In Our View: Swing! And a Miss!
Stuart’s idea for funding baseball stadium is burdened with multiple flaws
Friday, August 26, 2011
If you hear that whiffing sound — you know, the sound of a batter swinging at a pitch and missing — it came from Clark Commissioner Steve Stuart’s latest proposal to have the Yakima Bears move here to play ball.
You’ve all heard the talk about bringing this Single A professional team to our area. The owners want out — badly — from Yakima. And when the Portland-Vancouver baseball market opened up, they saw an opportunity to improve the place where they play. So Clark County would get a professional baseball team, and in exchange the team would get a new stadium, paid for mostly by an imposed entertainment tax.
In the good ol’ days, an owner would reach into his left pocket, pull out a wad of cash and build the stadium himself. But this ain’t the good ol’ days. Today, virtually nothing like this gets built without some public money. Oftentimes a lot of public money.
Earlier, the team had proposed a 70-30 split to build a stadium near Clark College. And that would be 70 percent public money, and 30 percent out of that owner’s pocket. As noted, the public money would come from an entertainment tax, something lots of communities have enacted but Clark County has not. If enacted here, a $10 movie ticket would cost $10.50 Other entertainment venues would also be taxed. Some would be exempt.
The Columbian has endorsed the idea of this plan because we believe it would be good to have a professional team here, the stadium also would be heavily used by the community for other things and the entertainment tax would only hit those who already can afford to spend money on entertainment. Still, the tax has met resistance. The nation continues to be mired in an economic crisis, unemployment is way too high and, frankly, the public has little faith in our elected officials to spend our tax dollars wisely.
On one hand, Stuart was doing his due diligence. The plan in its present form wasn’t flying and he was looking for an alternative, something that might work. On the other hand, when you study his proposal, it’s simplistic and — in our view — not workable.
Stuart wants to bring the government’s percentage down from 70 percent to 40 percent. What’s his plan? Find a few guys in the community who want to cough up $6 million or $7 million. As Columbian reporter Stephanie Rice wrote in our Thursday story: “Anyone? Anyone? Hello?” But let’s assume Daddy Warbucks shows up with the dough. The other part of Stuart’s plan — in order to convince jurisdictions to pass the entertainment tax — is to have the jurisdictions keep everything they collect for the first five years. After those five years? They get cut off from the gravy train and the money goes to paying off the stadium. You’re kidding, right commissioner? As one person close to these baseball negotiations told us: “That’s like giving crack to a drug addict.”
Look, our elected friends aren’t great at knowing how to spend our tax dollars. If we give them a bunch of money for five years and then cut them off, that won’t work. Does anyone think they’d just do without? It’s really the same issue with Vancouver’s struggle to reopen a fire station. The feds would pay for it, up to a point. Then the city would have to find the cash to keep it going. Bad business.
So, although we love the idea of a big spender stepping up to help, we’re not so sure it will happen. But the deal-breaker in the proposal is giving places like Vancouver the money for five years and then cutting them off. Simply won’t work.