Trump plan could create huge incentive for governors to rebrand stadiums as “infrastructure”

I followed up on Monday’s quick take on what Donald Trump’s infrastructure tax-break plan could mean for stadium subsidies with a longer investigation for Vice Sports, and after speaking to a half-dozen experts in the field, the conclusion is: This is mostly a plan to coerce states into outsourcing roads and other big public projects to private companies, but if it means funneling money to things like stadiums and calling it “infrastructure,” they’ll probably take that too.

While some [public-private partnerships] have worked out well, the failures have been of epic proportions. A few years ago, Texas contracted out State Highway 130 to a private developer, which skimped on construction costs by installing cheaper asphalt rather than sturdier concrete, resulting in what the Austin Statesman described as “a rumbling, dangerous washboard effect that tends to last for a couple of seconds each time.” Despite a much-ballyhooed 85-mile-per-hour speed limit, the road’s builders filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, sticking the federal government with a half-billion-dollar tab for its piece of the P3.

Under Trump’s proposal, more for-profit companies getting involved in building public roads would probably be the best-case scenario. Without strict limits on what qualifies for the Trump tax breaks, all sorts of projects for private benefit could end up being rebranded as “infrastructure.” We’ve already seen mayors and business leaders propose everything from affordable housing (this from the mayor of D.C.) to “Internet of Things technology” (this from the CEO of IBM, which makes—you guessed it—said technology) as infrastructure projects…

You can probably see where this is going. John Q. Governor decides that he wants a slice of that sweet, sweet Trump money so he can show voters that he can get benefits for his state. He doesn’t need another toll road, and no private investors are looking to build a new sewage system because sewage doesn’t pay the bills (and also, ick). However, the local arena shuffleboard team is asking for a new stadium, and shuffleboard arenas are infrastructure, right? Like, the kids can use them to practice for pro shuffleboard careers? Plus, jobs. Jobs are totally infrastructure!

Do I think that Trump is definitely going to unleash billions of dollars of federal sports subsidies on top of the couple billion a year currently being spent by local governments? No. Do I think that he’s set to open a giant loophole that every sports team owner is going to try to figure out how to drive a stadium through? Yeah, that one.

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2 comments on “Trump plan could create huge incentive for governors to rebrand stadiums as “infrastructure”

  1. I was gonna turn pro at shuffleboard but then daddy and uncle left their real estate empire to me and my brothers and well, owning a football team and swimming in public gravy has turned out ok for me. Shuffleboard would never have paid for the gold commode in my Park Avenue penthouse.

  2. Odd place to see SH 130 pop up. A bit of info about it: It’s something of a hybrid between stupid and terrible.

    Say you’re going from Austin to Lockhart. That’s the stretch with the 85 mph speed limit. Well the toll is non-trivial (think it’s north of $5 total for about a 30 mile stretch), but you can also drive on the frontage road (it’s just the old highway 183) at 65 mph. Even though there are lights on said frontage road, the last two times I’ve been on it, all the lights were flashing yellow. So you can pay to drive 85 or, for nothing, you can just drive 65.

    The original purpose of the portion that goes around Austin was to keep the increased trucker traffic from NAFTA from going through the heart of town. Austin’s traffic is beyond terrible. At some point recently, it had the worst commute-time-to-population of any place in the country. But because SH 130 is toll, none of the truckers take it. So there is the empty highway running around the outside of town and I-35 is still clogged with 18 wheelers 24/7.

    They’ve incentivized the people they want to use it most to not use it at all, at least around Austin. Have no idea what kind of use it gets around San Antonio.

    Note on Lockhart, Texas. It actually serves as Blaine, Missouri in ‘Waiting for Guffman’. It’s also home to maybe one of the 4-5 best BBQ joints in the world (Kreuz Market), so you could make the case for needing to drive 85 mph to get there.

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