Friday, April 2, 2010

Fiddling While Houston Burns

While the city is struggling to find ways to close an estimated budget deficit of $110 over the next two years, city council seems poised to approve a deal with the Dynamos to build a new soccer stadium. The city will spend $10 million from property taxes to improve infrastructure around the site, on top of the $15 million the city previously spent to buy the land.

To call this irresponsible would be a gross understatement. City officials acknowledge that they are short on revenues, and their response is to spend more money that they don't have.

City officials have been pushing for this giant playground for years. Supposedly it will ultimately generate revenue for the city, which I am sure will be a great relief to the tax payers footing the bill today. While many Houstonians are struggling to pay their mortgage, the city has decided, once again, that it is a better steward of our money than we are.  While many Houstonians are tightening their belts in order to pay their bills, the city has decided that it doesn't need to do likewise.

The city has already threatened to lay off workers as one step to close the deficit. We will undoubtedly hear talk of reductions in services as time passes. And then, after city officials have allegedly cut all of the fat from the budget, the idea of raising taxes will be floated. They will whine that they have no other choice, while hoping that Houstonians forget their profligate spending.

City officials would have us believe that this atrocity is in the "public welfare" while ignoring the harm it inflicts on the individuals who actually comprise "the public". They would have us believe that they are promoting the "common good", as if robbing individuals is good for anyone. They would have us believe that the best interests of all Houstonians in mind, while ignoring the fact that they don't know all Houstonians or what our interests are.

This massive evasion is aided and abetted by Pragmatism. Having rejected principles, city officials treat each day and each event as disconnected and isolated. As an example, on the same day city council approved a deal to sell one stadium--the facility formerly known as the Summit--for a fire sale price, council considered a deal to build another boondoggle--the stadium for the Dynamos. They see no principle uniting the two. All they see is a "good" deal now. The fact that a previous "good" deal had to be disposed of at a bargain basement price is of no relevance.

That the Dynamo stadium deal will ultimately turn out bad for taxpayers is completely foreseeable--if one thinks in principles. Consider the following: the Summit was completed in 1975 at a cost of $27 million. It was sold for a paltry $7.5 million 35 years later--not exactly a very good investment. The Astrodome has been sitting vacant and rotting for years, costing taxpayers more than $1 million per year for the little maintenance that is performed. Last fall, the Chronicle reported that taxpayers may need to bailout the Harris Country-Houston Sports Authority (which helped build Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium and the Toyota Center) to the tune of $7 million per year.

Just in case you aren't keeping count, this means that the last 5 sports stadiums built in the city have all turned out to be a drain on taxpayers in one form or another, despite the promises of political leaders. What do we need to be smoking to believe that the 6th stadium is going to turn out differently?

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