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Tuesday, April 01, 2008
State Government Jumps into the Steroid Mess

A legislator in Missouri plans to introduce a bill that would deny state tax credits to professional sports teams that fail to suspend players found using steroids for at least one year. Jeff Roords, a Democrat, explains that:

This bill attempts to send a message to Major League Baseball and to all other professional sports leagues that if they want to continue to ignore the problem that they have with steroids, that we're not going to continue to underwrite their activities with tax dollars.

Putting aside whether steroids in sports is any business of the government (a subject much discussed here), who gets tax credits certainly is. So I have slightly less problem with a legislator jumping into steroids through this link, by saying, in essence, if you want government benefits, you have to operate your business in a certain way. Obviously, the problem of treating sports differently than all other industry remains. No one is proposing that McDonnell-Douglas or Monsanto or Ralston-Purina (major St. Louis companies) drug test employees as a condition of receiving state tax credits.

In any event, this proposal will go nowhere. At a minimum, it seems fundamentally unfair to deprive particular teams of state benefits for something the teams cannot control. The rules governing testing and punishment for steroid use is a subject of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the various players' unions and the leagues; individual teams have no control and probably little influence over what those rules will look like. The St. Louis Cardinals or Kansas City Chiefs could not unilaterally punish players for one year for a positive test if the CBA only provides for four games (NFL) or 50 games (MLB). So this bill would put teams to a Hobson's Choice: Violate the CBA (an act that will be overturned in arbitration) or forfeit state benefits.

Beyond that, the bill may be actionable as a violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which governs the rules and processes for collective bargaining between management and certified labor unions. The NLRA prohibits state and local governments from interfering with the collective bargaining process, which is what this bill clearly would do. It would have the effect of commanding management to put particular rules into the CBA. From the other side, it would force the union to accept new obligations (stricter punishments) in the CBA because individual teams would be compelled to try to get stricter punishment as part of the agreement. And all this in order to comply with a state law. But the purpose of the NLRA is to nationalize labor bargaining for national industries and to prevent state/local governments from influencing that process.

I will give Rep. Roords the benefit of the doubt and say he is a smart guy (or at least has smart aides) and knows all of this. In which case, this bill is nothing more than another example of meaningless political grandstanding by elected officials who believe they can get attention for themselves by looking as if they are trying to clean up our great American games. And it got him one day's worth of mention on the local NPR station.


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