Mar 9

2022

Bill targets federal stadium subsidy

Tax-exempt bonds used to help finance three stadium and arena projects in NYC, other sports venues around the country.

It’s not clear whether the Buffalo Bills will seek federal help to build a $1.4 billion stadium in Orchard Park. But a bill recently proposed by three Democratic members of Congress would prevent the team from getting at least one federal subsidy that several downstate projects have enjoyed. 

The three Congress members — Jackie Speier, (D-California), Earl Blumenauer, (D-Oregon), and Congressman Don Beyer, (D-Virginia) — last month introduced the No Tax Subsidies for Stadiums Act of 2022. The bill that would bar major league teams from using tax-exempt municipal bonds to help finance stadium construction. 

“This issue comes down to communities being held hostage,” Blumenauer said. “The NFL and these other sports leagues are a money-making machine that are rich enough to build their own facilities, and we don’t need to divert much-needed public funding to these projects.”

Tax-exempt bonds are just that — exempt from federal and sometimes local and state taxes on the interest on bond service debt payments. While most often used to finance public projects, they’ve been used to support the construction of professional sports stadiums and arenas. The estimated cost to the federal treasury is $4.3 billion since 2000. 

In New York, a study by the Brookings Institute found tax-exempt bonds used to help finance the construction of Yankee Stadium, Citi Field (home of the New York Mets) and the Barclays Center (home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets) resulted in $867 million in lost tax revenues

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While not confined to stadium projects involving NFL teams, the bill was introduced amid concerns among some members of Congress about the league’s handling of sexual harassment allegations involving Daniel Snyder, the owner of the newly named Washington Commanders. 

Like the Bills, the Commanders are seeking to build a new stadium. The Washington football team’s lease for its current stadium, FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, expires in 2027. 

“The NFL has proven once again that it can’t play by the rules,” Speier said. “As such, taxpayers-subsidized municipal bonds should no longer be a reward for the Washington Commanders and other teams that continue to operate workplaces that are dens of sexual harassment and sexual abuse.” 

Local and state officials involved in stadium negotiations with the Bills have not released any financial details about the project so it is unclear if the team’s financing package relies on tax-exempt bonds. 

The No Tax Subsidies for Stadiums Act still must be approved by Congress, a process that could extend beyond the start of construction for a new Bills stadium.