Every time the Seattle Times editorial board pimps for a new Sonics arena, they should print a big, bold disclaimer across the top of the page, revealing the millions of dollars in ad revenues they stand to lose should the team leave the region and their sports section.
Most of their readers are capitalists. We understand and appreciate rational self-interest. And if the Times were upfront and honest about its financial stake in churning out basketball coverage through the dreary months of Winter, perhaps we wouldn’t find the following headline so ridiculous: “Olympia owes Bennett a Sonics/Storm vote.”
Gimme a break. Olympia doesn’t owe Bennett a vote any more than it owes Nick a pony.
We know the Times wants the team to stay. We get it. But their constant, one-sided pressure on the Legislature to approve the first deal that comes their way is not only annoying, it’s likely counterproductive. There is no way the King County Council is going to approve this tax package without putting it before voters, and there’s no way, in its current form, it wins at the polls. You want to assure the Sonics departure? This is the way to do it.
If Sonics owner Clay Bennett is serious about keeping the team in the region, then he needs a slap in the face, not sycophantic kiss on the tuchis, for if his most recent press release is any indication, the man is totally out of touch with political reality.
“This a [sic] staggering and quite likely a debilitating blow to our efforts to develop a world-class arena facility. Clearly at this time the Sonics and Storm have little hope of remaining in the Puget Sound region.
We believe we have gone to extraordinary lengths with significant time and resources to craft a proposal for a global caliber multi-purpose event facility that would be a valuable public asset for the region for years to come and have minimal impact on taxpayers.”
Yeah… Bennett went to about the same “extraordinary lengths” crafting his proposal as he did crafting a press release with a typo one word into its opening sentence.
I know the folks at the Seattle Times looked the man in the eye and found him to be straightforward and trustworthy, but how exactly is a $400 million public subsidy a serious proposal coming just weeks after 74-percent of voters rejected a taxpayer giveaway half that size? And what exactly would be the point of approving a deal that King County voters would surely reject at the polls? If they really want to keep the team in the region, the Sonics and the Legislature likely have one shot at getting this right, and, well, this proposal obviously ain’t it.
The Times attacks Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) for accusing Bennett of trying to create a crisis, whining “That is not fair…”
What is Bennett supposed to do if the Legislature is not even willing to vote on the proposal?
Gee, I dunno, maybe… negotiate? You know, haggle. Bargain. Dicker. Horse trade. Compromise.
As Republican presidential frontrunner Tommy Thompson would likely tell you, if there’s one thing Jews like me understand, it’s haggling — and, well, Bennett… apparently, not so much. See the typical pattern in a negotiation such as this is for the two sides to gradually move towards each other until a deal is struck. Say, for example, you’re in the market for a new car with a sticker price of about $24,000. You’ve done your research, and so you offer $21,000 — only a few hundred dollars over invoice and incentives — and then the dealer comes back and counters with an offer of say… $48,000. That’s kinda what Bennett did.
Bennett says he’s willing “to explore every conceivable funding option,” but so far, only if that option includes about $400 million in public financing — twice what Seattle voters already overwhelmingly rejected. And he didn’t need to hire a high-priced lobbyist to tell him that in the current political climate, that dog won’t hunt.
But if Bennett is really serious about keeping the Sonics in the region, there are plenty of other options that could be explored. For example, Seattle voters might be willing to accept a Key Arena renovation proposal that included a more typical 40/60 public/private financing plan. Or maybe the City Council would consider a renegotiated lease that provides the team an additional $8 to $10 million a year in revenues.
Or, if Bennett really has his heart set on a half billion dollar hoops palace in Renton, he just might want to get the ball rolling by kicking in a couple hundred million dollars of his own. And then we can get down to the nitty-gritty of crafting a revenue package that might pass legislative and electoral muster.
My suggestion? A jock tax combined with a repeal of the sales tax exemption for newspapers would raise more than enough to pay off the bonds. And you gotta admit that it’s only fair that those who would benefit most from the new arena — professional athletes with their over-inflated salaries, and newspaper publishers with their over-inflated egos — should pick up a proportionate share of the financial burden.
And I’m sure there are many other creative ideas out there that would work for both Bennett and the region, if only the two sides could sit down at the table and negotiate in good faith. Bennett’s a successful businessman, and I’m guessing he didn’t get that way by always taking the first deal put in front of him. He shouldn’t expect the region’s taxpayers to be any less savvy.
After all, despite the Times’ insistence that the Sonics are worth keeping at any price, there is no hard deadline, and both sides have leverage. Bennett owns a couple teams we’d rather keep in the region, and Seattle owns a market three times the size of Oklahoma City.
If there’s a deal to be made, it’s time to start haggling.