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.