Finally: GOP bill takes aim at public funding for sports stadiums

Get ready for a beautiful moment of national unity, thanks to this nice catch by Phil Kerpen in the GOP’s tax reform bill. With an eye toward the anger and resentment from rank-and-file voters over social-justice protests by professional athletes at facilities largely funded by taxpayers already, Republicans inserted a revenue raiser in the midst of their tax cuts. It may not amount to much in dollars, but its political value may well outstrip most of the other provisions in the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”:

The relevant legislative text can be found on page 277 of the 429-page bill. It pointedly excludes amateur athletic arenas from this change, although not those which share use with professional sports teams. The explanation of the bill that Phil highlights comes from page 49 of the Republican analysis of the bill (page 55 of the PDF file). It takes at least five days of use a year to force income from the bonds to be taxable, which fits pretty neatly with one sport in particular, whose teams play eight regular-season games a year at home, as well as two preseason games. Care to guess at which league the bill aims?

This applies across the board, too, and raises another point. Cities and states have shoveled billions of public dollars into private hands to either woo sports franchises away from other cities, or to keep their own from being wooed away. It’s gotten so bad that the value of these teams no longer relies primarily on direct fan support, but from the massive land and retail deals that the teams can generate. That’s not just true in the NFL, either. Anything that slows down the ability to extort these kinds of deals from taxpayers is welcome, even if this change may not provide a major obstacle to it. Congress and leadership in both parties should explore similar disincentives, but the real platform for those kinds of changes is state legislatures — many of which are too cautious about risking a team move and getting blamed for it by voters.

The amount of funds this will raise is also negligible, to be sure. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates revenue of $200 million over ten years, a rounding error in a decade where we can expect total federal budgets to run $50 trillion or more. It’s not going to solve the pay-for conundrum Republicans face on reconciliation, clearly. However, it does send a signal that Washington has heard the anger and frustration of voters when it comes to getting lectured by multimillionaires and billionaires from taxpayer-provided palaces, and that Congress is looking for ways to address it.

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Jazz Shaw 5:31 PM on February 04, 2023
David Strom 10:01 AM on February 04, 2023