Sunday, February 15, 2015

On The Weapons-Grade Stupid In Wisconsin

The proposal from legally dubious Gov. Walker of Wisconsin to pay for a new stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks is in, and in any just or sane world it would provoke hysterical laughter. In so many words, it calls for the "athlete tax" - income taxes from pro athletes plying their trade in Wisconsin - to back $220M in bond revenues that can then be handed to the Wall Street vampires who bought the team. In return, the vampires in question, who have been drumming up support for this nonsense by bestowing tiny ownership slivers in the Bucks around town, will agree to take that money and not move the team. In other words, they will take $220M in arena bonds to continue to make money by largely doing nothing.

That alone should be enough to generate a rousing chorus of "WTF?" But if you dig a little deeper, it gets better. Neil DeMause over at Field of Schemes did the math and doped out that in order for Walker's numbers to work, the average NBA salary would have to rise to roughly $33M a year.

LeBron James currently makes $20.64M a year.

So, by Governor Scotty logic, NBA broadcast package increases would have to be so immense that the average NBA player - the Tyler Zellers of the world - would be making 65% more than LeBron is now.

This, as they say, is not going to happen. Yes, broadcast rights payments are ballooning right now because live sports can still serve as appointment television. But the odds of the current cable TV model lasting twenty years are remote. Those hyperinflating payments aren't going to continue to hyperinflate. And when those ridiculous revenue estimates aren't met, it's the public that's going to be on the hook for the difference.

(Seriously. Ask the folks in New Jersey who are still paying for the Meadowlands. Or the good burghers of Seattle, almost done paying off the long-imploded Kingdome. Or, well, there are lots and lots and lots of other examples.)

And then there's the whole notion of the "athlete tax". Superficially, it meets the "no tax hike, no new taxes" dogma handed down to Grover Norquist on stone tablets, but it's really just a diversion of existing tax revenue away from the state and to the pockets of a couple of individuals. If that $220M were to actually exist, the state could potentially find a better use for it than paying ransom. Infrastructure comes to mind as one possibility. Education is another. God forbid some of it goes to social services, even.

(Before you get your free market knickers in a twist, remember that during the last NBA labor dispute, the owners' rallying cry was that they wanted guaranteed profits. Or, as the rest of the world calls it, a safety net. Exactly the sort of thing these bold risk-taking entrepreneurs continually rail against.)

Which leaves us, ultimately, with an absurdity. What is really being proposed here is a clawback by the Bucks' owners, aided and abetted by the state. It is a return of monies paid to the players in salary to the ones who paid them that money in the first place. In other words, the Bucks' players are going to be given the unique opportunity to pay their employers for the privilege of working, which sounds like a Monty Python sketch until you realize it isn't.

And when that money that's been conjured from a magical land where Arthur Laffer poops rainbows fails to materialize because, really, there is no possible way they can, well it doesn't take a genius to figure out who else is going to be paying for those bonds. Which, on the bright side, will unite the players and the fans in an unexpected way - they'll both be paying for that bond giveaway for a long, long time. 
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