The Seattle Times, purveyors of the most widely read sports section in the state, selflessly urges the state Legislature to approve a new $500 million Sonics arena: “Don’t bench Sonics: take it to a vote.”
The Legislature has waited long enough. It is time lawmakers passed a bill out of Olympia that allows King County to work on new digs in Renton for the Seattle SuperSonics and Storm.
To which I respectfully ask the Times’ editorial board… what part of 74-percent don’t you understand?!
The Times laughably attempts to champion “local control,” arguing that this is a local decision that should be settled by a council vote or a countywide ballot measure.
But… um… do these editors actually live in Seattle? Do they read their own paper? Hell, do they even bother to read their own editorials?
The voters have spoken, or maybe, shouted, on the use of city funds in Seattle sports arenas.
The 74 percent “yes” vote on Initiative 91 means there will be no renovation of KeyArena at Seattle Center for basketball. […] Seattle voters are in no mood to finance a Sonics arena or any other improvements. If Seattle voters are this grouchy, voters in suburban King County probably don’t feel that much different.
Just this past November, no less an authority than the Times editorial board itself put its finger on the pulse of the region’s voters, and declared a new Sonics arena dead. No, Seattleites aren’t the only fish in the Sound, but nothing passes countywide with three-quarters of Seattle voters going against it.
But more than just being unrealistic, it is downright insulting for the
Seattle Bothell Times and its Mercer Island based editors to now ask for a countywide vote to approve a tax on Seattle voters to pay for an arena that we have already so overwhelmingly rejected. Hell… why not make it a statewide vote? That way, the Times gets to hawk sports headlines during those dreary months between football and baseball, while the rest of the state gets the opportunity to once again screw Seattle. Everybody’s happy.
This isn’t about local control. It’s about leaving the door open to the possibility of some back-room deal, where enough council members might be arm-twisted into approving the taxes without putting them up for a public vote. This is about finding a way to ignore the will of the voters, not honor it.
And in doing so, the Times editorial board is once again playing loose with the facts, and being intentionally naive with their analysis.
The legislation was crafted so King County, not the state, would use existing taxes to pay for $300 million of the projected $500 million arena in Renton, the site preferred by team owners.
Actually, “the site preferred by team owners” is in Oklahoma City, but we’ll get to that in a moment, for first I have to point out how much it annoys the shit out of me that the Times continues to repeat that $300 million figure when in fact the Sonics’ plan calls for $400 million in taxpayer subsidies: $300 million from the sales tax, and $100 million from Renton. I’m not sure what the correct answer would be on the math WASL, but the last time I checked, 300 plus 100 still equals 400. (Wait… let me check my calculator. Yeah. 400.)
Whenever the Times repeats the “$300 million of the projected $500 million” canard it suggests that the Sonics are picking up the $200 million difference, and that just isn’t true. They expect an additional $100 million to be picked up by Renton taxpayers, and of the remaining $100 million, I’m not really sure that it will cost the Sonics owners a single dime out-of-pocket. Between naming rights, seat licenses and advance leases on luxury boxes, the Sonics portion is pretty much paid for. And don’t forget, the Sonics refuse to be responsible for the inevitable cost overruns — this will fall on the backs of local taxpayers.
Money for the arena would come from taxes, such as a restaurant tax and rental-car tax, already being used to pay for Safeco and Qwest fields, and the often-used sales-tax credit.
The implication being that we don’t actually pay these taxes — people who eat in restaurants, stay at hotels, or rent cars do. You know… other people. Oh… and that “often-used sales-tax credit” the Times attempts to slip by without explanation… that’s hundreds of millions of dollars that would otherwise go into state coffers to pay for schools, prisons, health care and other frivolous stuff like that. No biggie.
The bill would also bolster two other cultural amenities: the arts and the Mariners. Money raised by the taxes would be used for the upkeep and repairs of Safeco Field and funneled into an account for the arts.
Holy shit! Didn’t we just build Safeco Field? Aren’t we still paying the taxes to pay off the bonds on that voter-rejected public extortion? And we already need more taxes to pay for repairs? And that’s supposed to be a solid argument in favor of another such public boondoggle?
There have been whispers and shouts that SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett is only buying time until he can move the teams to his home state of Oklahoma. This is an unfair claim. Bennett has done nothing to suggest that moving the teams is a foregone conclusion.
“Nothing to suggest” that Bennett is being insincere? Um… how about seeking $400 million in taxpayer subsidies on a $500 million hoops palace, just weeks after 74-percent of voters rejected $200 million in subsidies on a $220 million Key Arena renovation? If that’s sincere, it’s sincerely stupid.
The Times insists that “the SuperSonics deserve a chance to work something out with King County,” and on that they’re absolutely right. But to do so, the Sonics and their allies at the Times will first have to take an honest measure of the public mood instead of attempting to misrepresent it. Local control means working out the details of a proposal with local officials first, and then going to the Legislature to ask for the taxing authority, if necessary. Local control means taking into account the will of local voters. If the Sonics choose to negotiate honestly and sincerely — and within the confines of political reality — there is a deal that can be struck that could garner sufficient popular support… maybe a $100 million team contribution to a $220 million Key Arena renovation, a deal that would be more in line with the kind of public-private partnerships struck elsewhere. It doesn’t necessarily have to make financial sense. It just has to make sense.
If the Sonics owners are serious about keeping the team in the region there is no rush for the Legislature to act. All of the Sonics deadlines are self-imposed, and they can always be extended. So come on Clay, prove me wrong and the Times right. Come back to the table and negotiate a realistic deal, in good faith, that actually has a snowball’s chance of being approved by voters.
And oh yeah… here’s a free PR tip: it probably wouldn’t hurt your negotiating position if you didn’t put such a shitty product on the court.