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Taxpayers paying much or most of the bill to build NFL stadiums that benefit billionaire team owners has been a losing proposition at the ballot box in such politically disparate states as California and Florida.
Voters from both sides of the aisle refused to finance new NFL stadiums in San Diego and Miami, leading the Chargers to move to Los Angeles and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to pay nearly $500 million of his own money to refurbish what is now Hard Rock Stadium.
But in New York state, the Buffalo Bills are getting a new stadium and taxpayers in the state are going to pay approximately $602 million or 43 percent of the $1.4 billion facility that will be built in Orchard Park.
And while Western New York is generally thrilled with this, people in other parts of the state are asking why taxpayer funds are going to that and not stuff like, say, housing for the homeless, or help for the mentally ill, or funding to build better schools and give parents a choice where to send their kids.
(Yeah, folks in New York generally don’t care about school choice, so never mind about that last one.)
New York Governor Kathy Hochul answered to a couple of those constituents Wednesday afternoon on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show.
And she came up with a couple of compelling reasons why partially funding the stadium made sense for the state, even though Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula are reportedly worth $5.8 billion and could have afforded to build their own facility.
Hochul also offered an intriguing formula by which she said the state will recover much of its money by taxing Bills players — thus suggesting Buffalo’s millionaire players will actually be funding the stadium for Buffalo’s billionaire owners.
“In this stadium, we see very strong support from the local delegation in Albany,” Hochul began, outlining the reasons the state decided to support the idea. “They’re very vocal in their desire to have a share of support go toward a team that is part of the identity of Western New York. It’s like Broadway is to New York City, this team is to Western New York.
“They did have options to leave. That’s hanging over New Yorkers, Western New Yorkers in particular. So the decision was made to get the best deal we could for taxpayers. And we did that.”
The Bills had options to leave Buffalo and made that known to state government?
“I was aware that they were being reached out to by other cities that have lost teams before,” Hochul said. “That is real. Their stadium was starting to crumble. Something had to happen and if there wasn’t a decision done soon, they had definitely other options.
“My entire life, there was talk of them going to Toronto. In fact, a significant performer actually was coming forward with a plan a couple of years ago to take them to Toronto. Buffalo’s a very small market. It’s quite extraordinary that they have a team at all, because there’s a lot more money to be had in larger cities like San Diego and others who would love to have a team.
“That’s the reality most people were not familiar with.”
It’s interesting Hochul mentioned San Diego because, again, several public referendums to help fund a new stadium to replace Jack Murphy Stadium went down in defeat.
Anyway, Hochul told a caller questioning why the state is paying so much that New York actually is getting a much better deal than anyone really understands.
“I was not going to give away the shop,” she said. “The first question was, ‘Can we finance it 100 percent with public dollars?’”
So New York’s governor is saying the Pegulas wanted the state to pay all $1.4 billion.
“… I said, ‘No, no way. We’re not doing that,’” Hochul said. “So it ended up being 43 percent of the total cost is state money, but when you factor in the income tax we’re going to derive from the ball players, these are very highly paid athletes, we’ll have that paid off just in new income for the state. In about 22 years, it’s paid off for.”
What Hochul is saying is that state income taxes on Bills players will help fund the stadium.
Per her math, that means the state is going to have to collect $27,363,636 in income taxes a year from the Bills roster for the next 30 years.
That means each Bills player on the 53 man roster would have to pay an average of $516,295 in state income taxes per year. New York state income tax rates range from 4 to 10.9 percent.
It should be noted Earie County is paying $250 million for the new Bills stadium.
The Bills are paying $350 million.
The NFL is paying $200 million.
The Pegulas will obviously benefit from the annual income such a facility brings. But the stadium Hochul says is ultimately being funded by players who wouldn’t otherwise live in New York if the Bills were playing elsewhere will be owned by the state of New York.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero