A’s, pro-A’s Vegas politicians try to Friday News dump a bad stadium bill

Don’t believe what sports teams and their political allies say about stadium financing on a normal day, never mind on a holiday weekend Friday news dump.

This article is free for anyone to read, but please consider becoming a Patreon subscriber to allow me to keep writing posts like this one. Sign up to receive articles like this one in your inbox here.

​It seems pretty clear that the A’s and their allies are up to some nonsense in their quest for a taxpayer-funded ballpark, and not just because every taxpayer-funded ballpark is some level of nonsense. They didn’t just submit a bill on a Friday before a holiday weekend because the current Las Vegas legislative session ends in early June: they were also doing what everyone does when it comes time to try to push through something unsavory, and attempting to hide it by limiting the audience for it.

Luckily, Neil deMause wrote up the various issues with the bill over at Field of Schemes on Saturday, the most pressing of which is that the $375 million in tax dollars (paid out in various forms, which deMause broke down) is most assuredly a lie, while the $380 million “cap” is just a cap on the kind of tax dollars they’re publicly disclosing. There’s room to go well over $500 million here, and both the stadium and the land it’s on will be exempt from property tax. And, as discussed before by deMause, the tax increment financing for the stadium will create new taxes even if those taxes aren’t directly being handed to the A’s:

One of the more common public funding mechanisms for stadium deals, or development deals in general, is tax increment financing, or TIFs. The way this typically works is that a city or county or state draws a circle around a project (how big around can vary, more on that in a skosh) and decrees that any new property tax revenue from the project will, instead of being used to pay for schools and roads and police and all the things that a new development typically requires, be handed right back to the developers to help pay off construction costs.

Fisher is seeking the rarely employed mega-TIF, wherein every tax dollar owed from within an as-yet-to-be-determined stadium district, whether from sales taxes, property taxes, or any other taxes, would go right back to paying off a share of the team’s construction costs. This could be tricky, as Nevada law appears to only allow property taxes to be bundled into a TIF, but presumably any new state legislation for an A’s stadium could include authorizing new forms of tax kickbacks.

The selling point of TIFs is that they allow developers to claim that the subsidies require no new taxes… But that’s not actually true: Since not all tax revenues from a TIF district are new to the region (some money spent on A’s tickets would otherwise have been spent elsewhere in Vegas) and since projects come with not just tax revenues but fresh expenses (see the aforementioned policing costs, etc.), what you typically end up with is a project that cannibalizes the local government budget while leaving the public with new costs and no way to pay for them other than either raising taxes or cutting services.

Basically, the A’s will be taking tax dollars from other entities within the district that would have utilized them, which will mean those other entities will need new taxes in order to replenish their own coffers. And even if Vegas didn’t actually enact any new taxes, well, that just means any public buildings in the area won’t have the budget they used to. So the city will get a stadium and a baseball team and have less money to spend on everything else that’s more important, like schools and roads.

That exemption from property taxes is an issue, too, considering A’s owner John Fisher would absolutely, as is the style of the time, develop all of the land around the ballpark he owns, not just the specific land the stadium sits on. Opening up other businesses, free from property tax, to further increase his profit, and be able to do so in a way that can be claimed is non-baseball in origin even though that said profit only exists because of the baseball team he owns and the sweet land deal it granted… that’s the dream, to do one thing and pretend it’s another, more innocent thing.

There’s also the matter of the state-of-the-art clause, which the bill does not include, but the bill does say that the ballpark lease that would inevitably come from the bill’s passing must include one. The state-of-the-art clause would legally bind Vegas, Clark County, the state of Nevada, whichever, to have to fund stadium upgrades over the life of the lease, or else the team could bolt for whichever other city is willing to throw taxpayer dollars at the A’s, just like is happening now. Which is to say, they wouldn’t be locked in to their new park or city like the Rays have been the entire time they’ve been threatening to move after 2027, which has allowed St. Petersburg plenty of leverage in negotiations since they could just remind the club they’re stuck in the Trop until then.

So, this is more like over half-a-billion in taxpayer dollars, at least, exemption from property taxes for both the stadium and whatever other businesses John Fisher opens up around it, and the A’s being able to hold the city, county, state, whichever hostage to pay for future upgrades to the stadium, which would be both costly and also whenever the A’s can feasibly claim they need them. Which is to say, it’s certainly not $375 million or a cap of $380 in public funds, no matter how many local politicians had a hand in crafting the bill.

Visit my Patreon to become a supporter and help me continue to write articles like this one.