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US Cellular Field and Soldier Field: The Gifts that Keep on Taking

It’s commonly known that there are three types of people in Illinois: 1.) people who have no idea that their tax dollars are used to subsidize professional sports teams, ed malady 2.) people who know that their tax dollars were used to build expensive stadiums for pro sports teams, online advice and 3.) people who know their tax dollars were used to build expensive stadiums and that subsidy payments for these stadiums are ongoing.\n\nFor the people who fall into the “no idea” category, let me be the first to tell you that Illinois taxpayers have contributed about a billion (inflation-adjusted) dollars to the construction and renovation of U.S. Cellular Field and Soldier Field, home of the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bears.\n\nOf course, our broke-ass state didn’t have all of this money on hand when our elected officials voted to spend it.  They borrowed heavily by issuing state-sponsored bonds through a government entity called the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA).  The interest and principal payments on all of this bond debt cost Illinois taxpayers $33.5 million in 2012.  Much of the bond debt is backloaded, so it gets more expensive for taxpayers over time; debt service payments for Soldier Field, for example, will cost $88.5 million in 2032.\n\nSo for the people in the “aware of the initial but not the ongoing costs” camp, the annual debt payments outlined above are one thing, but the state also pays tens of millions every year to maintain the stadiums that the Bears and White Sox use almost exclusively.  From 2008 through 2012, revenues to the state from these sports venues have ranged from about $2 million to $4 million per year, while state spending on maintenance and improvements for our sports stadiums has between $10 million and $35 million annually.  All told, the state of Illinois has taken a bath to the soggy tune of more than $76 million dollars on its pro sports stadiums over the last five years on record.\n\n\n\nHow does the state make up for these losses?  By funneling tax revenues and subsidies ($5 million annually from both the state and the city) to the ISFA—money that could be going places it’s desperately needed in Illinois, like toward pension contributions, funding schools, affordable college tuition and mental health programs, or fixing roads and bridges.\n\nWith public agencies underfunded and so many people in Illinois lacking for basic needs, whether or not we—as members of a society we imagine as democratic—should subsidize our sports teams with copious amounts of community wealth is not a question of how much we love the Bears and White Sox, but a question of principles.\n\nNow that we’re in the know about the ongoing costs of these sports stadiums in Chicago, doesn’t it feel like we should demand something be done about it?

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