Will Sacramento Residents Get the Chance to Stop a Massive Stadium Subsidy?

Hundreds of millions for a not-very-good basketball team


Really, you're calling yourself Kings with that record?
Credit: RMTip21 / / CC BY-SA

Sacramento is considering contributing $258 million to a stadium to keep the Kings around (following failed efforts to move the team to Seattle or Anaheim, Calif.), bringing them downtown. By this point, hopefully we know the arguments about sports arena subsidies. The city says the stadium will revitalize the downtown area and spur new development and wealth creation. Critics say the predictions of development are wildly optimistic based on evidence from previous stadium developments and that stadiums really just shift money from one part of the city to another and don't actually cause growth. The Sacramento Bee delved deep into both sides of the arguments today. Read here.

California has a robust – but also complicated – ballot initiative system. Opponents of the subsidy collected more than 20,000 signatures to get a two-part vote on the ballot. The first part would have required all city subsidies for sports arenas to be put up for a vote. Then if that vote had passed in June, the city would then be required to put the Kings subsidy up for another vote. Unfortunately, according to the Sacramento City Clerk, they didn't do a good job at following the law. On Friday, she ruled that the petitions weren't up to snuff:

City Clerk Shirley Concolino ruled that petitions circulated by Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork (STOP) and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal contained numerous violations of state and city elections code. Those deficiencies included the omission of key legal language on the petitions and differences in how nine different versions of the petitions were worded.

"I've never seen a petition with as many flaws as this one," Concolino said.

Sacramento Bee columnist Marcus Breton has been critical of opposition as being funded by "outsiders," as if there was a way to get enough money from "insiders" to fight a city's acts of corporate cronyism from wealthy business leaders unworried about retaliation from Sacramento in terms of contracts, official harassment, or more likely, threats to their own corporate crony deals. We really do need to see an end to the "It's outside money!" argument. It helps give voice to the otherwise voiceless. That outsiders may have additional agendas is not as relevant as critics think. If the anti-arena argument isn't compelling, it will still lose. Money doesn't buy elections, especially for ballot initiatives, but it allows for both sides to make their cases to more people.

Anyway, Breton's latest column, while pointing out that a judge will have the final say as to whether the subsidy initiative will go up for vote, lambasted the anti-arena group for its lack of competence in their efforts:

Left off all the petitions, according to Concolino, was required language notifying all voters that the measure proposed on the petition would be enacted into law if passed by a public vote.

You read that correctly: These Einsteins asked people to sign petitions that never stated what would happen if they signed. Duhhhh.

You might say: People understood that signing the arena petition would lead to a vote whose outcome could become city law.

OK, but how you can we assume everyone knew that?

"Just because people signed (the petitions) doesn't mean you don't have to follow the provisions," Levinson told The Bee.

"There is absolutely case law that says, 'This might sound picky, but we have these provisions for a reason,' " she said.

It does sound picky, but having encountered signature-gatherers outside of grocery stores in California who have absolutely no idea what they're asking people to sign, I have to agree. Some ballot initiatives are advisory and don't actually lead to new laws.

But, having agreed to a regulation that makes the ballot initiative even more complicated, this is why the "outside money" complaint is pure bullshit. State regulations make it extremely difficult for average people to operate on their own to get ballot initiatives passed (would the sarcastic Breton had known that language was needed if the clerk hadn't said so?). Of course these folks are going to need outside assistance.

Reason is all over the corporate cronyism of publicly funded sports stadiums. In our January issue, Nick Gillespie interviewed sports economists J.C. Bradbury about why stadium subsidies keep winning ("They always underestimate the costs and overestimate the benefits"). You can also watch the interview below:

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  1. The city says the stadium will revitalize the downtown area and spur new development and wealth creation

    It will certainly spur new development of a stadium and wealth creation for whoever wins the construction contract as well as team stockholders. Beyond that…

    1. FTA:

      $2.7 million – The estimate of new tax revenues the city will receive a year from the project.

      $19 million – The cost to Sacramento a year in principal and interest payments.

      Genius idea!

      1. What do you expect, they were taught math in public school.

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  3. Stadiums are of utmost importance. We have to keep the sheeple entertained, or else they might start to notice what we’re up to.

    1. Stadiums! Free stuff! Any resemblance to bread and circuses is purely coincidental.

      1. Note to self: Read all of the comments before posting.

  4. But Sacremento could lose the Kings. I mean nothing could be more important to a city’s success than retaining a perennial losing franchise ran by a couple of shady casino owners.

  5. The NHL could stand to lose a few teams.

    1. So could the NBA, MLB and the NFL. All of the pro sports leagues have watered down their product in the name of getting more welfare.

      1. At least the NBA and NHL experienced a wider talent pool in the 90’s, with the addition of a ton of European talent coming across the pond. I think the NHL’s problem was expanding into non-hockey markets, and the NBA’s problem is too many teams having no realistic shot at winning.

        1. The NBA has always had the problem. The Celtics and Lakers have won 33 out of like 65 or 70 total titles.

          The problem the NBA has is that the talent is stretched so thin there is only four or five good teams in the entire league. Outside of those every other team is trying to lose hoping to get a top lottery pick.

      2. I suspect about half the teams in the major pro leagues wouldn’t last 5 years without all the revenue-sharing from TV contracts. It’s one of the few business sectors in the US where less competition would actually improve the product (fewer teams = more concentrations of talent), but you can’t even shut down the crap teams anymore because there’s some insecure place dying to be a “world-class city” that will throw money at the team to get it to relocate.

  6. I have a cunning plan. Get rid of all social welfare programs and replace them with mammoth sports stadiums with free admission and free food.

    1. You have to have everyday attendance to make this plan work.

      So I suggest that in order to qualify for the free attendance and food, all of the fans must enter a raffle where the winners must be pitted in a live death match on the field. Maybe even throw some wild beasts into the fray.

      Ha, I’m the first person to ever think that one up!

  7. I’ve followed this from afar reading the Sacramento Bee, even though I live a ways away from Sacramento.

    I’m no big fan of putting things to a vote, but I’ve been appalled at comments I’ve received in reply to my remarks that a project of this magnitude should be put to a vote. The replies generally ran along the line of the project shouldn’t need a vote because it’s the right thing to do. No reply when I’d reply back that if they had such a good case they shouldn’t have to worry about putting it up for a vote. Ugh!

    1. When the metropolitan stadium tax for Coors Field was put up for a vote, Denver County–the one place that would nominally benefit from having the stadium– actually rejected it, along with Adams County. It was the large suburban counties that pushed it over the top.

      If you’re ever in Denver, stop by the Denver Public Library and browse through the newspaper articles on the subject from about 1990-1993. The mushy, desperate, nostalgia-tinged reporting will make you cringe, in no small part because the Rocky Mountain News was a stakeholder in the team.

    2. City of Pittsburgh residents voted against public financing for construction of Heinz Field. Their vote was ignored.

      1. Ditto for the stadium built for the Twins. The state legislature waived the rule that any tax for a new stadium had to be put on the ballot.

        The reason that it passed was because the tax only hit one county. All the pols from outside that county approved the waiver. It was the perfect scheme. The rest of the state got to stick the residents of one county with the bill.

  8. Speaking of Cali and teams, I’ve heard that LA doesn’t have a football team. Anyone else heard about that?

    1. When LA finally goes bankrupt, we will at least know the reason. It won’t be city pensions and horrible government. It will be because they stopped tying to be a world class city by doing things like having an NFL team because they had embraced radical nihilist Libertarianism.

      What do you want to bet some hack opinion writer will claim that?

      1. Yep, that’s it. Their government is so small it went down someones bathtub drain. How can you have a football team without any government?

        I also heard that they had this mayor who was a retard. Maybe just another rumor.

  9. We’ve been trying to get this arena deal nixed for two years. It is the worst form of cronyism.

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