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Bills-stadium_jpg-300x199The New York State Assembly would like the Bills to reimburse the state for its contribution to the renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium if the Bills leave town. The state’s investment is $60 million.

The Bills, state and Erie County agreed the team would pay a $400 million penalty if they left town during the 10-year lease. But the Bills have an out that allows to pay only $29 million if they leave after the seventh year.

The assembly would have the Bills pay back the $60 million if they leave at any time during the lease, in addition to the other penalties.

The Buffalo News reports Assemblyman Steve Katz of Putnam County said:

“Aren’t they wealthy enough that they can handle their own operating support?” Katz asked Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chairman Herman Farrell.

“I don’t see that this is the financial boon to the City of Buffalo,” Katz said, suggesting the state should be wary of sports franchises that threaten to leave if they don’t get public funding.

Gannett reports Katz got pushback from someone who seriously tried to compare the Bills stadium with the Tappan Zee Bridge, which runs through Katz’s district:

Assemblyman Steve Katz: “I dare say a whole lot more people will be using the Tappan Zee Bridge and will be employing far more people than anything coming out of Ralph Wilson stadium. One is vital transportation to bring economic development to get people from one state to another on a bridge versus something, that as much as I love it, is still an elective, still a luxury.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Poloncarz says that on the Bills deal, once you total in the state income tax that will be paid by the players and the sales tax by fans, the state will come out ahead.

Katz demanded Polancarz show him the figures. I doubt they’ll ever be produced. Study after study shows stadiums have dubious economic impact. Polancarz is wrong in using sales tax figures to justify taxpayer investment in the stadium. That line of reasoning assumes people who attend games would not spend their money on other forms of entertainment within New York state. Furthermore, spending money at a Bills game is a little like eating at a chain restaurant; less of the fans’ money stays local.

As for the players’ hefty salaries, perhaps it’s a wiser investment for government to focus on economic development that creates long-lasting, good-paying jobs.

Links of the Day:

– Frontier’s CEO is getting a raise and a potential bonus that would more than double her salary.

– An Onondaga County school superintendent is being paid $185,000 to “retire.” These types of gifts should be illegal.

– A fruit company is opening a plant in Central New York, hoping to ride the yogurt wave.

The high-tech future of streetlights.

7 Responses to Make Them Pay It Back

  1. Should the government support any “elective” things at all? The NEA budget is in excess if $150 million dollars, if you advocate that we shouldn’t spend public money on sports stadiums, then we shouldn’t spend public money on the arts, which (though I have no studies) likely have similar-at-best fiscal benefits. The county spends $7 million on libraries, which certainly don’t recoup that money (not that I would suggest we cut back on libraries, but I don’t use them, the same way some don’t use sports stadiums). I think lost in this debate is that not all public investments need to be about fiscal gain, without public support, the Bills are in LA, Toronto, or some other city (look at the Seattle Sonics –> Oklahoma City mess, or the current Sacramento Kings plan to move to Seattle), and that would be a significant loss for the community.

  2. March 14, 2013 at 10:39 am lynn e responds:

    The stadiums seem to attract certain people. A big question is whether Buffalo is a big enough city to keep a major league football team. It really isn’t anymore.

  3. March 14, 2013 at 10:42 am Ginny Maier responds:

    Ed, the difference between the Bills and the arts and libraries is that the Bills is a highly profitable venture, whereas arts organizations that get NEA grants and libraries are non-profit “public good” organizations. I might be sympathetic to your argument that taxpayers should fund sporting venues if this is the ONLY way that a sport or similar opportunity would exist — that is, it could not make a profit. We as taxpayers have some say in how our tax money is spent, and supporting certain sports could be one of those items. However, when we are subsidizing a for-profit enterprise this represents a transfer of wealth from taxpayers to profit-takers. The Bills do not run this business to provide a service to the community or to provide jobs — they run it to make themselves rich. If they feel they can make more money moving to another city, I sort of feel like they should just do that instead of holding us hostage. We shouldn’t have to “buy” the loyalty of a sports team — it doesn’t make me feel proud to have a team in our area, if the only way we can have it is to pay them off.

  4. March 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm theodore e kumlander responds:

    i just love the way good old boy and girl republicans like to get their hand in the public purse up to the elbow

  5. March 14, 2013 at 6:02 pm Animule responds:

    The Premier soccer league in Europe has a concept called “relegation.” If a team is perennially bad, they run the risk of being “relegated” to a lesser league and they would have to win their way back into the Premier league. This creates pressure on the team to get better, or at least look like they are trying to get better.

    No such system exists in the NFL, which means teams like the Buffalo Bills can be perennially bad, with almost no consequences. Lacking any true outside pressure to get better (the Bills have many sellouts during the season, so the fans dont’ care no matter how much bellyaching goes on) Buffalo has endured a playoff drought longer than any team in the league. And in what has been the tradition each off-season, has become worse again this winter, instead of better. This team looks like an operation being managed for a “quick sale” with minimal investment in payroll going forward, so the new owners (once Ralph dies) will be free to make whatever changes they want.

    Since the league can’t “relegage” the Bills, the fans can, by refusing to pony up one more dollar to sink in this rathole. This is a team that seems to exist with one goal in mind: bilk the fans. Western New York needs to call the Bills’ bluff. The team has no intention of becoming competitive. All of the money that is spent on the team ends up going in a precious few pockets, the vast majority of which reside outside of Buffalo and New York State. Reality is that we would all be better off financially, at least, if the Bills closed shop and we no longer had to support them and the white elephant of a stadium they play at in Orchard Park. Buffalo would actually be doing someting constructive here, becoming the first muncipality in the country to say “enough” to sports welfare. It’s about time.

    • March 15, 2013 at 8:01 am Hahvahd St responds:

      I love the concept of relegation, it keeps teams honest because they must be competitive as well as financially prudent (read about Leeds United, Portsmouth). I would love to see it in American sports because it means there is always something to play for, unfortunately we don’t have the sports infrastructure set up to have this kind of system.

  6. March 15, 2013 at 5:12 am TechnologyProfessional responds:

    Theodore, you’ve got to actually read the Buffalo News story. Katz, a Republican, is challenging the whole idea of public money for sports teams. Farrell and other Democrats are the ones supporting the deal. The disagreement is simply between Democrats (Cuomo, the Assembly Dems) over exact terms.

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