Carson could approve Chargers, Raiders stadium plan tonight despite not knowing how it would work

The Carson city council is meeting tonight, and could be about to follow the lead of its neighbors in Inglewood and approve a stadium funding plan without a public referendum, via the mechanism of having petitions signed for a referendum, then voting to waive the whole “residents actually voting” thing. And if that doesn’t sound like the greatest idea, the L.A. Times’ Tim Logan and Nathan Fenno today report just how many things will get swept under the rug by the hurry-up approval scheme:

The 26-page initiative petition proposing the stadium says little about how it would be paid for, other than a promise that city tax dollars won’t be used. Leases need to be worked out. Personal seat licenses — which developers say could fund nearly half the project — must be sold. And there’s no mention of the three-way land swap, creation of a new city agency or 10-figure investment led by Goldman Sachs that are all key to the deal.

Also, if Carson can’t get two NFL teams to move in, there might be a huge shortfall in tax revenue to pay the city’s share of costs, the city could lose $1.4 million a year in federal housing aid if it can’t find a new site for the 1,500 housing units that were originally planned for the stadium site, and nobody has figured out where to put 16,000 off-site parking spaces.

This is why one traditionally holds stadium negotiations before voting on the plan — and, for that matter, why California law normally requires environmental impact studies and a long public process before approving these kinds of deals, which is what Carson officials could be voting to skip over tonight. Instead, everyone will have to hope that Carson’s mayor and city council can hash out a funding plan behind closed doors with the teams involved. And surely nothing could go wrong with that, right?

MN senate votes 61-4 to tell United: No state tax breaks for you

The Minnesota state senate yesterday overwhelmingly approved a bill banning any “state funds or tax expenditures” from going toward a Minnesota United soccer stadium, voting in the measure by a 61-4 margin. And while the Minneapolis Star Tribune calls this “largely symbolic,” since United execs haven’t asked for state cash, that “tax expenditures” bit sure sounds like it would block the use of state sales tax breaks on construction materials, as the team owners have requested.

That would still leave the much larger property tax exemption that United is seeking from the city of Minneapolis, but given that Mayor Betsy Hodges has already said she’s not inclined to throw tax breaks at the team, either, United’s “say we’re building a $100 million stadium with our own money and then ask for half that amount in tax breaks” plan is getting off to a bit of a rocky start. It’s easy to forget since Minnesota recently paid a pile of money toward two high-profile stadiums for the Twins and Vikings, but it’s one of the states that’s historically been the most resistant to sports subsidies — the Twins and Vikings, in fact, each had to fight for more than a decade against massive public opposition to get their stadium cash — so MLS may end up having to decide on whether to hold up yet another expansion franchise because its stadium demands aren’t being met. Extortion is hard!

IUPUI says Indy Eleven needs $50-60m in stadium upgrades, can they get advance on their allowance?

Aw, man, I should have known that Indiana state bill to limit Indy Eleven to $20 million in public money for renovations to their current stadium would be too good to be true. The latest snag: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, which owns the stadium, says it would actually cost $50 million to $60 million to make it soccer-ready:

[IUPUI VP Tom] Morrison told lawmakers that Carroll Stadium, built in 1982, is “in desperate need of repair” and that a new, midsize stadium would fill “a gap in our community in terms of (sports) venues that size.”

Before you say anything: Yes, Indy Eleven is already playing at Carroll Stadium, and drawing well for a minor-league soccer team, so presumably fans aren’t afraid the place is going to fall down. No, Morrison didn’t say where that $50-60 million price tag came from. No, he also didn’t offer to pay for it, saying the school could only help pay for upgrades “around the edges,” and that hosting concerts probably wouldn’t bring in much money, so “I wouldn’t build a financial model around it.”

What appears to be going on here is that IUPUI has noticed that they could get a new(ish) stadium out of this deal, and so are presenting the state legislature with a wish list to see how much exactly they can get. Right now the state bill still limits state funding to $20 million, but there’s still the city of Indianapolis to hit up for cash, so keep one hand on your wallets, Hoosiers.

How Milwaukee leaders could use stealth tax to fund Bucks arena without anyone taking the blame

As part of his campaign to get funding for a Milwaukee Bucks arena approved by Memorial Day, Wisconsin state senator Scott Fitzzgerald has called a meeting of the minds for tomorrow, bringing together state, city, and team officials to discuss, presumably, how none of them have any ideas for how to actually pay for the thing. And maybe actually play a physical game of hot potato with the $500 million bill, wouldn’t that be cool?

For a refresher on why exactly there’s no money for this thing, we can turn to Milwaukee Magazine’s Matt Hrodey, who points out that Fitzgerald’s plan to have a state board lend the money lacks a viable way to pay off the loan, something everyone is still waiting for Gov. Scott Walker’s secret idea to fund beyond his old idea of using player income taxes and crossing his fingers that NBA salaries soar; meanwhile, it would require the city to come up with its own pile of money, something it would have trouble doing given that the arena wouldn’t pay any property taxes of its own, and the state has dramatically restricted the city’s borrowing power.

Hrodey does come up with one possible way for the city to contribute, but it would amount to a stealth property tax surcharge. It goes like this: The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, which Fitzgerald is proposing as lender for the public arena funding, loans the city a pile of cash. In that case,

If the BCPL also lends a chunk – $25 or $50 million – to the city, county, or both, state law would require each entity to raise its tax levy by an amount sufficient to pay off the resulting debt service on the loan. This tax would have to be “separately designated” and calculated apart from the usual municipal levy. And to boot, it would be “irrepealable until the loan and all interest on the loan are fully paid.” If for some reason the local government was to miss a payment, it would be automatically deducted from state aid.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, meanwhile, has said he won’t raise property taxes for a Bucks arena, which would seem to kill this plan, but you have to figure there’s going to be pressure for him to cave in to make a deal happen. One possible out, which Hrodey kind of hints at but doesn’t say outright: Barrett could agree to take out BCPL loans and then pay them back by some fanciful revenue stream — say, tax-increment financing based on increased property taxes paid by development around the arena, or hell, maybe e-pulltabs. Then once the revenues fail to arrive, he (or whoever was mayor by the time anyone noticed the revenue shortfall) would be forced by the big bad state government to raise property taxes to fill in the gap. Voila, taxes raised for the Bucks, and nobody is to blame!

All of this could be moot, meanwhile, if the state budget projections come in as poorly as they could in mid-May, leaving everyone involved scrambling to avoid looking like they’re throwing money at the Bucks while slashing spending for everything else under the sun. But even then, that’s only a temporary obstacle: If Fitzgerald can put together even the vague outline of a plan in the next few weeks — say, with the state paying off a BCPL loan with pretend player income taxes, and the city paying off a BCPL loan with pretend TIF money — there’s plenty of time to implement it next year after everyone has forgotten where the money is coming from, and the lobbyists have had another year to make all the politicians involved just want this issue to go away, already.

Hey, I think I just solved the Bucks arena funding problem! If by “solved” you mean “found a way to stick taxpayers with the bill without any politicians having to lose their jobs over it,” that is, and I’m pretty sure that’s what Fitzgerald and company have in mind. Now they can knock off early at tomorrow’s meeting and go for custard.

Wisconsin pols turn on each other as Bucks arena deadline nears, but would team really move without one?

It already seemed like it was headed this way, but the Milwaukee Bucks arena squabble is fast deteriorating into a slap fight between the state, county, and city on who’ll pay for the share of the cost that the team’s owners don’t want to. I mean, check this out:

[State Sen. Alberta] Darling accused [Milwaukee Mayor Tom] Barrett of “appalling leadership,” saying he was shifting the blame for crime without taking responsibility for what’s happening in the city. Last week, Barrett called on Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Legislature to devote more resources to public safety in Milwaukee, saying the state’s gun laws have resulted in more guns on the street.

“He never is at fault for anything,” Darling said. “He’s never the key player.”

Asked if she wanted Barrett to bring cash to the table for a new arena, Darling nodded yes.


If you’re wondering what arenas have to do with gun laws, this all goes back to last week when a toddler was run over by a car and killed, leading to a gunfight that left two other people dead as well, and Barrett blamed state legislators for loosening gun laws. In other words, the two have nothing to do with each other, but now the legislators who are pushing for a new Bucks arena aren’t going to pay for one to spite Barrett, or something, I mean anyway:

“Politics is about relationships,” [state Rep. John] Nygren said Friday. “You poke a finger in our eyes, it makes it a little harder.”


The legislators’ idea here, presumably, is that they will be able to shame Barrett into finding more money to chip in for a Bucks arena, even though he doesn’t really have any to spare. But Wisconsin officials are up against a deadline, kinda sorta, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reminds us:

If an arena is not in place in Milwaukee by the start of the 2017-18 season — an ambitious schedule — the NBA has the right to buy the team. League insiders suggest a sale and relocation is the next logical step. The team would be worth more, by most analyses, in another city. … The NBA has communicated it could give on the schedule a bit, but only in the case of true progress. The league isn’t threatening consequences; it’s guaranteeing them.

Let’s check the record on that. This all goes back to Wes Edens and Mark Lasry’s deal to buy the Bucks last spring, when they agreed to a clause that would allow the NBA to buy the team (and presumably move it) if arena construction isn’t underway, or at least in the works, by November 2017. You have to assume that Edens and Lasry didn’t need much arm-twisting to include this clause — it neatly lets them make the NBA the bad guys who are forcing them to demand hundreds of millions of dollars in arena subsidies, or else. And while we don’t know much about the details of the clause, thanks to the fact that the only people talking about it are unnamed sources, it sounds vague enough that the NBA could easily give Milwaukee some more rope if it feels like subsidies might be just around the corner. So the deadline is fake, just like stadium deadlines usually are.

Ultimately, though, would the Bucks likely move if more more arena funding is forthcoming in Milwaukee? The assumption here is that Seattle would be the likely relocation site, given that it’s a bigger market than Milwaukee and Chris Hansen has an arena plan ready to go, or could next year anyway, assuming he finds somebody new with deep pockets to take over for Steve Ballmer as part of his ownership group. And on top of all that, recall that the last time we went through all this with the Sacramento Kings, the NBA seemed way more interested in using Seattle as leverage to extract arena subsidies from the team’s existing city, rather than actually jumping at the chance to move into an arena that, on the plus side, would be built without a ton of taxpayer subsidies, and on the minus side, would saddle any team with arena debt since it would be built without a ton of taxpayer subsidies.

I’d say right now the move threat level posed by Seattle is low-to-moderate — worth keeping an eye on, but also not something that necessarily means Milwaukee taxpayers need to shovel as much money as possible at the Bucks owners or their team is 100% gone. (Shoveling moderate amounts of money might well do it.) Instead, we have city and state officials shouting at each other increasingly frantically to find some money already, either out of genuine fear that time is running out, or just in hopes that with enough finger-pointing they can make sure people get mad at the other guy if the Bucks do end up leaving. The American political system continues to be corporate subsidy seekers’ best friend.

SD columnist says Chargers deal needs Hail Mary off flea flicker [metaphor overflow, please retry]

Last week we had the perfect example of an “assuming the premise that funding a new arena is the public’s problem” article, and this week it’s the archetypal “using sports metaphors to paint building a stadium as victory” piece, courtesy of “star” UT San Diego sports columnist Kevin Acee. I mean, this guy really emptied the sports metaphor bowl:

[Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group] Adam Day is the Doug Flutie in this stadium game.

He and his team were handed the ball in the fourth quarter and told to win with a Hail Mary off a flea flicker.

But how much time is left in the fourth quarter, Kevin?

As the seconds trickle off the clock, with no timeouts remaining, San Diego’s only hope is a delay of game being called and eventually getting to overtime.

This metaphor is getting confusing. Who would call a delay of game, exactly?

For the Chargers to not make that request [to relocate for 2016], they are going to need to get their way. They are the clock operator, the referee and quarterback.

I’m … pretty sure that’s against the rules? Also, wasn’t Doug Flutie the quarterback? Help!

Anyway, the guy that UT San Diego kept as sports columnist over the guy who actually asked questions wants you to know that San Diego has to meet the Chargers’ demands, and soon, or else, and is going to use every football reference in his arsenal to drive this home. It’s still not quite the time Connecticut approved funding a new stadium to lure the New England Patriots and the Hartford Courant reported on this by splashing “Touchdown!” across their front page, but it’s a valiant attempt nonetheless.

Cubs really need less ironic slogan for Wrigley renovations than “Making the Confines Friendlier”

Putting up some kind of barrier so that fans can’t hassle players for autographs while they’re walking to their cars isn’t all that unusual. Doing so while in the middle of renovations that have left fans without enough restrooms for two months, then slapping a logo on top reading “Making the Confines Friendlier” — that’s so Cubs.

(Incidentally, can anyone tell me who’s actually being protected from whom by this autograph barrier? It looks like it’s on the corner of Seminary and Waveland, adjacent to the “triangle building” site that’s under construction in the background. But I see what look like fans on both sides — do the players walk a gauntlet between the two fences to the lot on the north side of Waveland? And do they have their own restrooms there?)

This may be the stupidest paragraph ever written about a sports stadium finance plan

Pawtucket Red Sox president James Skeffington went on local TV today to stump for his $60-million-plus-free-riverfront-property stadium plan, and according to the TV station’s report, he said this:

Skeffington and his partners promise to build it at no cost to taxpayers, unlike most sports stadiums. But they are asking in return a $4 million a year contribution from taxpayers that Skeffington said would be offset by more than $2 million in taxes on economic activity around the field.

Good job, NBC 10 in Rhode Island, you’ve just broken math.

Milwaukee official says arena subsidies are stupid, proposes sales tax hike to pay for one

Sure, every politician in Wisconsin is coming up with a way to use public funds to help pay off a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, but what do those other people in Wisconsin think? You know, the ones who voted them into office?

Seventy-nine percent of registered voters oppose a plan being discussed by Republican legislative leaders for the state to cover part of the $250 million in public funding the Milwaukee Bucks owners say they need to complete funding of the estimated $500 million project, [a Marquette Law School] poll found.

The poll only asked about Gov. Scott Walker’s plan for the state to borrow $150 million for an arena, not other iterations of public funding; still, that’s a pretty whopping majority, and the margin wasn’t much smaller (67-29%) when the poll looked at only residents of Milwaukee itself. And you know who else thinks giving public money to sports teams for new buildings is a lousy idea? Milwaukee alderman Bob Bauman, that’s who:

No one has answered the question: why are we providing any public money in the first place? Explain to us again why there’s a need for any public financing for a private basketball franchise. Why are we offering any money? Why is that even on the table?

The answer may well be, well, we’re being extorted. Then we at least know that, and the answer is these guys are going to get public financing because they can. They can leverage one city against another and basically extort the money. But so far, it’s just assumed that a private professional sports franchise requires a public subsidy. Why is that so?…

It is a money-losing investment, from the public standpoint.

Bauman then followed this up by — just minutes later — proposing to hike sales taxes by 1% in Milwaukee County to fund a new Bucks arena. And new parks. And mass transit. And museums. And cut property taxes. Raising sales taxes by that much would funnel a ton of money from Wisconsin shoppers to the county government ($125 million a year, by Bauman’s calculations), so the county could use it to pay for all kinds of stuff, only some of which are extortion plots that voters overwhelmingly hate.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Bauman isn’t entirely serious about this, and that he’s just floating his sales tax plan either 1) to tweak state officials for refusing to consider a tax hike as a way to pay for public projects or 2) to try to build support for funding other things, like public transportation, that he actually likes. Still, it’s not every day that a U.S. elected official gets up to proclaim that sports stadiums are a ripoff and blackmail, and we should immediately raise sales taxes to keep team owners happy — in a state that once recalled a state senator for approving a sales tax hike that was only one-tenth the size for a Brewers stadium. Racino time is weird, indeed.

Minneapolis mayor to MLS team owner: You are too asking for a subsidy, quit pretending!

No sooner was I reading this column by Minneapolis Star Tribune online sports editor Michael Rand arguing that “even if you don’t like soccer, rich people or stadiums, it’s hard for a reasonable person to find much wrong with” the plan to give Minnesota United almost $50 million in tax breaks for a new soccer stadium, when this came across the digital transom:

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges doubled down Wednesday on her rejection of a plan to provide tax breaks for a new professional soccer stadium, calling the request from the team’s owner unprecedented and “extraordinary.”…

Hodges dismissed McGuire’s suggestion that the plan includes “no public subsidy whatsoever,” and said she and other city leaders have not been provided with enough information to assess the full cost of the project to taxpayers.

“If people want to debate the merits of this public subsidy, let’s do that,” she said. “But we’ve got to start with the accurate information that what they’re asking for is a public subsidy.”

That seems … pretty reasonable, actually! Hodges was elected mayor in 2013 partly on her opposition to the $1.1 billion in taxpayer costs for the spendy Vikings stadium plan, and clearly is intent on joining her colleagues in Anaheim and Calgary on the short list of mayors who actually approach stadium subsidy requests by asking whether they’re a good deal for taxpayers, and not just whether they can find enough money to shovel at team owners without making the wrong taxpayers too mad. The Minneapolis city council is split on whether to go along with her — Hodges could veto council approval, and the council could in turn override her veto with the vote of nine of its 13 members — so it’s not like the mayor is in total control of the situation, but it’s a nice starting point for negotiations, anyway.

Meanwhile, city councilmember Andrew Johnson raises the interesting question of whether tax breaks worth more than $10 million (which this would certainly be) would trigger the requirement for a city referendum on the project, as approved by voters back in 1997 during the Twins stadium battles. The state legislature could overturn that — as it did for both the Twins and the Vikings — but that would add another contentious step to the approval process. I bet I know what Minnesota United owner Bill McGuire is thinking about now: Man, this would all be so much easier if our system of tax expenditures were controlled by online sports editors.