Let me make a small confession before appealing to you to abide by the Eighth Commandment (it’s easy to look up if you don’t know it). The other day, I misspoke when I was being interviewed on KMOX radio in St. Louis on the topic of the proposed riverfront football stadium for the St. Louis Rams.
Every time I said that there could be no possible justification for using hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer assistance to underwrite the project, the radio host countered by saying, “That’s just business.”
That isn’t business, I told him. Does the owner of a laundromat, a dry cleaners, or almost any other private business expect the state to supply his plant and equipment?
Why should the owners of a richly profitable sports business? I called it beggary or panhandling.
That was unfair to people who beg for money but don’t steal. Some of our political “leaders,” on the other hand, would happily pick the pockets of taxpayers — taking their hard-earned dollars and giving them to the super-rich owners of football teams and their pampered clientele in luxury boxes.
Frederic Bastiat, the great 19th century economist, had a word for the practice of taking from the many to give to the politically favored few. He called it “legal plunder.”
Acting like a gang of pickpockets, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and 17 of 29 aldermen in St. Louis have put together a package of $400 million in taxpayer support for the proposed stadium. They hope it is a sweet enough deal to keep the Rams from bolting to the Los Angeles area.
Naturally, the city’s sports commentariat — its sportswriters and sports radio personalities — are all in favor of this outrage. They say that having an National Football League team “brings us together” as a city.
They claim it is critical to the city’s “image.” They suggest that the new stadium is the needed spark to restore desolate riverfront acreage on the north edge of downtown to the kind of glory that existed late in the 19th century, when scores of steamboats lined the waterfront.
Whatever ails St. Louis (and there’s a lot to talk about there) won’t be solved by having eight tailgate parties a year on the near northside. The argument that we must have (subsidized) football to bring people closer together is laughable — and insulting to the memory of a riverfront city that thrived on free enterprise.
Nobody subsidized the steamboat operators or the busy swarm of merchants who plied their trade in old St. Louis.
So, lawmakers, I call on you to do your duty in the 2016 legislative session. Whatever district you represent, from Caruthersville to Rock Port, your constituents are living under threat of legal thievery to support a project that will do nothing to advance the public good.
You can enforce the thou-shalt-not-steal rule. Let the governor try to issue bonds to help finance the deal. He can’t appropriate the money to pay for them.
Only you can do that. Pass legislation telling the world that you won’t honor the bonds.
In NFL speak, that should be a real deal-breaker.
Andrew B. Wilson is a resident fellow and senior writer at the Show-Me Institute, a free-market think tank based in St. Louis.