There’s good news and bad news for the New York Yankees.
The bad news is that their payroll — always the biggest in baseball — hasn’t produced. Hey, they haven’t won a World Series in over a year. Remember, these are the Yankees — the most well-known, most loved (by some), most hated (by many), and wealthiest sports franchise in America. They are the only team on the planet whose season is a complete failure if they don’t win a world championship.
Maybe the recession is finally taking such a toll that even the Yanks are too cash-strapped to bring in new talent. But that’s where the good news comes in. Turns out they will have extra money to spend after all, now that they won’t be shelling out big bucks to renovate the stadium of their AAA minor league team in Scranton/Wilkes Barre.
It is not without irony, though, that the Bronx Bombers’ financial home run comes at the expense of Phillies fans.
You see, the Yanks’ windfall is courtesy of Pennsylvania taxpayers, who are on the hook for $20 million to upgrade the stadium. And who authorized such an expenditure at a time when the state is facing a $4.2 billion deficit?
Republican Governor Tom Corbett.
The same person who, during his campaign last year. championed fiscal restraint and the need for government to return to its core functions.
And the same person, who, a day after announcing the deal, talked about why the state is in such a fiscal mess:
"(Ed Rendell) said yes, yes, yes," Corbett said of his predecessor, "and that’s why we are where we are…. in the times we are in we have to be able to say no."
He just spent money on something taxpayers shouldn’t be funding in good times, let alone in a recession when the state’s finances are in really bad shape.
So Corbett’s curveball will keep his approval rating at 30 percent — a great percentage for a hitter but not so good for a politician — and a far cry from the 55 percent he received just six months ago.
Here’s a look at why the stadium giveaway is such bad policy — and bad politics:
1) People are "stadium fatigued," having put up money to construct arenas across the state, including facilities for the Eagles, Phillies, Steelers, Pirates and soccer franchise Philadelphia Union. All told, $1 billion in taxpayer money was used to finance stadium construction since 1999. And here’s the kicker: the real amount will be almost three times that, because the money usually comes from bonds, which, like mortgages, are paid back over time (20 or 30 years) with interest. Millionaire owners increasing their fortunes on the backs of taxpayers just isn’t right.
Corbett gets the worst of both worlds. Not only is he viewed as hypocritical for spending money on a stadium, but he loses the game by doing it for the benefit of the richest of the rich, and the victor over the Phillies in the 2009 World Series (not to mention 1950). Don’t underestimate that sentiment come election time.
2) Blaming Rendell for the state’s fiscal mess is certainly on target, as spending under his eight year watch skyrocketed. But Corbett’s message increasingly rings hollow since his rhetoric doesn’t meet his actions.
Rendell attempted to bail out the Philadelphia Shipyard (a private entity) so that it could build ships with no buyers, but left office before completing the deal. Corbett bailed it out anyway. So much for fiscal restraint and getting government out of the private sector.
And it was Rendell who initially wanted to fund the Yankees’ stadium, but again, it was Corbett who came in from the bullpen to get the taxpayer-funded "win."
Corbett continues to pursue a policy perceived as "spending cuts for you, but not me." He raised the salaries of his executive staff (who now average $13,000 per year more than their counterparts under Rendell), and increased the budget of the Lt. Governor’s office by 46 percent.
Cuts are inherently unpopular, but people will support a leader who leads by example and mandates that "everybody feels the pain — no exceptions." That hasn’t happened in Pennsylvania. Hence the basement-dwelling approval rating.
3) The stadium funds, which local officials say could actually end up being $25 million, come from a bond used to fund building projects. In a state as large as Pennsylvania, there are an infinite number of possibilities that would provide a better return to the state and its taxpayers.
Pre-eminent among them would be building natural gas fueling stations for the state fleet of vehicles that will — hopefully — soon be powered by that fuel. (The management of these stations could then be leased to private companies to maximize private-sector efficiencies). Additionally, state buildings should be converted to run on natural gas (with gas being mandated in all new construction), since Pennsylvania is sitting atop the Marcellus Shale — second-largest gas field in the world. It is clean (virtually no emissions); extremely cost effective (currently one-seventh the cost of gasoline); limitless; creates jobs; and sets the national model for how to achieve energy independence (bolstering national security).
And here’s an added bonus: it can solve a looming problem no one wants to discuss: keeping the gas industry in Pennsylvania. Despite all the advantages of natural gas, demand is so low that gas companies are finding it extremely difficult to be profitable. It’s to the point that companies may start capping their wells and rolling out of state to pursue other interests (as it is a very mobile industry). Such a situation would be catastrophic to all Pennsylvanians.
Bottom line: Tom Corbett is giving Democrats all the ammunition they need to wage effective campaigns against Republican legislators next year. The Governor’s increasing lack of credibility could potentially endanger the GOP majorities in both chambers, particularly in a presidential election year which always generates a significant Democratic turnout.
Core, common sense and consistency are the hallmarks of effective leadership, and all have been in short supply from the Governor’s office.
Just this week, the Governor underwent successful back surgery. We wish him well in that regard, but now it’s time to get his head in the game.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative
reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries
and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including
The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick
Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe."
Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in
Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national
television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]