Dave Helling | Taxpayer subsidies keep us in the game

Dave Helling
Dave Helling

In 1954, Kansas City officials were transfixed with the idea of landing a major league baseball franchise. As it happened, the Philadelphia Athletics were available — for a price.

It wasn’t much. Voters approved $2 million in bonds to buy and rebuild Municipal Stadium. A sweetheart lease was offered, ticket sales guaranteed.

And when the A’s moved here the next year, Kansas City’s fate was sealed. We joined the sports subsidy business.

Last week, WHB talk show host Kevin Kietzman started a ruckus by revealing that the Royals use most of their taxpayer maintenance money for personnel costs, including some taxes and other operating expenses. When the dust settled, everyone agreed the spending was legal but disagreed on whether taxpayers were being gouged.

But the teams’ maintenance funds are a sideshow compared to the half


dollars that taxpayers agreed to kick in six years ago to refurbish the Truman Sports Complex.

Taxpayer subsidies for sports and entertainment are an old story here. Subsidies helped build Livestrong Sporting Park and Kansas Speedway in Wyandotte County. Taxpayers fixed up Kemper Arena and kept it open for decades. Taxpayers spruced up Municipal Auditorium and subsidized Bartle Hall. Taxpayers built the Sprint Center, urged on by the very voices now wanting to “protect the taxpayer” at Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums.

Soon we’ll hear those voices again. The Royals need $600 million to go downtown, they’ll proclaim, or Arrowhead Stadium just isn’t what it used to be.

We’re far from alone. The St. Louis Rams want $700 million to fix up their 17-year old stadium. Minnesotans are on the hook for half of the Vikings’ new $1 billion stadium. The British spent $17 billion for the Olympics. Everywhere, in every way, private sports businesses ask for, and get, public help.

But it’s never a bad thing to watch out for taxpayers, so here’s a modest proposal. Let’s save some real money. Instead of just worrying about small maintenance funds, close the ballparks completely. Mothball the soccer field. Shutter the arenas. Lock up the field houses, the high school stadiums, the gyms.

The result? It would probably take other cities about a week to do to us what we did to Philadelphia half a century ago.

You might believe losing sports here would be a good thing, or a bad thing — that’s a topic for another day. But once you’ve decided to spend public money for private sports franchises, which Kansas City has, how the teams spend the money is essentially accounting.

We know this: Losing its sports teams would sure make Kansas City a different place.

It would be quieter, for one thing. And those sports talk show guys would have nothing to talk about.