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Doug Robinson: Stadium is fielding money — from us

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 6 2007 12:07 a.m. MST

"Just remember, it's not a lie, if you believe it." — George Costanza

I wasn't overly alarmed when a Deseret Morning News headline announced last week that the funding of Dave's Big Soccer Stadium will cost much more than we were originally told.

Gee, what a shock. Who saw that coming?

Try to think of Dave Checketts and his eager band of developers and Sandy city flunkies as car dealers. Now we've reached that point when it's time to pay for the car, and they're telling us the hidden costs — tax and license fees, interest on the loan, delivery price, extras (oh, you wanted FOUR tires!) — they neglected to mention earlier.

When it came time to finalize the funding details for the soccer stadium last week, someone finally got around to mentioning that it will cost more than the $45 million as advertised — it will cost another $28 mil in interest, bringing the price tag to, ka-ching!, $73 million.

OK, we know there are always going to be interest payments, but it's strange that they never bothered to mention this before and that they always told taxpayers their cost would be $45 million.

You gotta love these guys (but not really). First, they're turning to the governor and his wife to ram the deal through against the wishes of the public, a county mayor and a couple of auditors, then it turns out they were telling us less than the truth about the actual price.

Oh, well, that's just the cost of doing this dirty business, and what's another $28 mil to make Dave, the Legislature and our first lady happy?

Anyway, what really caught my eye was when a guy named Randy Sant — Sandy's economic development director and head cheerleader — tried to ease the pain of this hidden expense by saying, "I think when we show them what's going to be developed around there, we'll show them it's going to be a great economic development tool."

OK, class, who still believes the old fairy tale that public funding of athletic stadiums means "economic development"? Oh, please. That tired, old line has been used to justify public funding of stadiums for decades, with nothing to support the claim.

It's the biggest lie since "Check's in the mail" and "I have never used steroids." That myth has been ripped to shreds by numerous experts. University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson once told Jay Evensen of the Deseret Morning News that the only investment with less economic returns would be a cemetery.

Evensen quoted a New York City budget office study that reported, "Research consistently finds that new stadiums do not produce economic growth in metropolitan areas."

Neil deMause, who studied the issue for 12 years, during which time $10 billion of taxpayer money was spent on 50 stadiums, co-authored "Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit." He told a congressional oversight committee, "I have yet to find any independent economists — that is, ones not on the payroll of pro sports teams — who believe there is any significant positive impact to local economies from sports stadiums and arenas."

Just last week a study was released by the National Taxpayers Union that reported, "Publicly funded stadiums are, at best, an inefficient investment of taxpayer dollars for the meager benefits produced and, at worst, massive payments to rich team owners and players at the expense of ordinary taxpayers."

All of which is why in recent years citizens around the country have demanded to vote on the issue and/or have rejected publicly funded stadiums around the country (Utahns were denied the opportunity despite polls that showed they clearly opposed public funding).

Utahns were promised economic development when they spent millions of dollars of public money to build the Salt Palace and the new-and-improved Salt Palace and host the Winter Olympic Games and build Franklin Covey Field. How have everyday Utahns benefited in any practical, tangible way from these investments? Utah has the fourth-largest burden of state and local taxes in the nation. Did you see your property tax notice this month?

Here's the way it works: Taxpayers foot the bill for publicly funded stadiums so a handful of people can make a lot of money and everyone else lives check to check.

If team owners and politicians (Gov. Jon Huntsman, Greg Curtis, John Valentine, Tom Dolan, etc.) are going to force their pet projects on us, they should at least stop insulting our intelligence by saying it will be good for economic development. It will be good for Dave Checketts.


Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. Please e-mail drob@desnews.com.

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