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VICTOR JOECKS: Henderson gives Golden Knights 30 pieces of silver

The city of Henderson is the latest Nevada government that has decided to give a pro sports team tens of millions of dollars.

Last week, Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley appeared at Henderson Mayor Debra March’s State of the City speech. The team announced that the Golden Knights’ new minor league hockey team, a member of the American Hockey League, will play in Henderson.

If the story ended there, this would be great news. The Golden Knights are already a homegrown success story. Drive along Interstate 15, and you’ll see numerous Knights license plates. Go to a local mall, and you’ll see many people wearing team merchandise. The team’s success has also increased local interest in hockey. For thousands of Golden Knights fans, minor league hockey will provide a low-cost alternative to the NHL and a offer to see future Golden Knights’ players.

But there are millions of reasons to question this announcement. March said Henderson will pay half the cost of turning the Henderson Pavilion into an arena for the new team. The price tag for city taxpayers could reach $40 million. This amount is especially outrageous when you realize that recent AHL expansion franchises sold for around $5 million. The Golden Knights haven’t announced what they paid for the AHL franchise they purchased, but it’s likely Henderson’s subsidy will be several times more than the minor league team is worth.

No matter how much you like hockey, this is an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars. City governments are supposed to build and maintain roads and parks. They are responsible for providing police and fire services to protect the public. Those are public goods, which broadly benefit all city residents.

At Wednesday’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas, expect Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to attack billionaires simply for having a lot of money. Never mind that most wealthy Americans made their money by offering goods or services people chose to purchase freely.

That’s not what’s happening here. The residents of Henderson aren’t freely contributing $40 million to the Golden Knights. City officials are taking taxpayer dollars — collected by government force — and giving a subsidy to a favored company. Government’s job is to provide the infrastructure that allows businesses to grow, not to select which businesses get taxpayer-funded cash infusions.

While taxpayers don’t benefit from this deal, city officials do. March’s speech may as well have been a Golden Knights pep rally. The Golden Knights’ drum line performed as she walked up to the stage with the team’s mascot and cheerleaders. She gets the positive media coverage that comes with bringing hockey to Henderson, while passing the bill onto city taxpayers. If interest in minor league hockey drops and the arena becomes an albatross, she’ll be long out of office.

Henderson officials sold out taxpayers. Remember that the next time they cry poverty and demand a property tax hike.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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