Posts tagged ‘Goldwater Institute’

Corporate Welfare and the Thin Edge of the Wedge

The other day, the City of Glendale approved a deal which has the city subsidizing (more in a second) the buyers of the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team to get them to actually stay in town rather than move to Seattle.  The deal is arguably better than deals it was offered in the past (it gets shares of parking and naming rights it did not have before) and may even be a rational deal given where it is today.

But that is the catch -- the phrase "where it is today."  At some level it is insane for a city of 250,000 people to pony up even more subsidies for a team that has the lowest attendance in the league.  The problem is that the city built the stadium in the first place -- a $300 million dollar palace for a metropolitan area that already had a major arena downtown and which was built (no disrespect to Glendale) on the ass-end of the metropolitan area, a good 90 minute round trip drive for the affluent Scottsdale and east-side corporate patrons who typically keep a sports franchise afloat.

Building this stadium was a terrible decision, and I and many others said so at the time.  But once the decision was made, it drove all the future decisions.  Because the hockey team is the only viable tenant to pay the rent in that building, the city rationally will kick back subsidies to the team to keep it in place to protect its rent payments and sales taxes from businesses supported by the team and the arena.  The original decision to build that stadium has handcuffed Glendale's fiscal situation for decades to come.  One can only hope that cities considering major stadium projects will look to Glendale's and Miami's recent experiences and think twice about building taxpayer funded facilities for billionaires.

The deal the other night to keep the team went down in the only way it could have.  As I had written, the NHL was insisting on selling the team for its costs when it took it over in bankruptcy, which were about $200 million, which was well north of the $100 million the team was worth, creating a bid-ask gap.  Several years ago, the city tried to just hand $100 million to a buyer to make up the gap, but failed when challenged by the Goldwater Institute.  The only real avenue it had left was to pass the value over to the buyers in the form of an above-market-rate stadium management contract.

And that is what happened, and I guess I will say at least it was all moderately transparent.  The NHL came down to a price of $175 million, still $75 million or so above what the team is worth.   The City had already sought arms-length bids for the stadium management contract, and knew that a fair market price for that contract would be $6 million per year.  It ended up paying the buying group $15 million per year for the 15-year contract, representing a subsidy of $9 million a year for 15 years.  By the way, the present value of $9 million over 15 years at 8% is... $75 million, exactly what was needed to make up the bid-ask gap.  Again, I think the city almost had to do it, because the revenue stream it was protecting is likely higher than $9 million.  But this is the kind of bad choices they saddled themselves with by building the stadium in the first place.

This May Finally End NHL Hockey in Arizona

Let me bring you up to speed:  The NHL owns the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team, having taken them over in bankruptcy.  It needs to sell the team and is demanding $200 million for the team, having promised the league owners it would not accept anything less (so they will not take a loss in the investment).  The team is worth, however, something like $100 million, at least if it stays in Arizona.

The team plays in a stadium built by the relatively small city (250,000 people) of Glendale, which put something like $300 million of taxpayer money into the stadium and has provided operating subsidies to the team the last several years that probably total another $100 million, at least.  The city has a bad hand, but keeps doubling down on its bet to try to retain the team.

The problem, of course, is the $100 million difference in the bid-ask for the team.  Glendale first tried to fix this by agreeing in a previous deal couple of years ago to basically give the buyer $100 million of taxpayer money to bridge the bid-ask gap.  The Goldwater Institute sued, saying that the Arizona Constitution pretty clearly states the government can't directly subsidize commercial interests.  They prevailed (before it ever reached court) and the deal died.

The only way left for Glendale to make the deal happen was to give a buyer $100 million in taxpayer money but to do so in a more disguised manner.  The one option they had was in the stadium management contract.  If they agreed, say, to pay the buyer $10 million a year over market rates for the stadium management contract, over 15 years that has about a $100 million present value.  They can get away with this because there is no objective valuation of what a management contract would cost on the open market.

But their ability to do this is, thankfully, about to die.  Under intense pressure, and in a fit of good government that I am sure Glendale regrets, it actually went out and sought arms-length contracts for stadium management from third parties.  It is enormously unlikely the city will accept any of these bids, because it needs the stadium contract as a carrot for someone to buy the Coyotes at the NHL's inflated price.  Besides, I bid on large contracts a lot and I have often been presented with bid packages from an entity that had no intention of awarding, but wanted me to go through all the bid effort just to establish an internal price benchmark or to keep their preferred provider honest.  I can smell these from a mile away now.

The problem Glendale will have, though, is that when these 3rd party bids become public (which they inevitably will), it will then be impossible to hide the implicit subsidy in the management contract.  Presumably, taxpayers then will push back on any future deals using this dodge, though Glendale citizens seem pretty supine so one never knows.  Also, the city can also tweak the responsibilities of the stadium contract, thereby allowing them to claim that comparisons against these past bids are apples and oranges (though this will be hard as I expect arms-length bids around $5 million a year vs. $15 million they propose to pay the team buyer).

PS-  It is hilarious to see worried comments from Gary Bettman (NHL Commissioner) about how hard on Glendale it will be if the Coyotes leave town.  Merely lowering his asking price to something less than 2x the market price would solve the problem in an instant.

Site Fixed -- Come Back and Visit

For a second time in a month the MySql database became corrupted.  I am not sure why, but it now looks like it may be a systematic problem I have to tackle rather than a one-off.

Here is what you may have missed today

Three Cheers For Goldwater Institute Fighting Pension Spiking

Taking the Fifth, Because No One Can Pledge Confidentiality any More

Update on Climate Temperature Sensitivity (Good News, the Numbers are Falling)

Three Cheers For Goldwater Institute Fighting Pension Spiking

The Goldwater Institute is threatening to sue the City of Phoenix in order to stop pension spiking.  According to the Arizona Republic,

State law says “unused sick leave, payment in lieu of vacation, payment for unused compensatory time or payment for any fringe benefits” cannot be used as compensation to compute retirement benefits.

State law also says that only “base salary, overtime pay, shift differential pay, military differential wage pay, compensatory time used by an employee in lieu of overtime not otherwise paid by an employer and holiday pay” may be used to calculate pension benefits.

This seems pretty explicit.  The City admits to using sick leave, vacation pay, and fringe benefit values (e.g. cars and cell phones) in the pension calculation.  So this seems pretty cut and dried.  The city is breaking the explicit letter of the law.

That Goldwater has a good case can be judged from the fairly lame defenses of Phoenix practices by local unions.  None seem to address the basic legal issue, but instead accuse Goldwater of "wasting taxpayer funds if it forced Phoenix to defend itself in court", a fairly hilarious attempt to claim the moral high ground of fiscal responsibility.

In fact, it appears that public workers believe  (and I think this is a fairly common belief) that their collective bargaining agreements trump state law.

John Teffy, a Phoenix Fire Department captain, said Goldwater should stand down.

“It seems to me that if the Goldwater Institute took the time to understand how the city works and how contracts work, they would know there is a much simpler way to address this than with (threats of) frivolous lawsuits,” Teffy said.

I did not understand this statement at first, but what I think he is saying is that since the "Contract" in his mind supersedes all laws, then the way to deal with this is through a contract renegotiation.  I think public workers see the writing on the wall and know that pension spiking is illegal, so they are hoping to handle this through a contract negotiation that just shifts this lost spiked value to workers in some other more legal form.  A great strategy for them, but a terrible one for taxpayers, who should not have to pay for the union's past illegality.

In Praise of Utah

I sat through a series of sessions held with legislators today in Utah, and I must say I was pretty impressed with the fiscal sanity that has ruled this state through the last 10 years, and saw it successfully through the recent downturn.  When tax revenues were up last decade, they were doing crazy, nutty things like actually building up their rainy day fund.  And they are already talking this year about contributing to rather than withdrawing from this fund.  They still do silly politician-stuff (the law to name a state gun comes to mind) but overall a good session, facilitated by a terrific, scrappy group called the Utah Taxpayers Association.  These guys had the governor, the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, and numerous legislators participating.  I am not sure our larger and much better funded Goldwater Institute in AZ could do as well.

As an added bonus, I found myself sitting with a talking to Billy Casper, two-time winner of the US Open and Master Champion.  Turns out Mr. Casper is in roughly the same business I am, lending his name and time to a large firm that privately manages public golf courses.

Bonus Utah Observation:  You would expect a state with a large LDS influence to have oddities in its alcohol laws, but other than state-run liquor stores (which can be found in a number of other states, alas) I observed nothing too odd.  What I had not thought about was coffee.  There are very few Starbucks here, due in large part to LDS prohibitions on caffeine.  I know a lot of software firms moved here -- I wonder how they even function without large supplies of Mountain Dew Code Red?

Oh, and I know you don't think BBQ in Utah, but Pat's is freaking awesome.  My competitor who is based on the area was nice enough to buy me lunch.  And just in time, as about an hour later it was announced I had just won a large contract from him.

Paying More Now So We Can Pay More Later

From the Goldwater Institute, on the amount of money we in Phoenix are paying in taxes to support union management costs

Phoenix taxpayers spend millions of dollars to pay full salary and benefits for city employees to work exclusively for labor unions, a Goldwater Institute investigation found.

Collective bargaining agreements with seven labor organizations require the city to pay union officers and provide members with thousands of additional hours to conduct union business instead of doing their government jobs.

The total cost to Phoenix taxpayers is about $3.7 million per year, based on payroll records supplied by the city. In all, more than 73,000 hours of annual release time for city workers to conduct union business at taxpayers’ expense are permitted in the agreements.

The top officials in all of the unions have regular jobs with the city. But buried in the labor agreements are a series of provisions for those employees to be released from their regular duties to perform union work.

For top officers, the typical amount of annual release time is 2,080 hours, a full year of work based on 52 weeks at 40 hours each. They continue to draw full pay and benefits, just as if they were showing up for their regular jobs. But they are released from their regular duties to conduct undefined union business.

Union officials say the time is a good investment that leads to a more productive workforce. Critics say it amounts to an illegal gift of taxpayer money.

The "more productive workforce" line is just hilarious.  99.9% of the this work very likely is against the best interests of taxpayers, either raising future salaries or enforcing productivity-killing work rules or preventing the termination of incompetent employees.

I understand that there are similar provisions in some private union contracts, but if I was a shareholder in these companies I would be outraged about those as well.  As it turns out, private companies that have these deals tend to be among the most dysfunctional and uncompetitive in the country (e.g. GM).

What's particularly ugly about this is that it is so reminiscent of a number of Soprano's episodes, with the mafia guys all sitting around in no-work and no-show jobs at taxpayer expense.

Hey, I Can Like Ice Hockey But Still Hate Subsidies

Spend a few nights listening to the news on TV, and you will quickly discover the one of the bedrock logical fallacies of political discourse:

If it's good, the government should subsidize it.  If it's bad, the government should ban it.  If outcomes are in any way perceived by any group to be sub-optimal, then the government should regulate it.  Anyone who opposes these bans, subsidies, and regulations must therefore be a supporter of bad outcomes, hate poor people, want people to get sick and die, etc.

Just last night, I was watching the local news (something I almost never do) and saw a story of one of those kids' bouncy houses that blew out of someone's backyard into a road.  There was a girl inside who was scared but unhurt  (after all, she was surrounded on six sides by giant airbags).   Of course the conclusion of the story was a call for more government regulation of tie downs for private backyard bouncy houses.  And those of us who think it's absurd for the government to micro-regulate such things, particularly after a single freak accident when no one was hurt -- we just want to see children die, of course.

Which brings me to this little gem in a local blog, which reflects a feeling held by many area sports fans.  Remember that I have supported the Goldwater Institute in their opposition to the city of Glendale giving a rich guy $200 million to buy our NHL ice hockey team and keep it here.    My (and I presume Goldwater's) motivation has been opposition to a huge government subsidy that equates to nearly $1000 for every man, woman, and child in Glendale.  This subsidy appears illegal under the Arizona Constitution.  But that is not how political discourse works.  We are not defending the Constitution, we just hate hockey (emphasis added)

If you believe Canadian newspapers, tonight's game against the Detroit Red Wings will be the Phoenix Coyotes last game in the desert.

Canadians like hockey. Judging by attendance at Coyotes games, Phoenicians don't (at least not enough to drive to west side), which is why Canadians are so optimistic that their beloved Winnipeg Jets will be returning to our overly polite neighbors to the north.

The Coyotes ended the season with the second worst attendance in the NHL. That, coupled with the Goldwater Institute's crusade to drive the team out of the Valley, is not helping the city of Glendale's attempt to keep the team.

A few facts to remember:

  • As the article states, local residents have already voted with their feet, since the team has nearly the lowest attendance in the league despite going to the playoffs both last year and this year.  They have trouble selling out playoff games.
  • The team has lost money every year it has been here.  It lost something like $40 million this year
  • The team is worth $100 million here in Phoenix.  That is the going rate for warm-market teams.  The buyer is willing to pay $100 million of his own money for the team.   So why is a subsidy needed?  The NHL insists on selling the team for $200 million or more.  Though it piously claims to want to keep hockey in Arizona, it is selling the team for price than can only be paid by buyers who want to move the team.
  • The City of Glendale appears to have lied outright in selling this deal to the public.  In particular, it claimed the $100 million was not a giveaway, but a payment for the team's rights to charge for parking.  But many insiders say the City always retained this right, and it strains credulity that while losing money for seven years, the team would not have exercised this right if it really owned it.
  • Glendale has only itself to blame, confounding an already difficult marketing task (ice hockey in the desert) by putting the stadium on the far end of a sprawling city.   The location is roughly the equivalent in terms of distance and relationship to the metropolitan area of moving the Chicago Blackhawks or Bulls stadium to Gary, Indiana.  The stadium ended up in Glendale because neither Tempe, Scottsdale, nor Phoenix was willing to make a $200 million, 30-year taxpayer-funded bet on the profitability of ice hockey.

I Can Die a Happy Blogger Now. George Will Quoted Me in a Column

Those of you who are regular readers are probably tired of hearing me rant about the proposed Glendale, Arizona subsidy of the Phoenix Coyote's team (here, here, here), a subsidy that runs afoul both of our state Constitution and of common sense.  This week, George Will enters the fray, and actually quotes me at the bottom of his column.  Most of the column should be familiar to those following the story here, but of course being George Will it is so much pithier than I could tell the story.  I liked this bit:

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman agrees with McCain that the world is out of joint when people can second-guess the political class: “It fascinates me that whoever is running the Goldwater Institute can substitute their judgment for that of the Glendale City Council.” He will learn not to provoke Olsen, who says, “It happens to fascinate me greatly that the commissioner thinks a handful of politicians can substitute their judgment for the rule of law.”

The Chicago Political Paradigm

Over the last few weeks I have been following the story of the city of Glendale, AZ, in order to protect a previous $200 million public investment in our hockey team, proposing to issue another $100 million bond issue to help subsidize the purchase of the hockey team out of bankruptcy.

The real furor began when the Goldwater Institute, a local libertarian-conservative think tank, said they were considering suing over the bond issue because it violates the gift clause of the Arizona Constitution, which basically bans municipal governments from providing direct subsidies or lending their credit to private institutions.  The gift clause has been frequently breached in the past (politicians do love to subsidize high-profile businesses), but of late Goldwater has successfully challenged several public expenditures under the gift clause.

I won't rehash the whole argument, but I found this bit from Senator McCain interesting

He called on the Goldwater Institute, a Valley watchdog that intends to sue to block the deal, to sit down and negotiate to keep the team

The buyer Matthew Hulsizer and his staff have taken this position throughout the deal -- they have lamented that they are more than willing to "negotiate" with Goldwater, and they are frustrated Goldwater won't come to the table with them.

This claim seems bizarre to me. If Goldwater thinks the deal is un-Constitutional, what is to "negotiate?" I don't know Hulsizer or anything about him, but it strikes me that he is working from a Chicago paradigm, and is treating Goldwater as if it were a community organizer. In Chicago, community organizers try to use third parties to protest various deals, like the opening of a Wal-Mart or a new bank. These third-parties are nominally protesting on ideological grounds, but in fact they are merely trying to throw a spanner in the works in order to get a pay off from the deal makers, almost like a protection racket. The payoff might be money or some concession for the group (e.g. guarantee of X% jobs for this group in project, $X in loans earmarked for group, etc).

Everything I have seen tells me Hulsizer is approaching Goldwater in this paradigm.  Even going out and rounding up the most prominent politician in the state (McCain) to put pressure on Goldwater is part of this same Chicago paradigm.

Here by the way  is what Hulsizer is apparently offering

As one part of the deal, Glendale would sell bonds to pay Hulsizer $100 million, which the Chicago investor would use to purchase the team for $210 million from the National Hockey League.

Hulsizer said he notified Goldwater he would guarantee the team will pay Glendale at least $100 million during its lease on the city's Jobing.com Arena through $75 million in team rent and fees and by covering $25 million in team losses that the city promised to pay the NHL this season, which is included in the hockey team's purchase price.

"We need to move forward now," he said. "I expect that Goldwater and other people who have come out against this deal will hopefully recognize the benefits of it and will now use all of that energy and tenacity and aggressiveness to go out and help us sell these bonds and make hockey work in the desert forever."

Hulsizer said Goldwater had not yet responded to him.

By the way, I hesitate to trust the Arizona Republic to report such deal terms correctly, but if what is reported above is correct, the offer appears to be non-sense

  1. What kind of guarantee is he offering?  Is it a guarantee by the corporate vehicle buying the team, because if it is, this is worthless.   The last team ownership group promised to pay the lease for 30 years -- what does that mean once they went bankrupt?  I am sure Borders Books promised to pay a lot of real estate owners money for leases, and many of them are going to end up empty-handed in the bankruptcy.  If this is a personal guarantee, that is a nice step forward, though not enough because....
  2. The $75 million in rent is largely irrelevant to the new bond issue -- these rents support the old $200 million bond issue.  What they are saying is "issue a new $100 million bond issue for us and we will guarantee you can make 40% of the payments for the old bond issue."   So?  When Balsillie wanted to move the team, he didn't ask for an additional bond issue and agreed to pay off $50 million of the old one as an exit fee.
  3. At the end of the day, if the $100 million is not a subsidy, not at risk, and fully backed by guaranteed cash flows, then Hulsizer should go out and get a $100 million private loan.  Period.

Unfortunately, this might be enough to get the deal through the courts.  Glendale will argue that for the $100 million, they will get $100 million paid against their existing bond issues that would not otherwise be paid if the team folds or leaves town.  This may fly with the courts, unfortunately, but it still sucks for taxpayers.   At the end of the day, nothing about this offer makes the $100 million bond issue any safer.   If the team goes bankrupt, it is lost.  That is an equity risk the city is taking with taxpayer funds, and equity risk for which we are getting no equity.  See here for full discussion of the risks and problems.

Postscript: The following is pure speculation, but I think it is close to correct.  The team is worth about $110 million at best (remember, it has never made money in AZ).  Forbes values it at $117 million but several similar franchises have sold for under $100 million lately.   The reason it is selling for $210 million is that the NHL, which bought it out of bankruptcy, guaranteed its other owners the league would not lose a penny on the team.   But the team has been racking up losses, and the accumulated cost to the NHL is now $210 million.  The NHL is insisting on a price that is $100 million north of where it should be.  In effect, the taxpayers of Glendale are bailing out the NHL for this crazy promise to its owners.

I can just see the negotiation.  Hulsizer, who by every evidence is a savvy financial guy, is not going to pay $210 million for an asset worth $110 million.  Glendale has way too many chips on the table to fold now, so it rides in and says it will contribute the $100 million difference.  In fact, the best evidence this is a subsidy is the difference between the purchase price and any reasonable team value.  Someone has to make up the ridiculous gap between the NHL asking price and reality, and Hulsizer is too smart to do it.   I have been calling this a subsidy of Hulsizer, but in fact this is really a subsidy of the NHL.   The NHL has Glendale by the short hairs, because Glendale knows (from the Balsillie offer, among others) that the only way the NHL can get a $210 million price is from a buyer who wants to move the team.

This, by the way, is EXACTLY the reason I opposed the original stadium funding deal.  Once they built the stadium, and then went further and lured businesses to develop around it, they were wide open to blackmail of this sort.

The problem with doubling down at this point is that the team has never made money and has no real public plan for doing so.  I have talked to NHL executives and none of them see how the turnaround is possible.  So how many years will it be before the new owners tire of their plaything and throw the team back into bankruptcy, so that Glendale will be in the exact same spot except $300 million, rather than $200 million, in debt.

Taxpayer Money and Professional Sports

My column is up this week at Forbes, and discusses the role of taxpayer money in professional sports.

A  critical battle is underway challenging the very heart of the professional sports economics model — and it is not the NFL labor negotiations.  The unlikely fight is between a struggling league (the NHL), a suburb with delusions of grandeur (Glendale, Arizona), and a small, regional think tank (the Goldwater Institute).   At stake is an important source of value for nearly every professional sports team:  taxpayer subsidies....

Consider the Arizona Cardinals new football stadium in Glendale, for example.  In part due to the promise of a Superbowl bid, the local taxpayers paid $346 million of the total $455 million cost of the facility — a building that will be used just three hours a day on ten days a year for its primary purpose.  By contrast, in 2010 Forbes valued the Arizona Cardinals at $919 million, meaning well over a third of the franchise’s value accrues from the public subsidy of its retractable roof palace.  It can be argued that much of the increase in player salaries and team owner wealth in the NFL over the last twenty years has come at the expense of taxpayers.

If anything, this example from the NFL understates the importance of public funding of stadiums.  Why?  Because of all the major sports leagues, the NFL gets the lowest percentage of its total revenues from its stadiums.  Leagues like the NBA, and in particular the NHL, are far more dependent on stadium revenue for their well-being.

Let’s return to precocious Glendale.  In 2003, the city agreed to publicly fund $180 million of the $220 million cost of building a new arena for the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team.  Whereas Glendale’s subsidy of the Cardinals represented about a third of that franchise’s value, their $180 million subsidy of the Coyotes represents over 130% of the current $134 million value of the team.  Stuck in Arizona and losing as much as $40 million a year, the team is literally worthless without ongoing public subsidies.

The column goes on to discuss yet another bond issue proposed by Glendale to subsidize these teams.

Is the Media Pro Big Government?

I have never really liked to wallow much in the accusation and counter-accusations of media bias.  But I am coming around to the hypothesis that the media is neither liberal or conservative but has a big government bias.  Recently, as in this article, the Arizona Republic (our daily paper) has been going after the Goldwater Institute for opposing what amounts to a $200 million subsidy to a buyer of our hockey team.

The short story is that after the city of Glendale blew a bunch of money for a hockey stadium in the desert, it turns out hockey is not very popular here (surprise).  So the team went bankrupt, and threatened to move.  To keep it from moving, the city of Glendale wants to throw more good money after bad and subsidize the new buyer.   Goldwater is challenging the subsidy as illegal under AZ law.

As I noted in the previous article, third parties value the Coyotes at $117 million.  So with this new bond issue, they will have run up $380 million in debt to keep a $117 million asset in town.  Further, they will have basically paid the entire purchase price of the team (and more) without getting a drop of equity in return.  All they get is the right to charge for parking around the arena, which is currently free.  This at first makes some sense (though the value of the concession is never mentioned) but in fact it is ludicrous as well.  The entire reason for the subsidy, supposedly, is to protect the mall/apartment/office complex around the stadium that the city cut sweetheart deals with developers to make happen.  So now they are going to charge for parking -- what is going to happen to all those businesses they supposedly are doing this for when their customer's parking is not longer free?

Anyway, the Republic editorialized against Goldwater on Sunday (in an editorial titled "Back off, Goldwater Institute") saying that they were hurting taxpayers because if the new bond issue and team sale fails, then there won't be any revenue to pay the old bond issue.  Its hard to figure how this is any different from doubling down at the roulette table in hopes of making back one's past losses.  And, Goldwater opposed the first bond issue too.

Now, the Republic has editorialized again, this time in a nominally news article.  They argue that by pointing out the potential illegality of the subsidy, Goldwater is messing up their bond interest rates.  I kid you not:

As Glendale prepares to sell bonds to finance its Phoenix Coyotes deal, the interest rates the city obtains make a big difference in how much debt Glendale would take on.

Team buyer Matthew Hulsizer says investors are demanding high interest rates due to nervousness among bond buyers about a potential Goldwater Institute lawsuit over whether the city is illegally subsidizing a private business. Glendale maintains it's on firm legal ground.

This is exactly the line the paper took in its Sunday editorial.  Now they are giving an interested party the ability repeat it in a supposed news article.  The author deliberately puts Goldwater on the spot and in the center of blame

Late Monday, Hulsizer questioned whether the Goldwater Institute wanted the team to stay.

"If they do indeed want the team to stay, then wouldn't they want the city to be able to complete financing at the best possible rate?" he said in a statement to The Arizona Republic.

He asked, if the Coyotes left Glendale, what Goldwater's plan was for the city to pay off its construction debt on the arena and for businesses nearby to survive without hockey customers. The city spent $180 million to open the arena in 2003.

Why in heaven's name is it Goldwater's problem that an earlier bond issue they actively opposed as a bad idea might turn out to, you know, have been a bad idea?  The article goes on and on this way, quoting other people of the same point of view. Goldwater doesn't get a quote until paragraph 24 or so, where Darcey Olson who heads the Institute says

She said Glendale has "unlimited options" to avoid a Goldwater lawsuit. "For instance, Hulsizer could get a private loan to buy this team like most businesses do," she said. "They finance their investments not on the backs of taxpayers but take the risk privately where it belongs."

The evidence of the article that Goldwater is shaking the very pillars of Wall Street is that the city expected one set of interest rates, but the market was giving them higher rates

Glendale officials in December hoped for a roughly 6 percent interest rate.

Todd Curtis, portfolio manager for Aquila Tax-Free Trust of Arizona, said he expected to see a 5 to 5.5 percent interest rate after Moody's Investors Service in mid-February gave the Coyotes bond sale a fairly high rating.

More than a week ago, Curtis was hearing of proposed rates around 7 percent.

Of course, they present no evidence as to why this might be. We are left to assume it is because Goldwater is somehow creating unfair bad vibes. Except then we get this oh-by-the-way near the end of the article:

Moody's and Standard & Poor's raised worries in February about the city's debt levels. As a result, Moody's downgraded several city bond ratings and Standard put the city on a watch list, though the city's ratings remain high.

Also, Glendale pledged to cover the Coyotes bonds with sales taxes, a revenue stream hurt during the recession. The city in its preliminary bond statement points out its sales-tax base is strong.

OK, lets check the reporter's decision-making here.  We have five facts

  • The major bond ratings agencies recently put the city on a credit watch list
  • Sales tax revenues that pay for the bonds are way down
  • The city is investing $200 million in a $116 million dollar asset without getting any equity
  • The city has a history of failed bond issues, as evidenced by the previous $180 bond issue they are trying to bail out with this one
  • A local think tank has raised legal questions about the deal -- legal questions that turned out to be correct in a parallel case.

So our lede is that it is all about the fifth one, just because millionaire Matthew Hulsizer, who is set to feed at the public trough to the tune of $200 million, says its so?

Ask yourself, what is the first section of the paper many folks look at?  The sports page?  An extra professional sports team adds a hard to quantify but definite amount to the paper's bottom line.  The AZ Republic clearly recognizes this and is all-in for any taxpayer subsidy that is required to keep this important part of their business running.

Good Money After Bad

I was absolutely astounded several years ago when the city of Glendale (a suburb NW of Phoenix) agreed to shell out $180 million to build an arena to try to keep a pro hockey team (the Coyotes) in town.   Now, they are considering doubling their investment:

Will the Glendale City Council vote to shell out nearly $200 million in a deal aimed at keeping the Coyotes in town for at least 30 years?

But there is nothing simple about the decision facing elected officials in the West Valley city that has yearned to build its reputation as a sports and entertainment hot spot.

The deal involves Glendale taxpayers giving $100 million to Matthew Hulsizer, a Chicago businessman poised to buy the Phoenix Coyotes from the National Hockey League.

And, the Arizona Republic's Rebekah Sanders reports that "Glendale would pay Hulsizer $97 million over the next 5 1/2 years to manage the arena, schedule concerts and other non-hockey events."

Unbelievable.  The value destruction here is amazing.  A few years ago, the Coyotes were only valued at $117 million.  So the government will have subsidized an entity worth just north of $100 million with $400 million in taxpayer dollars?  Nice investment.  Of course they have a BS study about net economic impact of the Coyotes, with a sure-to-be exaggerated figure of $24.5 million a year.  But even accepting this figure, they are spending $400 million for at most $24.5 million in economic impact, which at best maybe translates into $2-3 million a year in extra taxes.  That works, how?

Losing more than 40 major events, that is hockey games, per year at the arena would be a punch-in-the-gut to bars, restaurants and retail shops that also call Westgate home.

Here is a hint:  I pretty much guarantee the buyout value or moving cost of these businesses is less than $200 million.  But here are the most amazing "economics"

that would only further jam up Glendale, which counts on sales tax revenues those businesses generate to pay off the debt it has amassed in trying to build its sports empire.

So we are going to spend $200 million to make sure we can keep up the debt service on the previous $180 million?  So where does the $200 million come from.  I am increasingly buying into Radley Balko's theory that the media is not liberal or conservative, just consistently statist.  Here is the comment on the Goldwater Institute's legal challenge

City officials also may face a legal challenge from the Goldwater Institute over the conservative think-tank's belief that the deal Glendale has cooked up violates state laws that prohibit government subsidies to private entities.

That, of course, means that the city will rack up untold legal fees to defend their deal.

Waaaaa!  More legal fees.  Is that really their biggest concern?  How about the strong possibility that Goldwater is correct, or a mention that they have won in court recently in similar cases.  But we will end with this happy thought:

Now, if they say yes to the $200-million giveaway, they may keep the team in town but are only piling on to that massive debt.

And as their initial deal with the team and previous team owners has proven, there are no guarantees that the $200 million will be enough.

Postscript: Local papers have never seen a sports team subsidy or new stadium they did not love.  Given the quality of their news departments, local sports teams sell newspapers.

PS#2: Long ago I wrote a post on subsidies for business relocations and the prisoners dilemma.

The Most Irritating Use of My Tax Money

I find many of the uses politicians make of the money they take from me to be irritating.  But perhaps the worst of them all is to use my money to fund their own election campaigns when they can't get enough people to voluntarily contribute.  Which is why I am happy to see the Supreme Court put a injunction on Arizona's politicians take tax money to re-elect themselves law.

Today the Supreme Court blocked "matching funds" for candidates under Arizona's Clean Elections Law while it decides whether to hear a First Amendment challenge to the system. Under the law, participating candidates receive one taxpayer dollar for each dollar spent by their privately funded opponents (or by groups sponsoring messages for their benefit) above a certain threshold. The Goldwater Institute and the Institute for Justice, representing politicians and activists who are challenging the law, argue that it penalizes people for exercising their right to freedom of speech by using taxpayer money to undermine the impact of their message. In January, U.S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver agreed, concluding that Arizona's campaign finance system "burdens"¦First Amendment rights, is not supported by a compelling state interest, is not narrowly tailored, and is not the least restrictive alternative." Last month the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Silver's decision and lifted her injunction against the delivery of matching funds. Today's stay effectively reinstates the injunction until the Court either rejects the case or accepts and decides it.

"The Supreme Court's decision today will allow the 2010 Arizona election to occur without the government placing its thumb on the scale in favor of those politicians who receive government subsidies," says Institute for Justice senior attorney Bill Maurer. "The purpose of this law was to limit individuals' speech by limiting their spending. But the First Amendment does not permit the government to restrain Americans from robustly exercising the right of free speech."

Gridlock

I saw Randal O'Toole (known to bloggers at the "anti-planner") speak at the Goldwater Institute last night on transportation.   He is on a book tour for his new book "Gridlock" and he is really a fascinating speaker.  Highly recommended if he should be speaking near you in the coming weeks.  The really crappy cell phone picture below is of O'Toole on the left talking to Byron Schlomach of the Goldwater Institute.

Mixed Decision on Government Subidies, Mostly Good News

Unfortunately:

The Arizona Supreme Court today unanimously reversed an appellate court ruling on the CityNorth case, saying it erred when it deemed the city of Phoenix's $97 million subsidy of the shopping center unconstitutional.

I discussed this in great depth in a series of posts, including this one.  The purpose of the subsidy was to try to get Nordstrom's to move their planned store about 1 mile from a development planned in Scottsdale over the line to a development planned in Phoenix  (the public cover story was to provide parking for a park and ride).

Fortunately, the ruling seems to be more procedural than anything else, and seems to slam the door in the face of similar private subsidies in the future:

Indeed, in today's unanimous decision, penned by Chief Justice Andrew D. Hurwitz, the five Supreme Court judges say that indirect public benefits -- like, apparently, beating out Scottsdale for the sale tax from Bloomingdales -- aren't enough to justify a giveaway to a private party.

Previous courts who've held that, they say, have misread precedent.

"In short, although neither [of two Supreme Court precedents] held that indirect benefits enjoyed by a public agency as a result of buying something from a private entity constitute consideration, we understand how that notion might have been mistakenly inferred from language in our opinions," they say. Now that they've clarified, the justices seem to be saying, the appellate court must examine whether the direct benefit the city of Phoenix gets -- aka. those parking spaces -- is enough to justify the giveaway.

For the record, the Supreme Court suggests that the parking garage is not, likely, benefit enough to justify such a tax giveaway.

"We find it difficult to believe that the 3,180 parking places have a value anywhere near the payment potentially required under the Agreement," its opinion finds. "The Agreement therefore quite likely violates the Gift Clause."

Kudos to the Goldwater Institute for continuing to push this issue.

Our Out of Control County Attorney

Radley Balko has a great article on Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, the wingman for Sheriff Joe Arpaio in any number of abuses of power.  I have tried to write about Thomas before, but some of his exploits are so bizarre and complex that they make simple description difficult, but Balko is clearly a better journalist than I and does a good job summarizing some of his most egregious actions.

The common denominator for both Thomas and Arpaio tends to be their near vendetta responses to anyone who either criticizes them or tries to limit their power (ie by denying a search warrant or dismissing one of their cases).

The most recent mess in Maricopa pits Thomas and Apraio against...well, just about everyone else. The two have been squabbling with members of the county board of supervisors for years over the construction of a $341 million county courthouse tower, which both feel is a waste of money. They might have a point. But Arpaio and Thomas are using criminal law as a cudgel in the dispute.

Last month, Thomas indicted two county supervisors on some petty financial disclosure violations. When Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe issued a ruling pertaining to the court tower investigation that Arpaio and Thomas didn't like, Thomas then indicted Donahoe for bribery, on the absurd premise that as a judge who works in the courthouse, Donahoe (who is retiring soon) would have benefited from the new tower. That indictment came shortly after Donahoe held one of Arpaio's deputies in contempt after a highly-publicized incident in which the deputy was caught on video stealing documents from the file of a defense attorney in open court.

Using criminal charges"”or the threat of them"”to silence political opponents has become something of a habit for Thomas. He has indicted more than a dozen public officials who have criticized him or Arpaio. He has launched or threatened criminal investigations into dozens of others, including politicians, columnists, and other media figures who have dared to criticize him or the sheriff. When Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon asked for a federal investigation of Arpaio's immigration enforcement tactics, Arpaio and Thomas investigated him too, attempting to snoop on Gordon's email, appointment book, and phone records. Thomas even recently threatened to criminally investigate a defense attorney for issuing public statements in support of his client.

These guys are from the bad, statist end of the Republican pond.  Interestingly, Thomas and Arpaio have alienated most of the Republican leadership in Arizona, and rely on their continued popularity with national conservative media and the local populace.   The latter is hard to describe to outsiders.  Its often hard for me to understand.  My best guess is that people ignore Thomas and Arpaio's worst behavior as aimed at people who somehow "don't count," particularly immigrants from Mexico.   Balko quotes Clint Bollack of the Goldwater Institute:

Bolick says their perseverance is also due to the polarizing effects of the immigration debate. Immigration "is extremely divisive," he says. "In the eyes of a lot of people, because they're cracking down on illegal immigrants, Thomas and Arpaio can do no wrong. So there's justification for whatever they do, and any criticism of them on any issue is a betrayal of the cause. It's really unfortunate that it's causing a lot of good people to turn a blind eye to ineffective law enforcement and abuses of power."

I don't want to violate Godwin's law here, but this quote springs to mind about the reactions to Thomas and Arpaio (from a member of the German protestant clergy in the 1930s)

First, the Nazis went after the Jews, but I wasn't a Jew, so I didn't react. Then they went after the Catholics, but I wasn't a Catholic, so I didn't object. Then they went after the worker, but I wasn't a worker, so I didn't stand up. Then they went after the Protestant clergy and by then it was too late for anybody to stand up.

Bad Timing Awards

Today in my inbox I got a letter from "Governor Mark Sanford" with a pitch to join the Goldwater Institute (a conservative / free market think tank here in Arizona).  Oops.

Subsidizing Real Estate Developers Ruled to be Clearly in the Public Interest

The city of Phoenix's $97 million subsidy for the developers of a new Phoenix shopping mall has been ruled by a local judge as being "'undoubtedly' in the public interest."  Even weirder, the developers lawyers are so mad at having their largess questioned that they are demanding the Goldwater Institute pay them $600,000 in attorneys fees as punishment for even questioning whether funding private mall parking lots that would have been built anyway is really in the public interest.

The subsidy, which I described in more detail here, provides $97 million for the construction of a parking garage at a new mall in North Phoenix, with the only condition being that the mall owners provide free parking in the garage to the public.  I can think of only three reasons this would be in the public interest:

1.  Without the subsidy, the mall might not provide enough parking
2.  Without the subsidy, the mall might charge for parking
3.  The parking garage could serve other surrounding businesses or homes within walking distance

Now, some of you on the coasts may be confused about this, so let me give you one other piece of background.  There are hundreds of shopping malls in the Phoenix area, from local strip malls to huge mega-malls of the type in this case.  At least 99.9% of the parking at all of these malls has been paid for with private funds.   Every one of these has plenty of parking.  This might not be the case in Boston, where land costs are high, but here in Phoenix, land is relatively cheap and malls are plentiful -- If I can't find a parking space, I would just go to a different place to shop.

Further, do you know the total number of these spaces at mall in Phoenix that are not free?  Zero.  OK, there may be one mall downtown that charges money to park, but for any mall in the area in which this one is being constructed, it would be insane to charge to park.  There are just too many competitor malls with free parking.

Finally, as to #3, look at the satellite view here.  Enough said. 

So the city paid $97 million in return for nothing of value, or at least nothing of value that the mall owners would not have provided on their own out of their own self-interest.  The only thing that I can identify the $97 million bought was possibly influencing the decision of one store (Nordstrom's) to locate in this particular development rather than 1 mile away, over the city line in another development planned in the City of Scottsdale.

About the numbers:   I really can't get away without taking on this statement in the same article:

According to its developers, CityNorth is expected to generate $1.9 billion in annual economic activity

In 2005, the metro Phoenix area had a GDP of $160 billion dollar.  The retail component of this is about $12 billion.  So this one mall / real estate project in one small part of Phoenix, one of hundreds just like it all over town, will increase our city's GDP by over 1% and in particular increase the city's retail output by 16%.  Sure.  I really wish our local paper would be just a tiny bit more credulous about printing these numbers from promoter's press releases.

I Guess Its Not Working Very Well

From my daily email from the Goldwater Institute:

In only five years, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System budget is slated to more than double.

When double-speak government agency names meet reality!

Public Schools Not Underfunded, Teachers Not Underpaid

The single post from way back that I still get the most Google hits from (and the most nasty email, I might add) was my post on the myth that public schools teachers are underpaid.  This was a follow-on post to my lengthy post fisking the NEA's school improvement plans and here too.  The premise in all these posts was that 1) Public schools actually spent more per pupil than private schools that do a better job and 2) Teachers, when you adjust their total hours to match other workers who don't get summers off, make a salary very competitive to other professionals, even before their hefty government benefits package.

The Goldwater Institute has just completed a study of Arizona private schools, and has come to many of the same conclusions.  The study's author, Andrew Coulson, summarizes the findings:

In a study released yesterday
by the Goldwater Institute, I analyze the results of their most recent
private school survey. Among the other fascinating findings is that
public schools spend one-and-a-half times as much per pupil as do
private schools. Or, looked at the other way, private schools spend a
third less than public schools.

Some other fascinating tidbits:

Teachers make up 72 percent of on-site staff in Arizona's independent education sector, but less than half
of on-site staff in the public sector. In order to match the
independent sector's emphasis on teachers over non-teaching staff,
Arizona public schools would have to hire roughly 25,000 more teachers
and dismiss 21,210 non-teaching employees.

When teachers' 9-month salaries are annualized to make them
comparable to the 12-month salaries of most other fields, Arizona
independent school teachers earned the equivalent of $36,456 in 2004 "”
about $2,000 less than reporters and correspondents. The
12-month-equivalent salary of the state's public school teachers was
around $60,000, which is more than nuclear technicians,
epidemiologists, detectives, and broadcast news analysts. It's also
about 50 percent more than reporters or private school teachers earn.

My kids go to an absolutely fabulous private school here in Phoenix.  It is secular and (gasp) actually runs for-profit, so it has no endowments or sources of grants or charitable funds.  In exchange for a great education that far outstrips the quality of even the best local schools, it charges a tuition substantially less than the Phoenix-area per-pupil public school spending (and it offers a 20% discount for each child over one).  If you are considering a move to the area, email me and I will give you more detail.

More here on the virtues of school choice.  This is a sort of related post on the barriers to starting a private school.

Employment Opportunities

The Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute is looking for a Director of Administration and a Director of Development.  If you have always wanted to convert your desire for small government into a paying job, this might be your chance.  From their web site:

The Goldwater Institute was founded in 1988 by a small group of
entrepreneurial Arizonans with the blessing of Sen. Barry Goldwater.
Like our namesake, the Goldwater Institute board and staff share a
belief in the innate dignity of individual human beings, that America
is a nation that grew great through the initiative and ambition of
regular men and women, and, that while the legitimate functions of
government are conducive to freedom, unrestrained government has proved
to be a chief instrument in history for thwarting individual liberty.
Through research and education, the Goldwater Institute works to
broaden the parameters of policy discussions to allow consideration of
policies consistent with the founding principles of free societies....

With the legislature introducing thousands of new bills every year,
it's nearly impossible for the average person to know when or where his
liberties are threatened, much less do anything about it. The Goldwater
Institute works on behalf of Arizonans to keep watch on government and
to expand school choice, restore economic liberty, protect private
property, and affirm Arizona's independence against unconstitutional
federal encroachments.