1. Opinion

Daniel Ruth: In stadium quest, taxpayer funds should benefit taxpayers

Well slap me silly and call me Sally!

This is, uh, awkward. I have found myself in the unusual position of being in complete and utter agreement with the ultra conservative, deep-pocketed Koch brothers, the SPECTRE-like rulers over the Republican Party.

The Kochs operate a chin-rubbing organization called Americans For Prosperity, which has begun airing a digital ad decrying the use of public monies to build sports stadiums for other multi-millionaire captains of industry.

The issue is particularly acute in our fair hamlet as the Tampa Bay Rays are eying Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood as the ideal spot to relocate from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

It is estimated a new Rays stadium could easily cost between $500 million and $650 million. And if you think team owner Stuart Sternberg is going to pay for a new facility out of his own pocket, well then you probably also believe former Rays bust Toe Nash is a lock for the Hall of Fame.

As the Rays inch closer to a potential move, the chatter has increased over who will be on the hook for paying for a new ballpark, which is really little more than a euphemism for — that would be you.

That brings us to the Americans For Prosperity social media spot, which decries public financing for these sorts of projects as "corporate welfare." Which it most certainly is.

The Koch group is also encouraging citizens to write their local governments protesting the use of taxpayer monies to help finance what amounts to a private business' factory.

And the matter of public financing of sports facilities is especially touchy here in Tampa. Over 20 years ago, taxpayers agreed to divert a portion of the Community Investment Tax to underwrite the costs of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Hellooooo Sucker Stadium after being fed a load of claptrap how the new stadium would be such an economic godsend to the area.

As well, the tax was partly sold on the basis of a fib told by the late owner of the team, Malcolm Glazer, that he would pay for half of the construction expenses.

But Wanna Buy A Duck Field has only economically benefitted the Glazers. And the patriarch reneged on his going Dutch promise.

There has been some talk that "No, no, no, a thousand times no 'taxpayer dollars' would be used to help the Rays realize a new stadium. Never! No how! Nada!"

But at the County Center, the idea has been floated to possibly use funds generated by increasing the bed tax paid by visitors to the area from 5 to 6 cents. And there has been some chit-chat about perhaps dipping into increased taxes from community development areas (or CRAs) to help the team.

However both these sources, no matter how hard you try to parse the language, are still "taxpayer" monies. Or put another way, a tax, is a tax, is a tax. And taxpayer funds should ultimately be used to benefit the taxpayer, not a multi-multi-multi millionaire who did not have a gun put to his head forcing him to buy a baseball team.

You could certainly make a fair case that government can do some things to assist a sports franchise that wants to build a new home — street improvements, sewer lines, re-zoning issues. Fair enough.

And, let us not delude ourselves. Does anyone doubt if the Kochs owned the Rays they, too, might be having quiet discussions among Tampa's political officials about seeing their way clear to help out a couple of struggling moguls build a new stadium? Forgive the cynicism.

So best of luck to the Rays as they embark on a new season. But let's not forget that when it comes to professional sports franchises in Tampa Bay, for taxpayers it is always the season for giving, and giving and ....