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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Corporate Welfare – Stadiums

The recent orgy of forcing taxpayers to subsidize the multi‑millionaire owners of sports corporations shows no signs of abating as cities grovel to outbid one another. The bids normally range between $200 million to $400 million packages and the give­away contracts do not require any share of profits or any other kind of payback to the taxpayers.

Always, Mayors and Governors justify these forms of corporate welfare as producing jobs. But the cost to the taxpayers of producing a few jobs is tremendously inefficient; the same money, if it is to be spent, could be spent to much better uses and paybacks.

Last month in Cleveland, Ohio, the City Council by a vote of 13 to 8 approved a proposal to spend over $200 million (other estimates by Roldo Bartimole, a local investigative reporter put it over $400 million) for a new football stadium to house a new football team in place of the Cleveland Browns who were moved by their owner to Baltimore.

The Council’s debates had more than a tinge of the pathetic. Council member, Helen K. Smith, who opposed the deal, asked how could this amount of money, plus the loss of tax revenue averaging $17 million a year, be taken from the needs of Cleveland’s neighborhoods and financially strapped schools.

Now briefly switch to another contemporaneous scene in Cleveland. The day before the Council gave away the store, Cleveland School officials released a budget reduction plan that wiped out interscholastic athletics in the city’s high schools. Superintendent Richard A. Boyd declared that “The Cleveland public schools are in the worst financial shape of any school district in the country.”

Before you leap to the “Roman Circus” analogy, wait! It gets worse. This stadium give-away is the fourth major Cleveland corporate welfare extravaganza. These are the upper income servicing retail complexes built on the backs of middle and lower income Cleveland taxpayers for enormously wealthy developers with “a-take-it-or-leave-it” imperiousness. The city politicians get on their knees, with the Mayor leading the kowtowing, and say “anything you want, our masters, name your price.”

Again, Councilwoman Smith put it concisely: “I’ve been in this Council the better part of 16 years, and every year the mayor [first Voinovich and now White] says that [Cleveland’s neighborhoods] will be his priority next year. So Gateway was the priority, Society Center was the priority, Towner City was the priority, and now this is the priority.”

What’s going on in Cleveland is going on in cities large and middling throughout the country. Corporate socialism is running amok! Developers, factories, mall builders, sports teams and other corporate welfarists are bleeding the local tax base dry, while small businesses and homeowners pay the bills.

These shameless corporations are rich and powerful and have their avaricious hands in the public trough, buying or bullying local politicians to give in to their demands. What a mockery of private enterprise!

Every week brings news of another corporate takeover of public policy. In 1990, the California Air Resources Board, to fight smog in the Los Angeles basin, gave the car companies eight years (until 1998) to start selling 2% of their vehicles electrically powered. On March 29th, the Board surrendered and repealed its mandate, under massive pressure by the too-coordinated auto industry.

On April 1, the Taco Bell company placed full page ads in major newspapers picturing the cracked Liberty Bell above the headline “Taco Bell Buys the Liberty Bell”. It will now be called the “Taco Liberty Bell” to help reduce the country’s debt.

Enough people believed this ad to flood the company with outraged calls. After all, corporate logos are appearing everywhere and on everybody who buys shoes and clothes these days. Well, it was an April Fools joke, a satire, Taco’s CEO told me, on the overcommercialism of our times.

It is nice to see any corporate executive with a satiric sense of humor about a sad reality.

But the Cleveland city council had its own inadvertent satiric statement. In the woefully one-sided contract between the National Football League and the City, the city council wrung from the League the concession that the team, and not the city, would have to provide lawn mowers and snow blowers at the stadium. Whew, there is some fight left in these politicians, after all.