February 18, 2013
National Football League teams have a long-standing tradition. Whenever a franchise wants a new stadium, they simply threaten to move to another town. City officials, terrified at the thought of losing the bread and circuses they promised to Doofus Joe Sixpack, duly pass a new tax on millions of victims who don't give a rat's rump about football and force them to fund a new stadium. Presto. Works every time.
Yes, this column is about auto racing. Trust me. I'm going somewhere with this.
Personally, I've always felt it would be more efficient if the NFL simply threatened to move the entire league to China unless the federal government coughed up a trillion dollars. But that's just me.
To its eternal shame, auto racing has recently began practicing the same disgraceful tactics. It is becoming more and more popular for new race tracks to be – control your gag reflex on this one – “publicly financed.”
Now when someone says that a track is “publicly financed,” what they mean is this – the government is going to take money from you in order to build this track whether you like racing or not. In principle it is no different from the NFL's decades-old extortion plan to get new stadiums.
Sometimes proponents of forced financing attempt to moralize their schemes by re-naming them with really official-sounding titles. But at the end of the day it's all the same thing. You can either pay for it or go to jail.
Which brings us to the bizarre case of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. IMS has a long tradition of earning its money honestly from willing customers. The Speedway does not force anyone to pay its bills, nor does it ask the government to do it for them. The extent to which the public is forced to fund IMS is generally limited to local cops directing traffic on race day. That's about it.
I've always been particularly proud of the Hulman/George family for making this stand.
So it was a real shock to find that new legislation in the Indiana General Assembly would divert tax money from state coffers back to IMS. At first I was angry. But after reading the legalese more carefully, the picture soon became clear.
“Publicly funded” racetracks are popping up all over the country. Since they're built from money taken from victims by force, budgeting is limited only by the amount of money the track can con the government into giving them. This means that they have the best of everything… tens of millions of other people's dollars can be sunk into the latest LED big-screen technology, super duper sound systems, interactive smart phone gizmos, exotic scoring towers, etc., etc.
And if the track loses money hand over fist and goes out of business… oh, well. It was your money they lost anyway.
Honest racetracks like IMS are feeling the pressure. If they can't keep up with the latest facility developments that the funded-by-tax tracks have, they might lose their fan base. So, in perhaps the ultimate irony, honest racetracks are forced to find new money to invest in their facilities in order to keep from being run out of business by people who won't even pay for their own ideas.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is trying to generate this new money with what can only be termed a stroke of brilliance. They've found a politician who will actually return the tax money that was taken from the Speedway by the government.
It's still a bit murky right now since the final language of the bill isn't complete as of this writing. But State Representative Michael Young's proposed law appears to divert only the taxes paid by or at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back to IMS for improvement and development of the 100-year-old facility.
Young's constituent territory includes the city of Speedway, so this is a great way to assure his own re-election for all eternity plus eighteen thousand years, give or take. It also exempts the Speedway's property tax from diversion so sacred political cows such as the local school system don't lose any money.
And some 100 million dollars taken from the Speedway and its willing customers gets diverted right back where it belongs… to the Speedway from which it was taken. And not one single innocent citizen in the state of Indiana is forced to pay for something that they don't want.
This is so good it's almost funny. Getting a politician to return tax money to its rightful owner is like removing your arm from a lion's mouth right after he bites it off. Hey! Gimme that back!
Now don't get me wrong. I am not glorifying the government's returning tax money to its rightful owners. Besides, Indiana Senator Luke Kenley made it clear that the government isn't motivated by a sudden stroke of morality… they just see a potential profit.
“If they succeed with this,” Kenley predicted, “the state will get a return on their investment in terms of more tax dollars being raised.” So much for noble intentions.
But if this legislation passes, outcome-based thinkers must take particular joy in watching the Indianapolis Motor Speedway find a creative new way to compete with force-funded race tracks without reducing themselves to the same level.
Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions