A modest proposal for a swift solution to football's demands
By Michael Lewis
The National Football League has uncovered pressing need for a $250 million upgrade to Dolphin Stadium in case it ever wants to hold another Super Bowl here. None is planned after next month, but you can never tell.
Of course, like the $3 billion we are now spending to ensure that Major League Baseball has everything it wants and another handout we have given to our National Basketball Association team, this will require public resources.
Naturally, we are extremely supportive of this most worthy use of very scarce money. It simply must be done or risk disappointing out-of-towners who have every right to set our spending priorities in difficult days.
But as Miami-Dade County belatedly struggles to cut hundreds of millions to balance its budget in a fiscal year that is almost a third over and looks ahead to far larger cuts next year as revenues tumble, it may prove difficult to find enough in county coffers even though it has had major layoffs and is cutting pay across the board. Timing is a tiny bit awkward.
This seems to be a barrier to again upgrade a stadium that just had a $250 million revamp so that we can accommodate a game that could be held here at soonest in 2014, or later, or never, depending on the whim of the league.
Given that dilemma, let me make a modest proposal for a swift resolution in order to satisfy the National Football League without — let me make clear — an increase in taxes.
As we know, players in the National Football League are not only extremely well paid but extraordinarily fit physically. They are strong. We all admire strength. Therefore they are worthy.
Moreover, owners of Dolphin Stadium, which would receive the $250 million public gift for an upgrade, are also strong.
Multi-millionaire, perhaps billionaire, Steve Ross owns the Miami Dolphins and the stadium. Partners in the team include such notables as performer Jimmy Buffett, music legends Emilio and Gloria Estefan, entertainer Marc Antony and tennis superstar Serena Williams. Not only are all well known, but all are extremely well off.
Who better to receive a public gift of $250 million in difficult times?
After all, we just gave a $3 billion shot in the arm to multi-millionaire Jeffrey Loria, like Mr. Ross a New Yorker, for his baseball franchise. And we've given valuable public land to one of the world's richest men, Micky Arison, for his basketball team. We have precedent as a guide.
And while it may seem we'd be giving Mr. Ross too little by comparison with Mr. Loria's $3 billion aid, remember that while Mr. Loria controls the stadium we're building for him, the county owns it. When he sells the team he'll pocket as well only the added value of his stadium contract, which should net him a mere $250 million or so extra.
Mr. Ross, on the other hand, owns his stadium so he gets every penny of benefit from the public's $250 million investment in his well-being. That seems quite fair by comparison.
So while all can agree that Mr. Ross and the National Football League deserve to benefit from public aid no matter how difficult the times or how many county employees must be fired to achieve it, the thorny question remains: Where do we find the money?
Again, a modest proposal: take it from those who are a drag upon public funds and who have lesser renown in order to give it to the strongest amongst us, thus strengthening the whole community.
The need is $250 million. And, by chance, two of our weakest groups drain exactly that much from taxes.
First, we note that the indigent are causing our hospitals great funding pains. Plus, our Public Health Trust uses its money to fund care for the infirm, who certainly are weaker and less productive than linebackers and tackles, not to mention quarterbacks and placekickers.
The Public Health Trust helps care for the weakest via a half-cent sales tax to support Jackson Memorial Hospital, which is so strapped that it just stopped paying to care for indigent dialysis patients. Clearly, the tax is inadequate for its aim.
But, shift that inadequate tax money from health care to a football stadium and it could provide $150 million in just one year.
Then to fund the missing $100 million for a vital stadium revamp, consider the Children's Trust, which last year netted about that much from a dedicated property tax.
Who does that tax aid? Children, especially the very young. These also are among the weakest of our citizens, unable to earn even a modest living on their own, unlike the millionaire football players of the National Football League and their far richer team owners.
Again, we can take from the weak to give to those who least need our help if only to show our gratitude for their willingness to take our money.
These simple moves would solve our problem nicely for the betterment of society as a whole.
Even the children would benefit: it takes very childish thought indeed to promote a stadium upgrade at public expense in these times, so spending the Children's Trust money for football would be fitting.
Of course, in promoting this program we should downplay all solutions that do not tap public funding.
For example, we should never mention that the stadium's owners could collectively fund all upgrades — from which they alone would profit — without significantly denting their own rather large bank accounts.
We should never mention that the stadium's principal owner, Mr. Ross, has just received federal approval to start his own bank whenever it suits him. He is in perfect position to raise large amounts without touching his own wallet.
Nor should we mention that a stadium now rising at $3 billion public cost in Miami meets the National Football League's quite reasonable demands: better TV lighting so the league doesn't have to rent lights when a Super Bowl is played here, on average every four years; and cover so fans, who can endure bad weather in the north but not in Florida, can stay dry in case it rains on that rare day when a Super Bowl might come here.
But that publicly owned stadium, rising where the Orange Bowl once stood, is controlled by the powerful Jeffrey Loria, who certainly wouldn't want football players treading on his baseball grass once every four years. Who could blame him?
That's why we must tap the weakest amongst us for the money and not look to the strong to pay their own way. It's only just.
I am indebted for this modest proposal for a swift solution to the football crisis to Jonathan Swift, who nearly 300 years ago found a similar way to prevent the weakest people of Ireland from being a burden when needs were often great. His work, also, as it happens, titled "A Modest Proposal," bears reading, particularly with reference to the children.
Were he with us today, he would certainly support the National Football League in its hour of need over the petty concerns of taxpayers who might selfishly seek other uses for their money than giving to the rich.
He might even suggest that we go back to fiat by a king to make our decisions for us, the situation he himself faced.
In that he needn't worry: when it comes to sports stadiums, that's exactly how we make them: by royal fiat, not public vote. Mr. Swift would feel right at home.