Mesa pitched a softball to the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and the Cubs hit it out of the park – but taxpayers should cry foul. Under a new contract, the city will shell out $84 million to build a sparkling new stadium for Cubs spring training. The city promised an additional $15 million for parking, power lines, and other infrastructure, on top of costs for maintenance and capital improvements for 30 years.
The Cubs, on the other hand, will pay around $130,000 annually to the city in rent ($4 million over 30 years). At that rate, it will take literally hundreds of years for the city to break even on its investment. The city must demand more from the Cubs.
Framers of the Arizona Constitution wisely adopted a Gift Clause to ban governments from subsidizing private businesses at the taxpayer’s expense. Mesa’s new stadium deal appears to violate that clause by building a multi-million dollar stadium for the Cubs without requiring the team to return a roughly equal benefit.
When voters authorized public spending for Major League Baseball in Mesa, they didn’t vote away the Constitution. City officials were required to secure a guarantee of direct public benefits from the Cubs in exchange for the city’s $100+ million investment – but $4 million rent doesn’t cut it. There are no guarantees of jobs or tax revenues, and the Cubs can leave with few penalties.
Early in the process, the Goldwater Institute met with city officials, recommending ways to keep the Cubs without violating the constitution. Regrettably, the city adopted none of our suggestions.
Cubbie spring training in Arizona, with all its rich history and tradition, may be intrinsically priceless to some (including yours truly). But the constitution requires a commitment to provide direct, quantifiable value to the public. If the Cubs are confident that they can make the city’s $100 million stadium worth it, then the city should demand that the team step up to the plate and promise performance.
Carrie Ann Sitren is an attorney with the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
Goldwater Institute: Regifting the Gift Clause: How the Arizona Constitution Can End Corporate Subsidies
Goldwater Institute: Proposals to fund new Cubs stadium risk constitutional violations
New York Times: As stadiums vanish, their debt lives on