It’s been a tug of war lately between the city of St. Louis and the Rams’ management, as franchise owner Stan Kroenke’s eagerness to break up with Missouri and ship his squad off to California has led to a number of city officials doing everything in their power to salvage the relationship between team and town.
Perhaps nowhere is that more clear than in proposals for a new taxpayer-funded Rams stadium, which might be enough to keep the club in St. Louis if passed, but has drawn criticism for the, at minimum, hundreds of millions of dollars it would require taxpayers to fork over.
To put it mildly, the idea of publicly funding arenas and stadiums has always been contentious. Why should we tack on an extra hundred million dollars to our working families’ tax tab, rather than ask the Kroenkes of the world to do so?
That's what sportswriter and on-air personality Bernie Miklasz was asking Wednesday. Miklasz has an ESPN-affiliated podcast in St. Louis, where he had NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman as a guest. Miklasz told Grubman that if he ever had $7 billion, he’d like to think he’d cut the taxpayers a break and take on more of the spending load.
Grubman's job is to represent the interests of the league’s owners, so naturally, he was having no part of that:
I don’t believe you, and you don’t believe yourself. What you just said is, "If I’m worth $7.2 billion, the difference between $400 million and $300 million as a public contribution isn’t going to change anything, and I’m going to work with them at $300 million even if it’s not $400 million." I call BS on that ...
Everyone has options, and they have to weigh those options against one another, and it’s not fair for you to bring up a person’s net worth to say that makes the difference between $400 million and $300 million.
In a nutshell, Grubman's argument was that you can’t ask these owners to make a bad financial choice for themselves in order to help others out -- that asking a businessman to make a “suboptimal business decision” is just unreasonable and unrealistic. Over and over again, he argued that you can’t combine economics and emotions, that money and sentiment are just like oil and vinegar -- they simply don't mix.
The exchange begins to heat up around the 22-minute mark.
Grubman is right that businessmen will almost always think about what's best for themselves, and won’t want to spend more than they have to. But Miklasz speaks for a lot of non-billionaires when he questions the justice behind making the common people pay for billionaires' extravagances.
Economics and emotion might not mix, sure -- but Grubman is missing the crux of Miklasz's argument here. Democracy isn't about taking advantage of loopholes and shoving your expenses off onto others just because you can. So until there's some policy change that addresses the public funding conundrum, this is going to continue to be a situation in which the taxpayers get the short end of the stick.
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