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VICTOR JOECKS: Use federal bailout dollars to pay for A’s Las Vegas ballpark

Sometimes it’s worth thinking how to make the best of a bad situation. Consider the possibility that the Oakland A’s seek hundreds of millions of dollars from Nevada taxpayers.

A’s owner John Fisher and team president Dave Kaval visited the Las Vegas area this week. They toured numerous sites that could house a new ballpark.

It’s far from certain that the A’s are moving here. Team officials have been upfront that their preference is to remain in Oakland. The team’s high-profile trips to Las Vegas are, at least in part, a leverage play. Staying put hinges on Oakland’s approval for a massive mixed-use development project along the waterfront. The Oakland City Council is scheduled to vote July 20 on the term sheet. If Oakland votes them down, all eyes turn to Las Vegas.

Ideally, the A’s would move here because they think the region provides the best opportunity for their business and fans. If that were the case, it would be wonderful to have them here. In reality, Kaval is looking for a public “partner” to build a new ballpark.

Ideally, elected officials would oppose taxpayer handouts to an out-of-state company. In reality, that already happens.

In a perfect world, giving taxpayer handouts to the A’s would at least require legislative approval. With the state constitution’s two-thirds requirement for new taxes, there might be a chance to save the taxpayers. In reality, local governments already have the ability to hand out subsidies by creating a tourism improvement district. A TID allows a local government to issue bonds to fund a favored project. Future sales tax revenues within the created “district” are used to pay off the bonds.

Last session, the Legislature unanimously approved Assembly Bill 368. Among other things, it eliminated sports stadiums as approved projects for tourism improvement districts. Sisolak vetoed the bill. Hmmm.

Put this all together, and there’s a realistic possibility that taxpayers could soon be funding a new ballpark.

If it comes to that, state lawmakers should consider an alternative. Use some of the $2.7 billion the federal government just poured into state coffers.

There would be two primary benefits to this. One, it wouldn’t require a tax increase or a decrease in future revenues, like a TID would. Also, a ballpark is a one-time expense. One of the dangers of that “free” money is politicians funding new or expanded government programs. When this one-time money runs out, there’ll be calls for new taxes to avoid “cuts.”

Subsidizing a new ballpark may not adhere to the spirit of the American Rescue Plan. These funds are supposed to help government offset the impacts of the coronavirus. According to Treasury interim guidelines, however, the funds come with “flexibility to determine how best to” spend the money. Given Nevada Democrats’ previous willingness to pass a tax hike without a two-thirds vote, they should have no qualms here. Plus, it’s unlikely the Biden administration would object to how a Democrat governor used the money.

There are many valid reasons to object to this idea. But when facing an unpalatable scenario, it may be the best outcome.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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