April 21, 2024

Eye On Illinois: Reinsdorf’s stadium ask defines absurdity of public financing for private teams

Thank you, Jerry Reinsdorf.

The Chicago sports magnate decided that late Friday of a holiday weekend was a good time to float a trial balloon for his latest gratuitous public money request. After a few weeks of chatter and then some renderings of (let’s be honest) a visually stunning new South Side baseball stadium, we learned last week the White Sox want up to $1 billion to fund construction.

The unmitigated greed – and shameless exploitation of a news cycle – puts into stark relief the absurdity of the request. Reinsdorf’s asks dropped the same week as Bears President Kevin Warren expressed optimism lawmakers would act this year to grease his team’s palms for their suburban mega complex, and the audacity of both guys counting as-yet unallocated government funding on the eve of the governor’s budget address is laughable.

Gov. JB Pritzker already has several budget priorities, including expanded investment in early childhood services. Public educators have argued the state should supersize its investment beyond a scheduled increase. We’ve improved on the pension problem, but no one can see light at the end of that tunnel. The Department of Children and Family Services is deeply broken. Many state agencies have issues with hiring and retention.

That list could keep going for another 250 words, but the upshot is obvious: Illinois has substantial obligations, has been burned by the current stadium financing for the White Sox and Bears, is hosting a national political convention in six months and can in no way afford to spend north of $1 billion helping privately held sports franchises increase their net worth.

The issue isn’t exclusive to Illinois. Tennessee lawmakers and Nashville city officials have been doing the stadium finance dance with owners of the NFL’s Titans. That city also has MLB aspirations. There’s a Salt Lake City proposal to spend $1 billion to lure a baseball team and revitalize the Power District. Books will be written about how the Oakland A’s ruined their time in that city amid an ongoing dalliance with Las Vegas.

As lawmakers return to Springfield, as Pritzker details his budget Wednesday, you will encounter Reinsdorf’s mouthpieces arguing the Sox only want access to an existing hotel tax stream. Bears backers will say the state’s involvement is limited to transportation infrastructure that needs to be upgraded anyway.

These talking points are rooted in truth but serve to obscure the larger reality: there are better uses for public revenue, including just giving the money back to taxpayers and letting them invest in their own lives and communities. If private team owners lack enough money to fund grand ambitions, willing buyers are easily found.

Baseball is a personal passion, but it’s not more important than genuine public service.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.