Sunday, April 26, 2009

Baseball As An Entitlement?

Look, I love baseball. I was learning to swing a bat even before I started going to kindergarten.

But to expect the taxpayers' to pay for keeping Metro, the D.C. transporation system including both bus and rail service, open beyond the usual hour so that attendeees of night games can ride home. Other groups don't receive that same special privilege for free. Furthermore, such special consideration for the Washington Nationals flies in the face of financial realities, especially at a time when Metro is facing a budget gap of $29 million, laying off some 300 workers, and cutting back on bus services.

The rule for keeping Metro open beyond the usual closing hour is as follows:
Under a 2003 Metro policy, organizations that want Metrorail to open early or close late are required to pay the agency a fee. Such organizations and events include the Washington Redskins, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Marine Corps Marathon and groups that perform at Verizon Center. The fees must be paid two weeks in advance, and organizers receive refunds if fares exceed that amount, which typically happens with large events.
That policy seems fair enough. But after some apparent confusion and a lack of communication among the D.C. Transportation Department, Metro, and the Washington Nationals, the late-service fee of $27,000 per hour has been waived:
District officials have decided that the city will cover all the costs for Metro to stay open to accommodate late Washington Nationals games after having suggested that others in the region share the tab.
Suddenly, as if by magic, the District now claims capable of finding the necessary budget resources for transportation after those late-release baseball games. If those funds can be found now, why couldn't they have been found before? Or is Metro going to make cutbacks in other ways so that the transportation system can run the few times that a Washington Nationals game runs beyond the usual time?

What brought the above to a head and resulted in the city's decision is the following:
The confusion over who would pay for such service began when Gabe Klein, director of the D.C. Transportation Department, told Metro officials in a letter last week that the city would no longer pay the late-service fee of $27,000 an hour because of the budget crunch. Team officials said they did not know that there had been a policy change until Monday night, when a rain delay pushed the game past Metro's midnight closing.

Metro and team officials spent more than two hours squabbling about when Metro would close and who would pay if it stayed open. Some fans said they were confused by last-minute announcements at Nationals Park about when the last train would leave Navy Yard. Ultimately, Metro agreed to stay open past the regular midnight shutdown.

The mix-up stemmed from a communication breakdown, Albert said. Klein said he sent the letter to Metro based on staff information that his department did not have money this year to pay the late-game fees, which occur when games go late because of rain delays or extra innings. He did not check with the mayor's office, he said.


Albert said the city will pay for the extra hour and a half of service after Monday's game, roughly $40,000. That works out to about $2,531 for each of the 16 passengers who entered Metrorail after midnight.
In my view, baseball fans who wish to attend a game should be ingenious enough to arrange their own transportation. Or perhaps the taxpayer subsidy of Nationals Stadium was a bad idea in the first place:
Economists seldom agree, but the many studies done over the past decade all arrived at the same conclusion: Publicly funded stadiums do not deliver the benefits they promise. A recent paper by the Cato Institute concluded, "The academic research overwhelmingly concludes that the presence of professional sports teams has no measurable positive impact on economic growth."


Funding a new stadium in the District may be good politics, but it is bad public policy. Major League Baseball will be laughing all the way to the bank while D.C. residents will find that they get much less than they were promised -- and paid for.
Despite stadium was funded. Now the issue is transportation. Once rearing its head, the nanny continues to need more and more from the taxpayer — all in the name of the common good, even if that good does nothing more than serve special interests.

(Crossposted to THE ASTUTE BLOGGERS)

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posted by Always On Watch @ 4/26/2009 09:00:00 PM