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The Ricketts’ proposal for Wrigley Field is wrongheaded and deceptive

Nov 17, 2010, 11:31 AM EDT

Wrigley Field

I was a day or two late into the whole Ricketts-want-public-money-for-Wrigley Field thing, and yesterday I spent more time trying to get Joe Ricketts or someone on record about it than reading deeply into the issue.  Note: the Ricketts’ spokespeople have still not returned my calls, so I can only assume that their response to the question “do you believe it is inconsistent to campaign against wasteful government spending while asking for public monies to pay for the improvements to Wrigley Field and the construction of the Cubs’ new spring training complex in Mesa, Arizona” is “no comment.”  I’ll call ‘em back, though.

But I have been reading up more on the proposal this morning.  Tom Ricketts made the rounds yesterday touting the plan as a public-private partnership that woudn’t raise anyone’s taxes or directly spend public money, but that just doesn’t add up at all.  The short version of this can best be seen in the Chicago Tribune’s editorial on the matter yesterday, which illustrates that there is no free ride here:

Under Ricketts’ plan, the authority would sell up to $300 million in bonds for the Wrigley renovations. The money would be repaid out of the 12 percent amusement tax levied on each Cubs ticket. The city and county would be guaranteed each year the $16.1 million in revenue that was generated by the tax in 2009, but everything above that would be used to retire the bonds.

That’s money that would otherwise go into the city and county general funds. Neither the city nor the county is in any position to sneeze at the loss. Mayor Richard Daley didn’t rule out helping the Cubs somehow but stressed that the city is counting “nickels and dimes.” County Board Finance Committee Chairman John Daley said much the same thing.

Perhaps the strongest argument of all: The Civic Federation’s Laurence Msall warned against taking on debt for non-essentials with a $15 billion deficit looming. “The state of Illinois faces an enormous financial crisis and will be needing all of its borrowing power just to pay its bills and continue to operate,” he said.

Both the borrowing power exerted by the State of Illinois under the Ricketts’ proposal, and the extra amusement taxes collected, could be directed in more useful directions than a Wrigley rehab.

What’s more, I think the Tribune makes the best suggestion here:

Why not private financing? The deal is largely based on hiking ticket prices to garner 12 cents in tax for every $1 dollar in higher ticket revenue. Better to put the entire buck toward a privately financed rehab.

Makes sense to me. If you’re going to increase the amusement tax on tickets — which Tom Ricketts clearly said was the case yesterday — why don’t the Cubs just increase the face price of the tickets to pay for it themselves?

I can’t think of a single reason other than that by doing so, the Cubs couldn’t claim that they’ve never raised ticket prices.

  1. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Nov 17, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    You’re exactly right; the raising of the tax prices is what fans would notice quicker.

    As a Cub fan, I’m embarrassed that Ricketts is trying to ask for that kind of money with the debt we have. Wrigley needs to be rehabbed badly, but to put the weight of that on the general public just wrong.

    I hope they heed the Trib’s advice.

  2. ThatGuy - Nov 17, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    Whats really outrageous(besides the whole public funding on stadium thing, cause thats dumb to) is a 12 percent “Amusement” tax. Why on earth does everything need to be taxed. Sales tax isn’t good enough? Because it’s something people enjoy doing, and will spend money on it we need to get every drop we can out of them? Ludicrous.

    • Rosenthals Speling Instrukter - Nov 17, 2010 at 12:12 PM

      And when did going to a Cubs game constitute amusement again? Last time I remember a Cubs game being amusing was when there was a 6% Charleston tax.

  3. apbaguy - Nov 17, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    Chicago really should look at SF’s approach to AT&T. That construction was private, but the infrastructure improvements around the ballpark were taxpayer funded. Everybody won (and are still winning) with that arrangement. Wrigley is similarly a jewel in the City, with a near guarantee of attendance, so direct taxpayer funding to benefit the owners is a pure giveaway.

  4. johnvmoore - Nov 17, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    Here is Tom Ricketts on the record. From last night’s Chicago Tonight:

    http://www.wttw.com/chicagotonight/video/zJm9G_Dui_L__xuBW69yNXvTJd_jJBd6/

    At about 8:20 he reacts to his father’s statement.

  5. levistahl - Nov 17, 2010 at 12:09 PM

    As Whet Moser pointed out on his Chicago Reader‘s blog, this is essentially the same approach taken by the city when it sets up Tax Increment Financing districts: cap the amount of property tax money going into the city’s general fund at the level it’s at today, borrow money to fund improvements to the district, and repay that money with the increased property taxes generated above today’s level over a fixed number of years (usually thirty). It’s not the worst idea in the world, and it can theoretically be useful in truly blighted areas that need help attracting investment and building infrastructure. But the Daley administration has used it willy-nilly, everywhere from truly rundown areas to the Loop itself, and the amount of money siphoned off via this route is a big reason the city’s budget is in such a mess right now.

    This version seems particularly egregious,and I’m kind of surprised that the Rickettses are so tone-deaf: they really couldn’t have picked a worse time to try to float this idea, given the shape of the state and city budgets and the prevailing mood in Illinois. I would have expected them to be more PR-savvy. The general impression of Wrigley is that it’s a cash cow, and that any investment in it will easily pay for itself–I can’t believe that the Ricketts family thought the public would see this any other way.

    Finally, I feel like I should mount at least a tepid defense of the amusement tax: if you need revenue, an amusement tax, in concept, isn’t the worst idea, because it taxes inessential consumption. In theory, it’s less regressive than, say, a general sales tax. Now, in reality, we’ve got a sales tax over 10% here in Cook County and an amusement tax of 12%, so we get you coming and going. Give me a progressive, graduated income tax instead any day.

    • Jonny 5 - Nov 17, 2010 at 12:57 PM

      It’s no wonder people are fleeing Chicago…. waste in government kills. It’s going to be nice now that Chicago’s economic model is in DC….. This story makes me ill, and I hope this stands out in people’s minds on election day. Private buisness should not be funded by the public. Ever. If the Ricketts want the stadium they own fixed, figure out a way to do it without touching tax dollars. With Taxes that high and the budget in ruins you must assume mass corruption is still par for the course in Chicago. and this guy wants free money for repairs….. nice…

      • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Nov 17, 2010 at 1:00 PM

        This is almost an irrelevant comment, but IL unemployment is no worse than the national average. But I entirely agree with you.

      • Jonny 5 - Nov 17, 2010 at 1:33 PM

        I was mainly referring to it’s negative population growth. People are fleeing the city actually. And that could effect the unemployment rates to the + because less people live there today than 9 years ago. Only by a couple % points more than likely though.

      • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Nov 17, 2010 at 1:36 PM

        I live a mile and a half from Wrigley field. I see no one fleeing Chicago. Where are you hearing this? Tell that to the many folks on my train every morning.

      • levistahl - Nov 17, 2010 at 2:09 PM

        Between 1990 and 2000, Chicago’s population grew by 4%, adding 112,290 people to bring its population up to 2,896,016. Cook County, meanwhile, grew by 5%, adding 271, 674 people to bring its population up to 5,376, 741. The 2010 US Census figures aren’t in yet, but other sources point to a small drop, but a Census estimate from 2006 does show a 2.2% drop in Chicago’s population, down to 2,833,321, which would still leave the number well above 1990 and would be better than the estimated 3.3% population drop for the state as a whole.

      • Jonny 5 - Nov 17, 2010 at 2:23 PM

        I normally don’t like to do research for people, but I like you. Because you like Matt Stairs

        http://www.newgeography.com/content/0040-the-decline-chicago-the-city-doesnt-work

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