OPINION: DC Considers Subsidy Bonanza For New Redskins Football Stadium

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Andrew Wilford Contributor
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A report in the Washington Post suggests officials in the nation’s capital may team up with Congress and the Trump administration to lay the groundwork for moving the Washington Redskins football team from Landover, Maryland back to the District of Columbia. As a result, D.C. residents may soon find their tax dollars going toward a new Redskins stadium.

The report suggests there is an effort underway to attach provisions to a major spending bill that remove restrictions preventing the building of a new Redskins stadium at the site of RFK Stadium. That stadium is on federally-owned land leased to the city of D.C., but the lease bars commercial development on the site. The provision that D.C. officials, Congress, and the Trump administration are pushing would remove this restriction and extend the lease for 99 years.

If the measure moves forward, the next step for billionaire team-owner Dan Snyder would be to extract money from D.C. taxpayers. That’s been the norm for recently-built major league stadiums: well over half of the cost tends to be publicly-financed. Consider D.C. United’s new Audi Field (which seats around 20,000) cost between $400-500 million to build, we could expect a new Redskins stadium to cost even more.

Proponents of the measure argue there would be an economic benefit from building a new stadium six miles west of their current location. Yet, these phantom “benefits” usually fail to materialize. More often than not, stadium subsidies actually end up wasting money.

There are a few reasons for this. One is that tax dollars spent on a stadium are tax dollars are dollars not used for more productive investments. Even subsidies that fund a new sports stadium capable of recouping its cost through benefits to the local economy can be wasteful because they prevent government from spending those tax dollars on other, net-positive investments, such as needed infrastructure projects.

On top of this, stadium subsidies often create costs for the local economy that are harder to see. While a bar down the street from the stadium may see a boom in profits, sports stadiums compete with other entertainment options for consumers’ time and attendance. Seemingly unrelated entertainment businesses, from movie theatres to comedy clubs, can experience losses and layoffs as their former customers decide to spend their entertainment budget elsewhere.

Neither do the Redskins particularly need a new stadium to begin with. Their current home at FedEx Field is barely 20 years old and is well-maintained. More than likely, Snyder is salivating at the results of the three-way bidding playing out. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was not shy about his willingness to open the bank to woo the Redskins to Virginia, while D.C. councilman Jack Evans proposed a 110,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof and an eye-popping $2-3 billion cost.

The only way to end bidding wars such as these — and to stop wasting tax dollars on moving the Redskins every couple of decades — is to stop bidding. Legislators in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. each introduced bills to bar their respective governments from issuing subsidies to any new Redskins stadium. Unfortunately, the allure of wasting taxpayer money proved too tempting to legislators in these states, and the effort failed.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the Redskins moving back to Washington, D.C. If the Redskins determine they want to build a new stadium in the district, they should be able to do so. It just should not be D.C. taxpayers who have to pay for it.

Andrew Wilford is a policy analyst with the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to tax policy education at all levels of government.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.