Monday, March 8, 2010

Keillor and Bush: Taxpayer-funded stadiums rock!

When it comes to former President George W. Bush, Garrison Keillor and Michael Moore agree: they don't like him. Not one tiny bit.

So I was quite surprised to read Keillor's recent ode to brand-new, taxpayer-funded Target Field. The Minnesota Twins' new outdoor baseball palace in downtown Minneapolis is set to open April 10. According to a recent Keillor column, which I am not linking here because I cannot find it online, Keillor rode his bike around downtown and paused to admire Target Field's beauty.

One learns in great detail in the book Field of Schemes that taxpayer-funded stadiums are a ploy for the super-rich (owners and players) to enjoy a massive subsidy from working stiffs. In the last two decades, billions of tax dollars went to build dozens of stadia for football, baseball, basketball and hockey across the country. The government waste is often astounding: Maryland built two outdoor football-only stadia 35 miles apart. Before becoming governor of Texas, George W. Bush failed at almost every business opportunity he tried, even when his father's wealthy friends gave him considerable seed money. His one business triumph was the Texas Rangers baseball team. The taxpayers of the Metroplex (Dallas, Ft. Worth and Arlington) built a new ballpark for the Rangers, expecting the Rangers to pay rent for the use of the facility. The Rangers simply tacked a rent surcharge on tickets so the fans end up paying the rent. Even better for the Rangers, the team will own the ballpark outright when the leasing agreement expires in a few years. Bush cashed out with a tidy profit when he sold his share of the team.

Keillor, supposedly a champion of the working man and dyed-in-the-wool liberal, thinks taxpayers building stadia for wealthy owners and players is a great idea. Or is it just in this one instance, for his beloved Minnesota Twins? Did he put his team in front of principle?

I'm still dumbfounded by the Twins playing in a ballpark exposed to the Minneapolis weather in April, May and September. The owners should certainly have paid an extra $100 million for a retractable dome. I certainly understand the team's desire to leave the aging Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (now Mall of America Field). Derided as a "Baggie," the "Rollerdome" (Mike Ditka) or, in Keillor's column, "a basement," it was no place for baseball. But why should fans pay good money to sit in 30-degree temperatures for three hours? After the novelty of the new ballpark wears off, the Twins might want to reserve the Metrodome for cold-weather games.

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