Eight years ago, as the St. Louis Cardinals aimed to build a new baseball stadium, team owners signed an agreement with the city worth millions of dollars a year in tax breaks.
In exchange, the team agreed to a series of annual perks for the region’s residents – 100,000 free tickets, 486,000 seats for under $12 and $100,000 in donations to recreation for disadvantaged youths.
The Cardinals also agreed to give the city a cut of profits made if any portion of the team was sold.
Then, last year, owners sold a sizeable chunk of the Cardinals – more than 13 percent. Now, a group of anti-public-stadium advocates is alleging that the team owes the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And, despite another multimillion-dollar budget gap anticipated for the coming year, the city isn’t checking into it. City officials acknowledge that they have never really kept tabs on the agreement.
. . . Several city officials, including Barb Geisman, the former deputy mayor for development, said there was no reason to double-check. They trust the Cardinals.
Which reminds me of what the late Milton Friedman used to say about the dynamics of using other people’s money:
“There are four ways in which you can spend money.”
“You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money.”
“Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost.”
“Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch!”
“Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get.”
“And that’s government . . .”