Nevada should reject corporate welfare for A’s stadium

Reno Gazette Journal August 22, 2021

The Oakland A’s, currently in tense negotiations with the City of Oakland to build a new stadium, are considering a move to Las Vegas. Unhappy with the Oakland City Council’s unwillingness to pass the team’s proposed stadium financing on to the taxpayers, the A’s have taken two trips to Vegas to look at potential stadium sites. While both the team and the Oakland City Council agree on the need to build a new $1 billion stadium, there is significant disagreement on who should pay for it resulting in the A’s considering a move to Las Vegas.

“The past is but a prelude to the future” said Cicero in 55 BC. Five years ago, in 2016, the Oakland Raiders could not reach an agreement with the City of Oakland and Alameda County. The city and the county decided not to fund the stadium using taxpayer dollars. Instead, Oakland and Alameda tried to form a public-private partnership where the infrastructure improvements would be funded using public funds but the funding for stadium construction would come from private sources. Not satisfied with the offer, the Raiders went in search of greener pastures.

Enter Nevada, which was eager to do what the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda were unwilling to do: raise taxes and use taxpayer funds to build the Raiders stadium in Las Vegas. At that time, a $400 million shortfall was forecast for the following budget cycle. The potential shortfall notwithstanding, Nevada passed legislation to fund the stadium to the tune of $750 million.

To be sure, the process to approve the $750 million taxpayer subsidy wasn’t easy. A special legislative session was convened in October 2016 for the purpose of approving the stadium and the tax increase that came with it. For that session, the Washoe County Commission appointed two Republicans (an Assemblyman and a Senator) just in time to vote in the tax increase. Those two appointees, Jesse Haw for Senate and Dominic Brunetti for Assembly, had never run for public office, nor have they since. Their sole purpose was to attend the special session, cast the vote(s) needed to raise taxes and fund the stadium. To date, that is the only vote they have cast in their political careers.  Ethics rules, which require self-reporting of potential conflicts of interest, were waived through a voice vote during the special session with no opportunity for public comment.

One final point: As a matter of principle, a non-essential business should not be subsidized through taxpayer dollars. A business that cannot thrive without taxpayer subsidy probably has bigger underlying problems such as lack of sufficient demand for the product. Government subsidies merely mask the broader issue with the business.

While I believe that major sports teams are a profitable business if they are decently managed, many such sports teams tend to play to the populace’s affinity for sports and pit one city against another into a bidding war. While Nevada should attract businesses with a low-tax, business-friendly environment that organically creates high paying jobs, business friendly does not in any way mean taxpayer funded subsidies. Corporate welfare benefits politicians, lobbyists and special interest groups and comes at the expense of the taxpayer. Nevada shouldn’t fall into this trap for a second time and increase taxes or subsidize the business. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.