Illinois: Sweet Land of Stadium Subsidies

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Peter Fricke Contributor
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Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is being attacked for political cronyism after appointing his former campaign manager to oversee stadiums in the state.

In an editorial for Reboot Illinois on Thursday, Scott Reeder argued, “Quinn cleared the way for his 30-year-old campaign aide, Lou Bertuca, to start drawing a $160,000-year, taxpayer-funded salary heading the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA),” despite the objections of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

ISFA owns US Cellular Field, where the White Sox play, and helped renovate Soldier Field, where the Chicago Bears play. It also oversees tax breaks for other stadiums.

Bertuca, however, “has no experience in professional sports,” though Reeder contends “in Springfield, it’s often not what you know, but who you know that lands you in a high-paid government job.”

Quinn is under fire for having a group of his appointees on the ISFA select a new executive director of the authority right before leaving office. (RELATED: Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn Ousted by Republican Newcomer Bruce Rauner)

According to the Chicago Tribune, this is “the second time Quinn [has] rebuffed the mayor to ensure a former staffer could lead the authority,” having appointed his former communications director to the position two years ago.

By law, the governor and the mayor of Chicago each appoint three board members, but the Governor also appoints the board’s Chairman. Quinn has apparently exploited that imbalance to secure his appointments, both of whom were confirmed by 4-3 votes with every board member supporting his or her patron.

The Tribune says Quinn has denied influencing the board’s decisions, telling reporters “that while he appoints board members, he stays out of their personnel decisions.”

Reeder, though, argued that focusing on political cronyism risks “missing the bigger point,” which is that taxpayer subsidies for professional sports teams represent “corporate welfare at its worst.” (RELATED: NFL Exploits ‘Religious-Like Following’ to Secure Favors from Government)

“Sports subsidies got their illegitimate birth right here in the Prairie State,” he says, “and there is no reason their death can’t begin here in the Land of Lincoln as well.”

Illinois passed the nation’s first major sports subsidy bill in 1988, approving a $120 million bribe to keep the White Sox from following through on threats to move to Florida. (RELATED: Berkeley’s New Stadium Puts it $445 Million in Debt)

Former Republican State Rep. Bill Black told Reeder that, “They said it was being done for economic development … [but] the only thing I can see that has changed is that Chicago has the highest or second-highest hotel taxes of any major American city.”

“The original Sox deal has led to others,” Reeder says, including renovations to the Bears’ Soldier Field, “completed with the assistance of a $387 million ISFA bond,” as well as a property tax break for the United Center that saves the Bulls and Blackhawks millions of dollars per year.

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