Want to read a long, involved article about sports arena finance that tries to clarify things but is only likely to make readers much, much more confused? Dale Kasler and Tony Bizjak of the Sacramento Bee have you covered:
Welcome to Golden 1 Center. That’ll be $18.3 million, please.
That’s how much the city of Sacramento will pay each year to help fund the Kings’ new $556 million downtown arena, set to open Oct. 4.
So far, so good. The original projection was $21.9 million a year, but the city got a 5.67% interest rate instead of an even more extortionate 6.7%, so phew.
The Kings will pay an estimated two-thirds of the debt service through lease payments and property taxes generated by the new arena.
Errrr? The Kings’ lease payments start at $6.5 million a year, and do eventually escalate to $16.7 million by by the end of the lease. but while that may average almost two-thirds of the costs (57%, according to the Bee), it’s heavily skewed toward the distant future, and as anyone who’s taken out a loan (or, you know, handled money) should know, cash flow is way more valuable now than it is 30 years from now. (If you disagree, please lend me $10,000, and I will repay 100% of your costs with a $10,000 check in the year 2046.) So in present value terms, which is how one should be calculating this, it’s a whole lot less than two-thirds.
As for “property taxes” paying for the bonds, I have no idea where that’s coming from. Here’s the actual bond payment schedule, from the city council’s official plan:
I guess if you count the increased property taxes coming from the arena as a team “contribution,” then maybe that offsets some more of this. (The Bee counts them at $25 million, but doesn’t indicate if that’s present value or what.) But getting to use your property tax money to fund your construction costs is a rather special subsidy not available to normal humans, so shouldn’t be counted as something that is somehow reimbursing taxpayers for their costs.
Increased parking revenue only has to support about 10 percent of the debt, according to the city’s latest cash flow projections. About twice as much money will come from dollars that will get freed up when existing debt on city parking garages comes off the books several years from now.
What? Taking parking-garage debt payment money that otherwise would have returned to the general fund when the garages were paid off and instead funneling it to pay for the arena isn’t free money — it’s, well, money that otherwise would have been returned to the general fund. It’s good that it won’t have to come from parking meter fees, sure, but it’s still the public paying for it.
What this all adds up to is less “this won’t cost the public much” and more “don’t worry, the amount of public money we projected to pay off the arena will be enough to cover the bills.” Which, to be fair, is what Kasler and Bizjak say in the article, if you read carefully enough. (“City officials say Sacramento can handle the debt with room to spare, and without dipping into its general fund.”) Unfortunately, whoever wrote the Bee’s headline did not read carefully enough, and came up with this:
New Sacramento arena relies on city parking fees – plus lots of cash from Kings
And that, kiddies, is how journalism becomes spin.