“In Stadium Building Spree, U.S. Taxpayers Lose $4 Billion” is the headline in today’s BloombergBusinessweek, which is one of those headlines that leaves more questions than it answers. Stadium building spree over how long? Lose $4 billion over how long? Is that how much money the public is putting out, how much it’s putting out without getting back, what?
None of the above, it turns out. The $4 billion figure is actually total tax revenues lost to the federal government because of the use of tax-exempt bonds on sports facilities, according to Businessweek. Since 1986, $17 billion in tax-exempt bonds have been issued for stadiums and arenas, they report, costing the U.S. Treasury $146 million a year, or a total of $4 billion by the year 2047.
But, of course, tax-exempt bonds are usually only a small part of stadium subsidies, as most buildings also get other tax revenue, property tax breaks, and the like to pay off their construction debt. There’s no good summary of how much all this amounts to — at least not until Judith Grant Long finishes writing her damn book, hint hint — but counting minor-league stadiums and hidden subsidies, it almost certainly amounts to more than $1 billion a year.
Still, knowing that the U.S. Treasury is out $146 million a year solely from the use of tax-exempt bonds for stadiums — something that Congress tried to eliminate in 1986, but ended up leaving a giant loophole in — will come in handy for testimony next time Congress holds one of these. Not that I’m holding my breath.