Monday, July 20, 2015

A tale of two (Wisconsin) priorities

By Frank Moraes


Kevin Draper over at Deadspin reported, Wisconsin Senate Votes To Give $250 Million To Billionaires. This is in reference to the Wisconsin state senate voting to give a quarter billion dollars to build a new sports center for the Milwaukee Bucks. The owners of the team — Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens — are both billionaires. But that’s the great thing about being rich: you never have to pay for anything. Well, not much anyway. The two of them are going to throw in a total of $150 million dollars. So the actual owners will pay a whole 37.5% of the cost of their new home. And I don’t know the deal, but I assume that these guys are also getting huge tax breaks. So it is questionable whether they are paying any part of this.

Some people will claim that this is a great thing for Wisconsin to do. You know: the Bucks will bring in all kinds of money to the area. But as David Cay Johnston has noted in Free Lunch, the tax breaks and outright payments for sporting venues almost never pay for themselves. The big economic boost that is supposed to take place around the arenas, never comes. Instead, people drive to the events, spend their money at the events, and drive away. There is no spreading out — no trickle down.

What’s more, Johnston has done the calculations. It turns out that if it weren’t for taxpayers providing all the money they do for the millionaire and billionaire owners of the teams, none of the four sports leagues — baseball, basketball, football and hockey — would be profitable. We taxpayers spend $2 billion per year subsidizing all these teams. Obviously, the owners don’t need the money. They own these teams because they like it. But apparently, they don’t like it enough to pay for it. Regardless, as I said: the rich are used to not having to pay for anything.

Johnston noted something else interesting about our 43rd president. He’s a great example of how these things work, “George Bush owes almost his entire fortune to a tax increase that was funneled into his pocket and into the use of eminent domain laws to essentially legally cheat other people out of their land for less than it was worth to enrich him and his fellow investors.” He’s talking about the time that they built a great stadium for the Texas Rangers in Arlington. One of the best ways to make money is to take a team from a crummy venue and move it to a nice one. All you have to do is get someone else to pay for it.

But the case in Wisconsin is particularly interesting. Because just a few days ago, “Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a state budget that includes cuts of $250 million to the University of Wisconsin system, among other cuts to public education funding.” But this is the standard way for the modern Republican Party. Gone is any pretense of what conservatism used to mean. Now it is all about taking from the poor and giving to the rich. We’ve seen this in Kansas recently, where previous tax cuts for the rich blew a big hole in the budget. When it came time to fill in the hole, the Republicans in Kansas raised taxes on the poor.

In Wisconsin, we are seeing the same thing. Education has to be cut! So they have money to give to rich guys who own sports teams. Welcome to modern America.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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