My home state of Connecticut has been known as “The Constitution State.” This month, Republican Governor John Rowland and Democrats Kevin Sullivan, President of the State Senate, and Tom Ritter, the Speaker of the House, shattered that moniker by ramming through a special session of the legislator a massive taxpayer subsidy to lure the New England Patriots football team to Hartford.
Adding to this enormous giveaway, that will cost at least $700 million for a new stadium, cleanup of toxics, relocation of businesses and other guarantees of luxury suites, training facilities, parking etc., was a nauseating dictatorial process and future shutout of the public during the numerous permit application periods.
The two-party collusion of Rowland, Sullivan and Ritter shattered any voice for the people in the rushjob of a one day hearing followed by legislative enactment on December 15th of a bill nobody was able to obtain copies of right up to the day of the vote.
If interested citizen groups had obtained a copy of the 70 page bill, they would have known why it was kept from the public. Citizens are shut out of the environmental and other permitting process. State agencies have no more than 60 days to review enormous details and grant the permits. Key financial and business information given to the state by the Patriots corporation is secret from the very public that is paying all the bills and guaranteeing the profits.
The autocracy of the Rowland, Sullivan, Ritter dictateers even extended to this level of outrage — the hearing for citizens began at 7 p.m. and Patriots lobbying firm paid 20 people $8 per hour to stand in line
early and then give way to their replacements who then took their three minutes each to boost the deal. Other citizens were far back in the line and many were not even given their three minutes. The solons didn’t want to hear about crumbling schools and clinics.
The incoming Speaker of the House, Moira Lyons, earlier called Professor Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College, to come and testify. When he arrived, she did not make room during the afternoon for his testimony and declined to even recognize him standing in the crowded hearing room. He waited and waited and then gave up to return to his evening class.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his political friends celebrated after passage. They drank champagne and laughed joyously for a project that one citizen called the single biggest redistribution of wealth from the little taxpayers to the superrich in Connecticut history. But the corporate welfare Kings and their political vassals may not have the last laugh.
In the projected four years before opening kickoff, the full costs of the project will be revealed. The many conflicts of interest, the pathetic lack of any real net jobs (10 Patriot games a year!), the environmental problems, and the 30 year drain on the state of Connecticut — already possessing the highest per capita debt level in the country — will flesh out this White Elephant.
These New England Freeloaders even got the politicians to give them a $1 15 million stadium remodeling fund and control over the receipts of all other events during the year.
Speaker Ritter beat back a rebellion by some in his own Party who wanted to retain the stadium naming rights.
I suggested that if the stadium ever is built, it should be called “The Taxpayers’ Stadium.”
But the odds against this whole Rowland, Sullivan, Ritter sweetheart deal are heavy. There are federal regulatory and constitutional questions that should take this deal to the courts. Boston will want its own team, if the Patriots move which will swell further the red ink dimensions of the Hartford scheme. Because this scheme relies on many thousands of fans coming down from the Boston area to fill the 68,000 seats.
All over the country, these corporate welfare Sports Kings are grazing, shaking down cities and strutting their arrogance. They may see boomerangs with their vast over-reaching in Hartford and other impoverished cities. The figures don’t begin to add up to their paid accounting firm projections.
The thorns attached to the Rowland –Kraft agreement–secretly concluded last month in an airplane hanger near Plainville, Connecticut, will only become more apparent in the coming months.