Arizona stadium authority paying off Cardinals’ home by skimping on tourism, youth sports spending

Good news! The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority is still making its payments on time to pay off the Arizona Cardinals‘ stadium! Less good news: Because tourist tax revenues have been lower than expected, the authority is doing so by skimping on everything else it was supposed to be spending money on.

The authority overseeing University of Phoenix Stadium made its debt payments on the building over the past four years but was nearly $48 million short in meeting its voter-approved obligations for tourism promotion, Cactus League ballparks, youth sports and its own operations…

By its own projections, the authority is facing a $34 million shortfall for those categories over the next five years.

Okay, I know, boo-hoo, Maricopa County (which includes both Phoenix and Glendale, where the stadium is actually located) is having to spend less money convincing you to take a vacation in the desert. (Youth sports spending is arguably more of a loss, unless you work at a Maricopa tourism board, I suppose.) The point here is that when voters approved hikes in hotel and rental-car taxes in 2000, they were told it wasn’t going to just fund an NFL stadium — but it turns out that’s mostly what it’s done, since the stadium construction bonds are first in line for being paid off.

And while the stadium authority figures out how to cut corners to make up that $7 million a year shortfall, it could soon be facing a far bigger hole, via that court ruling from last year that declared the car-rental tax to be in violation of the state constitution, since it wasn’t going to pay for anything highway-related. There’s still a year or two worth of appeals to be waited out, but if that other shoe drops, suddenly Maricopa County is going to be faced with either finding money to fill another $10 million or so in shortfall, or defaulting on the stadium bonds, neither of which is very appetizing.

At least the Cardinals’ lease runs through 2036, so it’ll probably be another decade or so before the team owners start demanding a new stadium to replace the one that the county is already having trouble paying for. And at least it’s still working out better than Glendale’s deal for the Coyotes, kinda.

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12 comments on “Arizona stadium authority paying off Cardinals’ home by skimping on tourism, youth sports spending

  1. Have a vague recollection that there is an additional rental car tax during Spring Training that is designated as such (like it’s itemized in your bill). That presumably is for all of those Spring Training facilities.

    A) Is that correct and

    B) If so, is that money actually going to those facilities or is it going into the same fund that has prioritized the football stadium debts payments?

  2. Hi Neil,


    “The authority overseeing University of Phoenix Stadium made its debt payments on the building over the past four years but was nearly $48 million short in meeting its voter-approved obligations for tourism promotion, Cactus League ballparks, youth sports and its own operations…”

    So the voter-approved obligations are not really required to be met, is that right?

  3. As for a spring-training-specific car rental tax, I don’t think there is one — all I’ve been able to find reference to is the general year-round tax, which helps fund spring training facilities among all these other things. But I haven’t been to Arizona since 1981, so couldn’t tell you for sure.

  4. For as long as I can remember, my car rental receipts in Phoenix have had a line for “Cactus League tax”… I think it was about 5%(?).

  5. That’s year-round, though, right?

    Anyway, the answer is I don’t know whether the stadium authority segregates the funds from the various taxes or not.

  6. Just anecdotes…. but where I live we used to be overwhelmed with “visit Arizona” tv ads in the winter. Now we don’t seem to get those, but do get “visit Wyoming” and general Tom Selleck “Go RVing” (whether in Wyoming or Arizona, I imagine…) ads.

    Secondly: I have to say that I’ve never been taxed as heavily as when I was a tourist in “special districts” in Arizona. I recall emerging from a giftshop with $40 ‘worth’ of merchandise and reading my bill (which, with the 4 or 5 taxes included – some of which were applied on other taxes as well – was $56) in astonishment. So much for the republican low tax pledge.

    Maybe Maricopa Co. can make up for it’s short fall by charging people $7 to watch Sheriff Joe violate people’s basic human rights on television? I’m sure that would generate at least $50m in PPV revenues in this sick country…

  7. Was looking around for some info on the Cactus League tax and it looks like it was declared unconstitutional. When I looked for info on whether the ruling was appealed, I found this which was updated just last month.

    So all of that money has to be returned, but it gets returned to the rental car operators? Why? I paid that tax when I was last in Arizona. Shouldn’t it come back to me?

    Anyway, reading a bit on the Cactus League in general vis a vis the cost of facilities and the projected economic activity in Maricopa County, it’s basically: “Ha, suckers.”

  8. Michael: All this was covered in the link in the original post above:

  9. Ha! In my defense A) I read the follow-up comments about 8 hours after my original comment, so I forgot some of what was originally in the post (or missed it in the first place… unrelated: recently read a study about how much lower information retention is with online content vs. the same information on a printed page), and B) Nobody clicks on links on blogs anymore.

  10. At least we got to inflict this on ourselves, even if it was a completely dishonest campaign. I well remember it: YOUTH SOCCER FIELDS! TOURISM!! FREE STUFF AND GOODIES!!! (oh, and a football stadium too)

    So, the saps voted for it and (maybe) believed the bullshit. Doesn’t matter, the Cardinals got what they wanted and paid nothing for it. That was the point.

  11. Irony: due to the fact that youth sports investment (local grants/field maintenance basically) fell off a cliff in AZ 8-9 months ago as the ATSB finally dealt with the fiscal reality, the local NFL-approved youth flag football teams are losing field space to soccer. green space is at a premium in the desert, and now kids will play football at an even lower rate.
    Nice job Bidwells…maybe alienating the next generation of voters will kill future stadium bond deals? Or they’re assuming they won’t ever have to face a public vote.

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