The public interest doesn’t help the public

It may come as a surprise to those who know me personally to learn that I’m not a big fan of football or sports in general because I’m so coordinated and dexterous. Just kidding.

Despite the fact that I’ve worked at the Oracle since August, I walk into the 5-foot tall recycling bin on a daily basis, producing an audible “thump.” I’m proud to say, however, that despite my clumsiness, I’m not the vehemently anti-athletic type who lectures fans about the inferiority of “blood sport” and compares it to Roman gladiatorial games, all the while cradling an anonymous tome in the crook of my elbow.

I am, however, decidedly annoyed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ efforts to use “public” money – or, more properly, monetary property that the government stole from private citizens in the form of taxes – to subsidize its sports facilities. I could only be more annoyed if the government decided to sponsor multicultural film festivals.

The protracted history of the Buccaneers’ parasitism upon tax monies is detailed in an editorial in the Tampa Tribune titled “Block Bucs’ Attempt To Grab Sports Dollars.” A decade ago, the citizens of Hillsborough County, in what became yet more proof of the inefficacy of direct democracy, voted for a Community Investment Tax (CIT), tacking on another penny or so to the sales tax paid at the register.

The mainstay of the tax was that it would fund a new stadium for the Bucs, keeping the team in Tampa after Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer dangled the prospect of moving the team away in front of the citizenry’s noses. Ten years and nearly 200 million taxpayer dollars later, the Bucs leaving Tampa could hardly be described as a pity.

Although the Bucs most certainly used CIT money to build Raymond James Stadium, they did not use $12 million of it to construct a training facility – as required – because the title of the facility would be held by Hillsborough County, not by Glazer.

So Glazier used private money to build a $35 million facility, the result being that the fate of $12 million of public money was left up in the air. Now the Bucs want to use that same $12 million to build another training facility – even though they already have one.

The typical explanation behind such flagrant displays of waste is that corporate influence trumps the public good. But it’s the very notion that the idea of “public good” should be used as a basis for public policy that allows the violation of rights – and, hence, waste – to occur in the first place.

The Tampa Tribune‘s editorial board and many citizens of Hillsborough County reject the team’s superfluous proposal in the most pragmatic way – its legal illegitimacy. Because legality does not necessarily convey wrongness or rightness, this is an ill-wrought position. For instance, when slavery was legal, it was still wrong. When it was made illegal, it didn’t become wrong because a law made it so – it was always wrong because it violated the concept of the inalienable rights of man.

Instead of reverting to legal arguments, citizens of Hillsborough County who rightfully disagree with the Bucs’ practices should castigate the ideology leading to the problem. That ideology allows voters or governmental agents acting on their behalf to have power over which industries society’s money should support rather than allowing individuals to direct the money as they see fit.

The Tribune’s editorial board doesn’t mention this as a solution. According to them, ideology doesn’t have anything to do with it. In its view, the problem is just that this particular budget issue wasn’t in the public welfare. The editorial says, “The city and county have a better claim to the money,” and concludes by saying “the team will have a hard time coming up with a better use for the money than taking care of local necessities.”

But 10 years ago, the majority of Hillsborough County residents voted for the CIT. They voted for the rash monetary handouts for the Buccaneers because the Glazers convinced everyone the freebies constituted “local necessities.”

And despite the fact that this same community is waking to the legacy of waste and ridiculousness 10 years later, it shortsightedly regrets and rejects only this one particular policy. Sadly, the community has not learned its lesson and continues to demonstrate disrespect for consumer choice. This promises not only continued violation of property rights, but also future failures and foibles made purely in the public interest.