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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Today Major League Baseball owners will gather for their winter meeting in Orlando, Florida. Over the years baseball teams in cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Seattle have gotten financial support from citizens. Taxpayers in those cities have chipped in for the cost of building state of the art stadiums. Pro football teams have also benefited from the public’s generosity, but now some taxpayers seem to be saying enough is enough. Amy Radil reports from Seattle, where the NBA SuperSonics might be too late in getting public help for a new facility.
AMY RADIL: This election year, Sacramento voted down a sales tax to fund a new arena. Pasadena voted down a proposal to negotiate with the NFL. And Seattle voters blocked the city from granting any new subsidies to professional sports teams.
Seattle residents are still paying off their baseball and football stadiums through a countywide restaurant tax. When asked to foot the bill for a third arena, they got mad.
CHRIS VAN DYK: This has been going on for about 15 years, and the pig’s come back to the trough one too many times in the major cities.
Chris Van Dyk heads the anti-subsidy group Citizens for More Important Things, which he says include schools and health care.
Van Dyk had a crucial ally to pass the initiative: a nursing home workers’ union financed most of the $60,000 campaign. Van Dyk says the nursing home workers shared his indignation that the Sonics’ arena was just remodeled 11 years ago.
VAN DYK: They know damn good and well that it would be wonderful if we could rebuild every nursing home in Washington state every 11 years, but they also know it would be an unconscionable waste.
The Seattle measure passed with nearly 75% support, but that didn’t end the debate.
State Senator Margarita Prentice is a fan of professional sports and chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee. She says Seattle voters are ignoring the “ripple effect” of sports teams on regional businesses.
MARGARITA PRENTICE: This just brings an incredible amount of commerce, first of all, having sort of a complete roster of teams here.
Sonics fans are worried the team may leave the region, but the team owners say they hope to build a new arena nearby, in the Seattle suburbs. Prentice says she expects to sponsor a revised stadium proposal at the state legislature in January.
PRENTICE: I don’t think they’re going, I think there’s a very strong possibility that they’ll stay.
If there’s a new arena proposal, the state could extend the restaurant tax that Seattle residents are already paying, despite the ballot measure. Activist Van Dyk says his reaction to that is outrage.
VAN DYK: Not only are you imposing a tax that they voted 75% against, you’re imposing that tax now to construct a facility outside the city itself.
Van Dyk and his union allies say if the state funds a stadium without putting it to a public vote, they’ll be out gathering signatures for a referendum before the ink is dry.
In Seattle, I’m Amy Radilfor Marketplace.