It never seems to stop. Impoverished American cities can't find money for schools or transit but pump hundreds of millions into sports facilities owned by billionaires.
Last week it was Atlanta's suburban communities subsidizing moving the Braves out of downtown. This week it's an audacious move by departing Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the New York Yankees for a few hundred million dollars in subsidies for a new soccer stadium next to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
The Yankees have an unmatched record in filching taxpayer dollars to enrich their bottom line. The new Yankee Stadium was a $4-billion boondoggle with tax gimmicks, fake property assessments, and direct cash subsidies. We now have an edifice that rivals the Roman Colosseum in grandeur, and a Yankee franchise that has zoomed in value as a result. But there's no money for rebuilding the transit system or schools or parks.
The latest is a deal that Bloomberg and the Yankees are trying to put together before Bloomberg is replaced by Bill de Blasio on January 1. It's for a new soccer stadium for a team co-owned by the Yankees and Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, and the owner of England's prestigious Manchester City soccer franchise. His personal wealth is estimated at around $25 billion. His family worth is around $1 trillion. The subsidies he's seeking are around $300 million.
It's a complicated deal with street closures and buyouts of local businesses being negotiated by Yankee President Randy Levine. But at its heart is a combination of greed and a sense of entitlement of magnificent proportion.
To some extent words fail me. By what measure should taxpayers be asked to pony up to benefit two of the richest persons in the world? What are the best priorities for use of public money in a city whose schools and mass transit systems cry out for repair and investment? Who the hell is in charge of this kind of stuff?
In Atlanta, much to its credit, the tea party is leading the opposition. In New York, there really isn't a functioning tea party presence. So this is going to land in the lap of Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. Bloomberg is apparently being cute about it and wants to sign a deal and give de Blasio thirty days to ratify or reject it.
De Blasio brings impeccable progressive credentials to this battle. His key initiative in the mayoral campaign was a proposal to increase the millionaire's tax and use the money for universal pre-K. He's been heralded as the avatar of a progressive resurgence in politics and government. Bloomberg's gift to him is to make his first high-profile decision a choice between more big subsidies to wealthy business interests or criticism for killing a big sports deal. Thanks, Mike.
De Blasio has little real choice. On the merits and on the politics, he's got to show up on the side of rational economic policy, where any public investment must show a clear public benefit. Sports subsidies never do. And he needs to be seen as making a clear break with the failed subsides of the past, with a focus on the needs of middle-class, working families and the poor. In fact, he ought to embrace the opportunity to say "no" to greed and waste.
So our two champions for rationale economic policies are the tea party and America's most progressive mayor. This could be the start of something big.