Florida Pilot

A compendium of random thoughts from a former Washington Beltway insider who is now having a lot more fun flying small airplanes in Central Florida.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

selling the sizzle

The Tampa Bay Rays have spent the last week or so attempting to sell their plan for a lavish new taxpayer-financed stadium while leaving out the most important details; how and how much will be extracted from local taxpayers. While working out the numbers will apparently take even more time, the Rays wasted no time in sending various customized uniform items to selected state legislators who presumably would be the ones voting on a requested $60 million state subsidy to the team.

Based on some back-of-the-envelope calculations, the projected taxpayer subsidy for the Rays at Tropicana Field over the entire lifetime of the stadium agreement (to 2027) is estimated to be about $8.00 for every person who attends a game. The average ticket price is currently about $17.00 so the tax subsidy is almost 1/3. This is with a stadium with a nominal initial investment of $138 million.

If the Trop is razed, the taxpayers will still be responsible for the repayment of the $130 million or so still owed and the subsidy per attendee will end up being more than the $17 that the typical attendee pays to go to the game.

The new stadium will nominally cost $450 million but the $150 million to be contributed by the Rays ownership will probably turn out to be something a lot less and the $450 million total cost will likely end up being much higher.

Perhaps the most telling statement is that made by Rays primary owner Stuart Sternberg who indicated that he started to plan for a new stadium [to be paid for by the taxpayers] on his second day on the job. Evidently, he did not consider the terrible performance of his team to be an important issue for management.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

reinvented Al Gore

When Al Gore was Vice President, he initiated a "reinventing government" program. Typical for big idea programs pushed by people with little if any knowledge or experience, it was a dismal failure. I know that there were people assigned to write up all of the successes of Gore's program but I think that the actual facts shine though.

What is interesting about Gore is that he has successfully reinvented the only thing he was really capable of which is himself. While Gore was very wooden as a politician, he is a world-class star as a propagandist. Of course, putting on an anti-American global warming show to sympathetic liberals is a lot easier than engaging in actual debate on public policy issues with others who not only have different ideas but are intelligent in their own right.

Gore comes across as a real true believer in his global warming show. Of course, one should also note that he has set himself up to make significant financial gains from sales of carbon offsets. And Gore's lifestyle uses a lot more energy than the average American whose standard of living he is willing to sacrifice.

What is most interesting about Gore is his unwillingness to debate anymore. Remember, this is a guy who believed he could run the country and take on all comers. Nowadays, he doesn't even want to debate about his sole topic of choice, global warming. It appears that he believes that his sale job on the Oscar voters and the Nobel Peace Prize group and given him a lifetime pass from having to debate. More than anything, I think that is why Gore is afraid to run for President. He is just too fat and happy dealing with the converted.

lambs to the slaughter

The plan to extract hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to subsize the worst performing team in the recent history of professional baseball is apparently proceeding along well. Below is a copy of a letter to the editor faxed to the St. Petersburg Times. It will be interesting to see if any of it is published.

If someone proposed a plan to reduce St. Petersburg City and Pinellas County taxes by at least $450,000,000 over a period of years by selling city/county-owned property for development and returning the money raised to taxpayers, I’m sure that the St. Petersburg Times would oppose such a plan on the grounds that there are many unmet needs and so many poor residents in the area needing government assistance.

But the recent proposal to turn over $450,000,000 of city/county money to some of the wealthiest individuals in the nation, the owners of the Rays baseball company represented by multi-millionaire Stuart Sternberg, is treated by the paper as a idea that should be seriously considered.

In addition to the poor public policy of using even more taxpayer money to subsidize businesses owned and operated for the benefit of the well-off, the numbers being discussed simply don’t add up. The Trop site is valued at $100 million or so but the city/county owes more than that on the 17 year old stadium they would have to tear down. Maybe a developer would pay $200 million but there would still not be much left over to pay for a $450 million ball field. Worse yet, the $150 million contribution from the Rays company appears to include a $60 million state tax subsidy as well as a slice of the $100 to $200 million to come from redevelopment of the Trop site. The Rays owners probably expect to pocket all of the money from naming rights meaning they would likely walk away from the closing table with a nice pot of cash.

As the saying goes, the rich get richer.

Monday, November 12, 2007

pickpockets at the baseball park

One always has to watch out for pickpockets and other petty thieves at baseball games and other sporting events. In St. Petersburg, Florida, however, the major pocket picking going on is by the team ownership.

When it comes to baseball, the city of St. Petersburg is a "mark" that can be taken again and again. Some 20 years ago, the city of something like 250,000 people spent close to $100,000,000 to build a baseball stadium "on spec" with the hope that a team would be assigned there. Some 10 years later (and tens of millions more in tax revenues), a team was assigned, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- note it was not the St. Petersburg Devil Rays.

Since the Devil Rays started playing, they have been consistently the worst team in the entire professional sport. Not surprisingly, the attendance has not been the greatest either.

This year, much of Florida is experiencing a tax revolt, so much so that the state legislature has taken steps to roll back and reduce the growth rate of taxes. Localities such as St. Petersburg have had to deal with reductions from planned expenditures.

One might think that now would not be a good time for a private business with a poor performance record to ask for massive public subsidies but this is not just any private business but a baseball team. The Devil Rays have now reinvented themselves as the Rays and want a $450,000,000 public subsidy to provide them with a new ball field. Wow!

Remember, there are 20 years remaining to pay for the existing ball field. The Rays want the city to raze the existing ball field and resell the land for high density development and use the money to further subsidize the baseball operation. The hope to have their new ball field, to be built on prime waterfront property, ready for use by 2012. There is no mention of where the money is going to come from to pay for the remaining amount due on the existing baseball field.

While details are scarce, the team seems to be offering to put in some of the money for the new stadium -- or are they? They also want a state tax subsidy of $60,000,000 and I'm sure they expect to receive any proceed from the sale of naming rights.

It is hard to imagine that St. Petersburg would suffer much if the Devil Rays, oops Rays, would just disappear and end up playing somewhere else. The taxpayers would certainly benefit.

The Hillary Campaign

It is interesting to watch how the Hillary Clinton campaign apparatus responds to errors and mistakes.

When she was caught trying to give two different and incompatible answers to a single question in a debate a couple of weeks ago, her staff tried to blame it on the moderator asking questions. She personally accused the men of piling on and then her husband chimed in. It was a well-orchestrated if ineffective response.

Now we find out that Hillary's campaign has tried to have specific questions planted in the audience for those occasions in which she is asked questions. After an initial denial, an admission was made that this might have happened one time. Now we understand it was attempted on at least one other occasion. The latest response -- a claim that George Bush is worse! Huh? I don't think Bush is even running -- and certainly not in the democratic primary.

Is Hillary really in charge of her campaign apparatus? If so, it reinforces the conclusion that she is below the norm for ethics in politicians (and the norm is pretty low). If not, it suggests that she would fall far short of the ability to run the country. This is reminiscent of John Kerry's campaign which was so disorganized and mismanaged that he couldn't even keep his wife's public statements under control.