Hidden in the midst of long article in the San Francisco Chronicle about how the Oakland A’s are about to become the “San Jose A’s of Fremont” – a suggestion that, it’s worth noting, made Bud Selig’s already-sour look even more sour at yesterday’s press conference – was this tidbit from the A’s press release about the stadium:
The public assistance sought will be in the form of processing the development activity in the most efficient manner possible, the agreement that benefits generated solely by the development will in part or in total be used to facilitate the development program in a manner that will not impose on general fund or bonding issues or local government and other aspects of public-private cooperation that will stand the test of public acceptance.
If that middle section – “benefits generated solely by the development will in part or in total be used to facilitate the development program” – isn’t code for a TIF, I’ll eat my hat.
A TIF, you’ll recall, short for “tax-increment financing,” is when a city kicks back all new property tax (and sometimes sales tax) revenue generated by a project to the project’s developer, under the theory that “if it didn’t get built, we wouldn’t have it anyway.” It’s a line of reasoning that ignores the fact that property taxes are used to pay for services – say, the roads, schools, fire and police protection, etc., needed to support a stadium and condo complex. (TIFs were previously proposed for the New York Jets‘ Manhattan stadium project, among other things.) Add in the fact that the city gives up the possibility of the land being developed by someone who’ll actually pay their taxes, and little wonder that TIFs have been criticized as corporate subsidies by another name.
In my Baseball Prospectus article today, I posed the question of whether the A’s stadium would turn out to be “an innovative way to fund a new stadium without draining the public purse” or “an epic land dodge to increase the value of a piece of worthless property by using a ballclub as the bait.” The Vegas odds now favor the latter.