Keep eye on fund for team

It’s hard to imagine a future without the Buffalo Bills in Western New York. There are economic benefits to having a professional team that – to an extent – the state can enjoy. Having a National Football League franchise also generates good feelings, both in Buffalo and for Bills’ fans far from there.

Are good feelings and some economic spin-off enough to warrant public financing of a new Bills’ stadium? It is an interesting question worth keeping an eye on as the team looks for a new owner.

Taxpayers have already paid $90 million toward a $130 million renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium. And state taxpayers found themselves on the hook for 32 percent of Yankee Stadium’s $1.6 billion cost, or roughly $512 million. Even Yankees fans would say that money could have been better spent on education, economic development or a simple tax cut – particularly when the Yankees and the Steinbrenner family had plenty of avenues with which to pay for a new stadium. Financing stadiums to help save billionaires some money seems a bit ludicrous for a state that can’t figure out how to equitably finance public education.

That’s why it was good to hear Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently back away from a blanket promise of state funding for a new stadium. The state and Erie County will do their part, Cuomo said, though the governor isn’t sure a new stadium is necessary. The last two NFL stadiums to be completed came with price tags of more than $1.5 billion. That’s a lot of money to spend without a firm commitment the team is staying in Buffalo. The state’s share, based on the Yankee Stadium example, would also be costly.

Spending any taxpayer money on a new stadium for the Bills must be well justified. We would hope a thorough study of the Bills’ stadium issues is made public before any public money is spent. After all, state taxpayers – many of whom will likely never attend a Bills game – shouldn’t be writing checks based on a wink and a smile from Cuomo, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and whoever becomes the Bills’ new owner.

Keeping the Bills in Buffalo is important, but not at any cost.