Scott Walker’s government welfare for fat cats

     Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks about a deal to pay for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks at a news conference Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Madison, Wis. Taxpayers would pick up half the cost of a new $500 million arena for the NBA basketball team under a financial deal that would rely on current and former team owners for the rest, Walker said Thursday. (Morry Gash/AP Photo)

    Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks about a deal to pay for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks at a news conference Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Madison, Wis. Taxpayers would pick up half the cost of a new $500 million arena for the NBA basketball team under a financial deal that would rely on current and former team owners for the rest, Walker said Thursday. (Morry Gash/AP Photo)

    Hey, remember Scott Walker? The alleged hot commodity who was a semi-cipher during the first Republican debate? Who has been toppled from the Iowa top spot by Donald Trump? Walker isn’t the flavor du jour, but today he’s doing something well worth noting.

    He’s putting his hypocrisy on full display.

    The self-styled fiscal conservative and tea party fave is slated to announce a deal that’s basically government welfare for fat cats – with most of it, roughly $400 million, financed by Wisconsin’s taxpayers.The deal is so egregious, so disadvantageous for taxpayers, that a slew of conservative groups are savagely attacking it.

    It’s classic sports pork. The hedge fund managers who own the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team have demanded a a new downtown arena, and threatened to move elsewhere if the demand wasn’t met. Two key Bucks investors have sucked up to Walker by donating $200,000 to a super PAC that supports his presidential bid. The carrot-and-stick approach paid off. Walker squeezed a deal through the Republican legislature, and he’s signing it today.

    You know how conservatives like Walker always say that government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers, that the private sector should determine such things? Walker has junked that principle.

    In this deal, the hedge fund owners (who are reportedly worth a combined $4 billion) will contribute $250 million for a new arena with lavish corporate boxes; the taxpayers (most of whom will never see a Bucks game) will immediately kick in another $250 million, but their tab is projected to exceed $400 million once all the property tax abatements and sales tax exemptions are tallied. Plus, the Bucks owners will reportedly pocket all the revenues, including the $4 million-a-year naming rights.

    Walker, of course, is not the only politician to succumb to jock-sniffing. Sports owners have long demanded ransoms, lest they move elsewhere, and the deferential responses have been bipartisan. But this is a guy who markets himself as a fiscally conservative foe of government aid. Turns out, he’s fine with soaking the taxpayer if the beneficiaries are members of the one percent. In the latest Wisconsin budget, he cut $250 million from the state university system – and gave the same sized handout to the Bucks billionaires.

    Conservative groups have noticed Walker’s flight from principle. David Boaz, a spokesman for the libertarian Cato Institute, says Walker’s taxpayer-subsidized arena deal is proof that he “shouldn’t be anywhere near the federal Treasury.” David Fladeboe, Wisconsin director of Americans for Prosperity – a Koch brothers group – says that “government shouldn’t be in the business of financing private sports stadiums.”  Nick Novak, spokesman for the MacIver Institute, a free-market think tank, says, “This doesn’t look like a good deal for taxpayers. You’ve got billionaires who clearly can afford to build their own arena.”

    Walker keeps saying that it’s actually a great deal for taxpayers; he recently told ABC News that the state will get $3 back in revenue for every $1 of taxpayer invested. But that claim is almost as hilarious as his boast that fighting labor unions has prepared him for fighting ISIS.

    The truth is, taxpayers don’t reap windfalls from publicly-financed arenas; more typically, they’re left holding the bag. This issue has been studied to death; the virtual consensus contradicts Walker’s pie-eyed spin.

    For instance, sports economic experts Victor Matheson and Robert Baade have concluded: “Live attendance at major sporting events is dominated by wealthy individuals, and the revenue generated by sporting events for the most part ends up in the pockets of millionaire players and billionaire owners….Evidence of significant direct economic benefits from sporting events, franchises, and stadiums, is lacking….Voters and public officials should not be deluded by over-optimistic predictions of a financial windfall.”

    Two other economic scholars, Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys have similarly written: “The results of studies on changes in the economy resulting from the presence of stadiums, arenas, and sports teams show no positive economic impact from professional sports – or a possible negative effect.” At the Cato Institute, Robert Keating concurred in a report: “The lone beneficiaries of sports subsidies are team owners and players.”

    No matter. Today, Walker will betray his fiscal conservative brand and hand out his taxpayer-financed corporate welfare. In the next Republican debate, he should get this question: If you’re so willing to surrender to billionaires, how are you going to stand up to ISIS?

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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