By Richard Becker and Bryan Trafford
Richard Becker is co-chair of Kentucky Jobs With Justice. Bryan Trafford is on the executive committee of Jobs With Justice, works at an area casino, and is a member of Teamsters Local 89.
To move forward, Louisville needs to create more jobs that pay enough to support a family. Right now, too many working families in our city feel like they are falling behind, no matter how hard they work. A low-wage floor holds down household spending power, which holds back our local economy.
As Louisville grows and puts taxpayer money into new development projects, our elected representatives should make choices that help paychecks get bigger and neighborhoods get stronger across the city.
Metro Louisville government has a chance to get this right with a major new project. The owners of Louisville City Football Club want as much as $60 million in state and local taxpayer money to help build a stadium, hotel, offices and retail stores on a parcel of land near Butchertown.
The owners of the team want Louisville taxpayers to get a $30 million loan to buy the land where they would own and operate the development. The owners apparently also plan to ask for approximately $30 million in additional taxpayer funding from the state through a “Tax Increment Funding” financing mechanism.
The development has been portrayed as a done deal, with the team saying it expects Metro Council to rush to a vote in two weeks.
But so far, there has been almost no public discussion about whether spending so much of our money on this project will help raise wages and improve the quality of jobs in our city. The members of Metro Council need to slow down, ask questions, and find ways to use this kind of major investment to create better jobs.
For a better model, we should look at what the citizens of Milwaukee did. When the Milwaukee Bucks NBA franchise asked for millions of taxpayer dollars to help build a new arena and an entertainment district around it, a community coalition worked with elected leaders to tie the funding to an agreement that ensures that jobs created in the arena district will help lift up families.
The Bucks agreement makes certain that jobs in and around the new arena will pay at least $15 per hour by 2023. The community will have input on hiring to make sure that people in Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods get a fair shot at the new jobs. People who get the jobs have the right to form a worker council or union — without interference from their supervisors — so they can have a say about workplace issues like scheduling and earned sick leave.
Louisville should add similar standards to the stadium proposal. An agreement based on the Milwaukee model will raise pay for the new jobs in the project, boosting the purchasing power of the Louisvillians doing this work. Better pay at the Louisville City stadium development will mean that their families will be able to put more money back into our local economy, creating more inclusive growth. This kind of wage-led growth is more sustainable for the entire city over the long haul.
Most economists who have studied public funding of private stadium projects find that they tend to produce jobs that pay “very low wages” because stadium workers are paid “a small fraction of team revenues.” If Metro Council does not include clear benchmarks to create better-paying jobs, we risk adding more bad jobs that pay that block workers into poverty and hold Louisville back.
To regain real prosperity, as Louisville citizens we need to exercise our political power to push the wage floor higher. Without an agreement for good jobs in place, the soccer stadium district will likely be another giveaway to wealthy insiders with few strings attached.
We need to bring more transparency to these kinds of negotiations between corporations and local government. The soccer stadium district could be a step forward for Louisville. It will also likely generate significant profits and make the soccer team immensely more valuable, bringing a lot more wealth to the people who own the franchise.
If our city spends our money on a stadium, our elected leaders should do more to make sure that all of Louisville shares in the gains, not just a lucky few.