- - Monday, September 21, 2015

The new NFL season is barely a week old, but anyone watching closely can already tell who will be this year’s biggest winners and losers.

The winners are the NFL’s 32 team owners, who managed to scam taxpayers out of $7 billion over the last 20 years to subsidize stadium construction and renovation schemes, according to a new report by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

That leaves taxpayers as the losers, forced to fork over their hard-earned money in a perverse corporate welfare scheme that amounts to welfare for billionaires.

Since 1995, politicians have forced taxpayers to bankroll 29 of the 31 NFL stadiums. Only the Miami Dolphins, and the New York Jets and New York Giants – who share a stadium – didn’t snag tax dollars to build or upgrade their stadiums in the past two decades.

Many ill-informed policymakers claim that giving NFL team owners hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds is good business. Swanky football stadiums, some argue, work wonders for the local economy by creating jobs and spurring income growth.

But that belief is totally bogus; an old wives’ tale that has been debunked time and time again. Most recently, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance discovered that public financing of NFL stadiums appears to lead to higher poverty rates and lower median incomes for the hometowns of NFL teams.

Between 1995 and 2013 (the most recent year for which data is available), the median household income decreased, in constant dollars, in 65 percent of the counties that spent tax dollars on NFL stadiums. During the same time, median income rose nationally.

Over the same time, the national poverty rate rose 0.7 percent. In counties that housed taxpayer-funded NFL stadiums, however, poverty increased at a rate 26.3 percent greater than the national average.

In Cincinnati, for example, home of one of the most irresponsible stadium deals in history, the Bengals stadium devoured 16 percent of the Hamilton County, Ohio, budget, leading to a financial crisis and a rise in property taxes. Taxpayers spent $425 million on the stadium, and have little to show for it besides massive debt and a 60 percent increase in the county’s poverty rate.

The idea that publicly financed stadiums do more harm than good to an area makes all the sense in the world. After all, raising taxes to fund stadium construction saps money from local residents and sends visitors scrambling to cheaper destinations. Much of that lost money would’ve otherwise been spent supporting local businesses and creating jobs in the community. Instead, it’s wasted on corporate welfare for people who are doing just fine without taxpayer handouts.

Not that people like Jerry Jones care.

The Dallas Cowboys owner received some good news earlier last week, courtesy of Forbes. The magazine estimated the team’s worth at more than $4 billion – the most valuable sports team on Earth – thanks largely to the Cowboys’ huge taxpayer-subsidized stadium.

When construction of the Arlington, Texas, stadium went wildly over budget, Mr. Jones convinced local officials to use tax dollars to fund the overruns. When the expenses were tallied, taxpayers owed a half-billion dollars. Five new taxes were levied just to pay the cost.

Now, the oil mogul is raking in record profits from the Cowboys and North Texas taxpayers are left struggling to make ends meet … and they’re not alone.

In Tampa, taxpayers funded the entire $194 million cost of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stadium. Taxpayers in Seattle and suburban Phoenix each ponied up over $300 million in subsidies for new stadiums. Chicago taxpayers spent $387 million just to renovate the Bears’ stadium, Soldier Field.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay sacked taxpayers for $619 million to build Lucas Oil Stadium. After being arrested for DUI and drug possession, it was revealed that Mr. Irsay used a Colts account to buy his mistress a home in which she ultimately was found dead of an overdose. Indianapolis saw poverty rates skyrocket from 12.7 percent before building the dome to 21.3 percent after the stadium’s construction, while median household income dropped more than $10,000. Taxpayers also have to feel at least a little fleeced that they indirectly helped to subsidize Mr. Irsay’s affair and drug use.

Perhaps the biggest villain of all, however, is Zygi Wilf, owner of the Minnesota Vikings. Mr. Wilf got $512 million in state taxpayers’ money after threatening politicians and Vikings fans to move the team to Los Angeles unless someone chipped in half the cost of a new domed stadium. That new stadium, set to open next summer in downtown Minneapolis, is being funded by tax dollars in a state that already has the sixth-highest tax burden in America and is facing a $2.2 billion deficit.

The NFL is America’s most popular – and most lucrative – professional sports league. Teams will share more than $11 billion in profits this year, and even the least valuable team is worth more than $1 billion. There’s no doubt that if an owner wants to build or renovate a stadium, he can afford to do so without taking a dime from taxpayers.

In a league plagued by scandal, it’s nothing short of shameful that the NFL continues to ignore its most widespread scandal of all: the shakedown of America’s taxpayers in order to line the pockets of the NFL’s billionaire owners.

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