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Jewish World Review Feb. 1, 2000 /28 Shevat, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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Corporate welfare on ice -- CANADIANS LOVE HOCKEY, but when their government proposed forking over $20 million in public subsidies per season to six, privately-owned NHL teams, our neighbors up north had two words for corporate sports beggars: Puck Off!

More Americans should follow the Canadian tax revolters' playbook.

The frosty reception to a federal bailout of National Hockey League owners caught Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Industry Minister John Manley, and the country's ruling Liberals completely off guard. On Jan. 18, Manley announced a financial aid package for Canada's money-losing, professional hockey teams. The plan required no vote by Parliament. Three days later, following a public uproar by students, farmers, free-market conservatives, and watchdog groups, the subsidy program was dead. Black-and-blue-eyed Liberals retreated to the locker room.

Manley and other government hockey groupies had argued, as all dutiful corporate welfare waterboys do, that the sports teams were an indispensable public good deserving of a charitable handout. "Hockey really is part of Canadian's part of what animates Canadian communities," Manley said. The argument is a familiar one to U.S. taxpayers, who've been spoon-fed the save-our-cultural-pasttime line to justify government subsidies for every sport on the planet from baseball to horse racing.

Culture-schmulture, said the overtaxed citizens of Canada, who noted that the multi-millionaire owners and hockey players claiming poverty were already receiving ample tax breaks from the government. "Corporate boxes and company-owned season tickets are eligible for 50 percent business development tax write-offs," wrote Walter Robinson and Michael Taube of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Moreover, they pointed out, "the federal government already aggressively advertises in several NHL arenas. For example, the Corel Centre in Ottawa sports 'Canada' wordmarks inside and out. Or consider Crown Corporation advertising by Canada Post, Via Rail, and the Royal Canadian Mint." On top of that, teams including the Calgary Flames pay lower property taxes than other businesses in Canada and are assessed zero payroll taxes on their clubs.

Meanwhile, player salaries have skyrocketed nearly 500 percent over the past decade. The average NHL salary is now $1.3 million.

But what about the jobs, jobs, jobs, the sports boosters cried? What about all the foregone revenue - and lost world-class status -- if the Canadian teams carried through with their threats to move to the U.S.?

What of it? Montreal and Toronto won't fall off the world map if their hockey teams relocate. Sports economists across North America have found little significant impact on job creation as a result of massive public investments in sports teams and stadiums. And tired economic development arguments were quickly iced by taxpayer advocates who educated the public about the substitution effect.

It's simple: People have only so much income that they will spend on recreational activities. If they attend a hockey game, it generally means that they are not spending the same dollars locally to go to the theater, movies, or golfing range. Each dollar spent at the sports event usually replaces the dollar spent elsewhere in the local economy. The net spending impact is nil.

"There is no fog of excuses and explanations about national interest thick enough to hide from Canadians that the subsidy to the NHL is a transfer of money from ordinary taxpayers to wealthy hockey players and team owners," noted Montreal economist Filip Palda. He hopes that the hockey welfare debacle will encourage Canadians to revolt against other egregious examples of Robin Hood-in-reverse schemes - from the $160 million handed over to the Montreal Expos baseball team to the millions earmarked for politically correct businesses engaged in diversity and gender equity enterprises.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation agrees: "To be fair, the tax burden faced by all Canadian businesses, including NHL teams, is in dire need of fiscal reform. To engage in yet another industry-specific program, however, is not the solution."

Amazing. If the Canadians can say no to their beloved boys on blades, when will we Americans learn to bodycheck the sports barons of corporate welfare?

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate