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.