Maryland Legislature Dumps $1.8 Billion into Stadium Projects | Citizens Against Government Waste

Maryland Legislature Dumps $1.8 Billion into Stadium Projects

The WasteWatcher

With several states across the country continuing to pump taxpayer funds into new stadiums for the major league sports teams, the Maryland General Assembly has elected to join the fray.  On April 12, 2022, Governor Larry Hogan (R) signed two bill, HB 896 and HB 897, giving the Maryland Stadium Authority $1.8 billion to spend on stadium projects throughout the state.

Under HB 897, both Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Baltimore Orioles and the National Football League’s (NFL) Baltimore Ravens will each be eligible to receive $600 million for renovations to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, respectively, from the Maryland Stadium Authority as needs arise.  HB 896 permits the issuance of the bonds as long as the teams sign lease agreements that extend through the payback period of the bonds.  Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman Tom Kelso told The Center Square that, the new stadium fund will provide continual access to money for stadium improvements.  “As those bonds are paid down,” he said, “it creates the capacity to borrow back again.”  The fund itself will be supported by a mandatory transfer of revenue from the state’s lottery fund by the comptroller.

Notably, the new law sets aside money for projects that have yet to be announced and will be available for decades to come.  Under the continually replenishing fund, teams that use qualified facilities will continue to have access to money from the fund on an as needed basis.  While the most that can be taken out of the fund in bonds at one time is $1.2 billion, the Orioles and Ravens may only access $600 million each for a single project at a time.

Soon after the legislature approved the subsidy, Baltimore Orioles Chairman and CEO John Angelos, whose billionaire father Peter Angelos has owned the team for more than 20 years, released a statement praising the adoption of “an historic initiative committing $1.2 billion in public funding from the State of Maryland for reinvestment in and reimagination of the Camden Yards Sports Complex.”  This massive amount of taxpayer funding for the Oriole Park at Camden Yards, he noted, was “the second-largest public commitment of funding to a Major League Baseball” stadium, behind only the widely panned “new” Yankee stadium completed in 2009 at a cost of $1.186 billion to taxpayers.  

The bond allowance is designed to keep the owners of the Orioles and Ravens content with enough money for future renovations to Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium.  By attaching the funding to the condition that the teams sign new leases or lease extensions that would equal the amount of time needed to pay off the bond, the two bills guarantee that Orioles and Ravens will continue to remain committed to their current parks.

Even with these guarantees, however, the new fund is a bad deal for taxpayers.  Although it will be much harder for the teams to demand exorbitant amounts of money in exchange for a new stadium, it promises that taxpayers will foot the bill for any new renovations on existing stadiums by providing the teams assured access to funding without input from residents or the legislature.  As a result, the team owners of the Orioles and Ravens know that they will always have access to up to $600 million each in taxpayer funding for facility improvements.

On top of the money for the Orioles and Ravens, the legislature set aside another $400 million to be spent on infrastructure improvements around FedEx Field, home to the NFL’s Washington Commanders.  Although the funding will not be used to build a new stadium, and Gov. Hogan said he will not get into a bidding war to keep the Commanders in Maryland, it serves as the state’s response to Virginia’s efforts to entice the team to move south of the Potomac.

The NFL and MLB weren’t the only recipients of the legislature’s generosity.  Included in the second funding bill was $200 million for Minor League Baseball stadium projects.  Given the failure of professional sports stadiums to generate sufficient revenue to be defensible, it is unlikely that minor league facilities, which cater to an even more local and less affluent crowd than major sports facilities, will result in serious financial gains for their communities, let alone the state.

As Neil DeMause observed on the website, Field of Schemes, the funding pools granted to the Maryland Stadium Authority are nothing more than “a set of stadium slush funds” designed to placate the owners of the state’s professional sports teams lest they grow restless and threaten to relocate.  With an increasing number of states subsidizing professional sports facilities, taxpayers across the country should brace themselves for intensified relocation threats and greater financial burdens.  Meanwhile, residents of the Old Line State will be forced to watch helplessly as the owners of the Orioles and Ravens continuously tap into a bottomless fund for decades to come

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