Factmeter Rates Herald Stadium Numbers Claims Half True
Written by Michael Lewis on March 21, 2013
By Michael Lewis
Debunking inflated claims of officials and those feeding at the public trough is great public service, balloon-pricking that for years the print press has done honorably.
Heaven knows, we’ve tried it ourselves. So have others, one being a partnership including the Miami Herald that has developed a political fact meter to rate and deflate claims.
But debunking is only as good as the debunker’s knowledge of the issue.
This week, the target of the Herald’s deflation was a claimed super bowl economic impact. The Herald rated Miami Dolphins claims to support public stadium funding totally false.
Our own analysis of those impact claims last week pointed out flaws but also noted that some intangibles are hard to quantify Ð their benefits, like beauty, are found in the eye of the beholder.
We suggested comparing all benefits with all associated costs as a decision-making yardstick for public policy, because impact figures don’t take costs into account.
Lacking that professional and impartial study, it’s only clear that Dolphins claims are highly questionable, not that they’re totally false, a claim no better proved than are the team’s own.
While the Herald’s political fact rating was merely doubtful in the case of the super bowl, it was farther off base the prior week in rating claims of Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.
In assessing Mr. Loria’s claim of who actually paid for his new stadium that the public owns, the Herald wrote:
"In total, the county borrowed about $409 million for the Marlins project, which includes debt service and the cost of issuing the bonds, a county spokeswoman told PolitiFact Florida.Ó
The Herald accepted this unquestioningly. But familiarity with the issue would have showed that even if the writer got the spokeswoman’s statement right, it was dead wrong.
First, the total borrowed alone, excluding debt service, far exceeded $409 million. As Miami Today has reported over and over starting back in July 2009, at least three county bond packages were used to fund the stadium, excluding the City of Miami’s borrowing for garages there.
First, the county issued $91.2 million in convention development tax bonds for the stadium.
At the same time, it issued $319.3 million in professional sports tax bonds.
Later, the county borrowed $50 million backed by the general obligations of the county.
A possible fourth instance of a loan is $35 million that Miami-Dade County lent at no interest to the Marlins to help them pay their share of stadium construction costs Ð our money, their share. It’s unclear if that entailed more county bonds.
Without borrowing $35 million, the total borrowed was $460.5 million. If $35 million was borrowed too, it’s $495.5 million. Either total exceeds the figure the county reportedly gave the Herald. Probably the spokesperson included only the two largest borrowing packages.
But that discrepancy is small change in this deal. Include debt service Ð as the Herald said the county had done Ð and true county borrowing cost skyrockets.
The $91.2 million the county borrowed is to be repaid to the tune of almost $1.2 billion, J.P. Morgan documents showed. That’s not usury, although it looks like it, just an incredibly bad deal by the county.
The $319.3 million package is to cost the county $1.3 billion, Merrill Lynch numbers showed at the time.
The repayment total for those two issues alone is $2.5 billion. Add principal plus interest on the $50 million loan and the question of $35 million more, and the number further escalates.
All told, public ballpark construction costs Ð including city debt service on the garage, free public land that once housed the Orange Bowl and infrastructure built for the stadium Ð will near $3 billion.
Either the reporter missed the spokeswoman’s "notÓ and should have written "does not include debt service,Ó or the price tag the county gave her was the biggest lie since county manager George Burgess told commissioners before they voted on stadium financing in 2009 that they knew all of the borrowing costs Ð which he admitted days later was untrue.
Either way, anyone familiar with the stadium debacle knows that the county’s borrowing cost is in the billions, not $409 million all inclusive as the Herald wrote.