In case you were holding your breath to see if the Calgary city council might rethink its $200 million-plus Flames arena subsidy now that it was facing a $23.45 million budget shortfall and possibly having to make cuts to police, fire, and transit services … well, that was a bad idea, who told you to hold your breath for that?
Coun. Evan Woolley put forth the proposal that would have the city withdraw a $290 million total contribution for the arena, with $200 million going towards the troubled Green Line project, $45 million towards the construction of a new downtown Calgary police station and $45 million for deferred capital maintenance for Calgary Housing…
When the dust settled, councillors defeated the reconsideration 11-4.
Instead, the council voted to close the budget gap by raising taxes on residential property owners (while subjecting business owners to a smaller increase than they would otherwise have been) and eliminating the proposed budget cuts. One can argue about who should bear what share of the tax burden in Calgary, but that’s kind of beside the point for our purposes, which is to note that the city would have plenty of money to hold the line on taxes and maintain services if it weren’t shoveling so much toward a new private arena project, which is exactly what those four councillors on the losing side of the vote were pointing out. (Yes, some of that money is from projected future taxes from development surrounding the arena — but there’s plenty of reason to believe at least some of that money would arrive with or without the arena.) The cost of subsidizing sports venues isn’t just abstract dollar amounts — it has real effects on real people when the public cash is suddenly no longer available for other uses. There are many ways to define opportunity cost, but you can’t spend the same money twice is a reasonable shorthand.