Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Arguments for the ballpark

I'd like to take a minute to address some of the criticisms of the plan for the new Marlins ballpark. Opponents to the plan center their argument around two basic premises. The first is that the money could toward more worthwhile things like education, mass transit, etc. And the second is that public funds should not be used to help private business.

There is no doubt that despite the many positive aspects of living in South Florida, there's a lot of things that need to be fixed. The abysmal traffic situation is one and the pathetic state of of public education is another. The argument that all of those millions of dollars could be put to better use is a seductive one. I mean how important is a ballpark when the future of our children is at stake? But it's also a dishonest argument that implies that problems with education and other quality of life issues in the county are due to lack of funding.

To put a point on it, the ballpark is budgeted at $515 million. The team is on the hook (pardon the pun) for $155 million. The balance will be paid with public funds ($347 million from the county and $13 million from the city of Miami). Consider that the city of Miami funds would never be funneled toward education since administering the public schools is a county function. Also consider that $50 million of the funds were earmarked for a renovation of the Orange Bowl which has now been demolished. Also consider that a large proportion of the public funds come from tourist taxes that are earmarked for convention and development projects.

But for the sake of argument, let's say all $360 million of the publicly committed funds could be instantly channeled into education, for example, what impact would they have?

Before you answer, consider that in 2006, the budget for Miami-Dade Public Schools was approximately $6.1 billion. The school system serves approximately 350,000 students. That means the public school system is spending in excess of $17,000 per student. Perhaps we should be looking elsewhere to find the source of the education problems that plague us. As I've said here before, can anyone prove to me that NOT building the ballpark will solve the problems our community faces?

You might be thinking that $360 million is still a lot of money. And of course it is, to ham and eggers like you and me. But in relative terms it's less than 6% of ONE YEAR's education budget. Consider that the ballpark will be around for 30 years. Assuming the county's education budget doesn't grow by one penny (a crazily conservative assumption) over those thirty years the county will spend $183 billion on education. The one-time public contribution of $360 million to the ballpark project represents 0.2% of that figure.

In short, the public contribution for the ballpark is minuscule compared to what we spend on the troubled public programs in our county.

The other argument is that we shouldn't spend public funds to "line the pockets" of private business. While the first argument is an appeal to emotion and ignorance, this one is an appeal to envy and indignation. But the truth is that at all levels of government private business is subsidized or given tax benefits because it's generally accepted that when businesses do well, the public does well.

Now I'm not a big fan of subsidies, especially at the federal level because a lot of has to do with social engineering (like subsidizing corn ethanol which is a money loser and is driving up the price of food). I have no problem with tax breaks for corporations but honestly I'd like to see lower across the board tax rates for corporations if not the complete repeal of corporate taxes. But that's a discussion for another day. My point is that in the real world we help out individual businesses when we feel the benefit outweighs the cost.

That's why we build county facilities like the airport to serve private businesses like the airlines. That's why we build a performing arts center that can be used by private organizations that produce such entertainment.

And the last example is an important one because baseball (or any sport) is no less (or no more) a of a form of entertainment than the opera or the ballet. An opera company is a private organization, with executives and employees, etc. Just because the such organizations tend be legally categorized as non-profits and don't generate the type of revenue a ballclub generates doesn't mean that there aren't private citizens living well off of them.

The last thing I'll leave you with is this. What the Marlins owner, Jeffrey Loria, is asking for is not outrageous in the sense that most of the other owners he's competing with have the benefit of playing in ballparks that were at least partially publicly financed. That leaves their clubs with more money towards the bottom line. In other words he's competing against teams that are publicly subsidized. As baseball fans we cannot ask him to behave like other owners when it comes to signing players and spending money on payroll when we don't give him the same tools that those other owners have to work with.

By blocking this stadium, we would give up the right grouse about fire sales and low salaries. And we'd also be cutting off our nose to spite our face because without a new ballpark, baseball will not be here much longer. It will come back, sure. I can envision us building a brand new ballpark, completely financed by the public, costing $750 million or more, a couple of years down the line to bring an expansion team here. And what of the generation of kids that grew up rooting for the Marlins?


The Cantons said...

I am a true Marlins fan living in Port St. Lucie. What is not being realized is that there are Marlins Fans throughout Florida, not just in Miami. For me, to make the trek to Dolphin Stadium weekly is not possible, and to make it further, to the Orange Bowl, will drop attendance even more. The stadium will be in the ghettos of south florida where we might get shot leaving the game at 11pm.
The fish would be welcomed with open arms to the Palm Beaches or the Treasure Coast where they have fans that will come to games!

Henry Louis Gomez said...

First of all your characterization of the Orange Bowl area as a ghetto reveals that there's something more than distance bothering you about the new stadium location.

Secondly your assertion that that "The fish would be welcomed with open arms to the Palm Beaches or the Treasure Coast where they have fans that will come to games!" is plainly false because your area has not to date made a serious offer to fund the stadium the Marlins need to be successful.

The fact is that if you are a true fan, you will drive the extra 30 minutes to see the games. You will also know that because there is a roof on the stadium that the game will not be cancelled or delayed. In the current situation you can make your trek down and it's a gamble.