Sign in / Join

"Pulling a hamstring to prop up sports teams"

In the Seattle Times, Bruce Ramsey describes the process of subsidizing one sports stadium after another, and how it hits the public purse.

The citizens of King County voted no on Safeco Field, narrowly, the one time they were asked about it. The citizens of Washington voted yes on Qwest Field, narrowly, after football interests, principally Paul Allen, spent $6.3 million to enchant them.

Two stadium elections: The first was ignored and the second bought. But at least we had them. At least we were asked before being made to pay.

Sound familiar?

And we do pay. In King County, we pay an extra 0.5 percent on every restaurant meal, bumping the rate to 9.3; an extra 2 percent every time we rent a car or truck; and 2 percent on hotel and motel bills. We pay taxes on baseball until 2018 and on football until 2020.

Basketball was supposed to be different. The Coliseum was to be rebuilt with revenues. The construction debt of $74.5 million has been whittled down to $58 million, but now the Sonics say they cannot get to zero. Why? The luxury suites at Safeco and Qwest, which were funded by the public, have undercut the market for the luxury suites at the Key Arena. If commercial baseball and commercial football have a source of free public capital, commercial basketball must have it, too.

So what's next? A proposal to make these tax levies permanent. Does that sound loony to you, sports fans?

A decade ago, the need for a baseball stadium was declared by the Legislature to be a public emergency. That was crazy, but the Washington Supreme Court went along with it as a one-time thing. A permanent tax makes it routine.

A routine, permanent state of craziness. One can chalk it up to "just government," an equilibrium phenomenon, but it is more than that, as I've stated here many times before. The root of these subsidies, and the taxes that finance them, is the monopoly structure of North American professional sport. Ramsey's piece describes the consequences for a city about as well as is feasible in a newspaper column.