giving out much longer suspensions for lesser offenses. It’s time to shut down the NCAA.

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