Oscar Wilde described fox-hunting as “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.” I can make the same point about Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, St. Louis Rams Football owner Stan Kroenke, and the Great Riverfront Stadium Hunt.
Nixon and Kroenke are two squires cut from the same cloth — a trophy-hunting governor who thinks he can pick winners and losers and a super-rich developer with a long history of currying favor from government entities.
In this situation, we may debate the question of whether it is worse (i.e. more “unspeakable”) to give, or to receive. Here we are talking about the award of hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ assistance to a richly profitable sports business that does nothing to advance the public good.
It is at least appropriate that the object of the hunt is made largely of concrete. Along with the unwarranted subsidies, that makes it doubly indigestible — both from a gastronomic and an economic viewpoint.
The Great Riverfront Stadium Hunt is not a come-one-come-all event. Like fox-hunting, it is for swells only. The swells don’t want your votes or your opinions; only your tax dollars.
Apparently Nixon thinks he is holding all the cards he needs simply because he is the governor. He has put the word out that he is prepared to issue some $90 million in state tax credits to support the stadium project. He plans to raise an additional $150 million through a 30-year extension of the bonds that built the old stadium to help construct the new one. St. Louis city officials are prepared to chip in more money to help the effort.
Do you get a vote in this, if you live somewhere else in Missouri, or even if you live in St. Louis and cannot afford to go to a football game, or have zero interest in the sport? No, you do not.
No one but no one — either in the governor’s office or Mayor Francis Slay’s administration — wants any kind of a vote. They don’t trust the electorate — or the Missouri Legislature — to do the right thing by Kroenke or the National Football League.
Kroenke, meanwhile, is sticking to his guns — in saying nothing at all. Publicly, at least, he isn’t saying what it would take for him (a) to abandon his plan of moving the team to the Los Angeles area, and (b) commit to keeping the team in Saint Louis.
My best guess is that he will welcome public money here if, and only if, he is thwarted in his desire to move the Rams back to Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, abundant economic research points to the conclusion that the use of public funds to build professional sports complexes is an egregious waste of taxpayers’ money. That’s one good reason why this kind of deal is best done in the dark, with minimum public accountability.