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Students Research Policy Issues, Write Legislative Briefs

The DeVoe L. Moore Center (DMC) at Florida State University, a unit of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, has issued the first of a series of planned policy briefs published under the title The DMC Perspective. The March 2015 brief, mailed to all Florida legislators and available to the media and the general public, focuses on the issue of sports stadium subsidies, by which tax dollars help to fund privately owned sports complexes that proponents claim bring revenue to the state and the municipalities where they are built.

In late February, the Legislative Budget Commission tabled a motion to cut sports incentives from the state’s annual budget. The previous month, the legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research (OEDR) published a report in which staff economists reviewed eight professional sports venues, concluding these projects returned less in tax revenue than the subsidies the state gave out for them—just 30 cents return on investment for every tax dollar spent.

The OEDR blames this poor financial performance on the fact that sports stadiums are long-term commitments, according to Logan Shewmaker, a DMC research assistant writing in the policy brief. Shewmaker specifically references the proposed revamp of the Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium and an Orlando stadium now under construction to house a new soccer team. Shewmaker notes that, in addition to $30 million coming from the sports franchise itself, the soccer stadium will be subsidized to the tune of $20 million from the tourist development tax fund and $20 million directly from the city of Orlando. The team has also requested $2 million in subsidies from the state.

“Willing private investors will be better suited to fund stadium construction,” Shewmaker writes, citing recent studies and projected costs. “Tax dollars would be better spent on education, infrastructure, or a host of other projects and services before sports stadiums.”

The brief also includes an op-ed on the issue by DMC Director Sam Staley, previously published in the Tallahassee Democrat, but the significant factor in the planned series is the part that student researchers are playing in developing the policy positions. Shewmaker, for instance, is a political science major at the university.

“Students are more than capable of conducting policy-relevant research and are a largely untapped resource,” said Staley, noting that the center currently has ten students working on projects ranging from the fiscal impacts of Cascade Park in Tallahassee to state spending and tax policy. “We engage our students as interns and through independent studies to conduct original research under the supervision of seasoned professional staff. The product is both high quality and important to the public debate in Florida.”

All the articles published in The DMC Perspective series are first published on the center’s policy blog after being subject to rigorous internal review. This allows students to learn firsthand what it’s like to operate in a professional work environment and active think tank, according to Staley.

Future issues of The DMC Perspective are expected to take on public pension reform, Uber and taxi regulation, and economic development policy.

“This is an important aspect of our Get More Than a Degree initiative,” noted David W. Rasmussen, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy. “These students are going beyond their classroom activities to take on high levels of research. Not only are they learning to use available studies and resources to develop well-reasoned policy positions, they are also getting their names out there to policy makers and elected officials. This gives them a major leg up on their future careers while still in their undergraduate years at FSU.”

The full DMC Perspective on sports stadium subsidies can be viewed at this link. The site will contain all future policy briefs from the center as well.