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Government Needs to Stay in Its Lane

Earlier this week I was driving North from my home in Blanding, Utah to the State Capitol in Salt Lake, where I serve in the State Legislature. It was dark. It was raining. As I passed the Point of the Mountain, I noticed that the lines on the road became impossible to see. If I’m elected to be Governor, one of the first things I’ll do is repaint the lines on the freeway with better paint that you can actually see.

On my way to the Capitol, I knew one of the biggest issues we would be debating this week would be whether we should raise taxes to provide a $1 billion subsidy to build new sports stadiums – of all things.

Just like we need clearly painted lanes on I-15, we need government leaders who will keep the government in its proper lanes. Government shouldn’t be in the lane of building stadiums for highly profitable private enterprises.

Here are a few reasons why I feel this way

1.  This is a misallocation of public funds. We should be buying things like paint for marking highway lanes with public funds – not stadiums.

2.  We will hear a lot about how stadiums bring economic benefits to the community in terms of job creation and increased tourism. However, as an accountant, I’m always concerned that when the government gets out of its proper lane, economic benefits are often overstated and do not justify the significant public investment.

3.  In this case public funding will essentially amount to taxpayers subsidizing wealthy team owners and corporations. While these entities reap the profits, the burden of paying for the stadium falls on the general public. 

4.  It’s not uncommon for agreements between sports franchises and municipalities to lack transparency, accountability, and enforceable clauses to ensure that promised benefits materialize. Taxpayers may end up shouldering the costs without seeing the expected returns.

5.  An increase in the transient room tax is still a tax increase. Funding the stadium with the transient room tax is the idea with the most inertia right now. Taxing Utah’s travel and tourism industry to subsidize highly profitable sports and entertainment businesses, is a form of socialist wealth transfer I don’t support. Also, in its current form, the State of Utah will own the stadium itself, so there will be no property tax on the stadium. We shouldn’t be using the tax code to so blatantly pick winners and losers.

6.  This stadium won’t be just a stadium. It will also include development of an entertainment district and housing. It’s hard to imagine that this taxpayer subsidized housing will be affordable housing. It will likely be luxury housing. 

Last year Governor Cox said he would like to see Major League Baseball come to Utah, but we shouldn’t be giving taxpayer dollars to billionaires. I agree that privately funded professional sports teams is a great thing for Utah. However, in a recent news conference, he changed his tune and is now saying it’s ok to subsidize billionaires as long as it’s done with transient room tax funds instead of the general fund.

I agree with last year’s version of Governor Cox, and hopefully that’s the version of our Governor that actually shows up to the final rounds of this discussion.

As your Governor, I will make sure the government stays in its lanes and private professional sports teams stay in their lanes.