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Jewish World Review Nov. 23, 1999 /14 Kislev, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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Welfare for a sports fatcat

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- Some hot and heavy lobbying here in the Beltway illuminates my favorite adage about wealthy sports team owners and their expensive arenas: If they build 'em, you will pay.

Meet Abe Pollin. His friends in the White House and Congress wanted to make him the latest corporate welfare charity case. Pollin, a multi-millionaire, owns the Washington Wizards basketball team. He also founded the Washington Capitals, a National Hockey League team, three decades ago. Earlier this spring, Pollin sold off a large chunk of the Capitals, along with other sports interests, for about $200 million.

In 1997, with President Clinton at his side, Pollin celebrated the opening of his lavish new jock venue in downtown D.C. It's called the MCI Center. (The telecom giant forks over $4.4 million a year for the naming rights.) Promotional material gushes over the arena's architectural majesty. It's "the most technologically advanced facility in the world," a building "of motion and energy worthy of a place in the heart of the nation's capital." Pollin spared no expense on 110 gilded luxury suites (which bring in $100,000 to $200,000 a year).

The facility also hosts concerts, college basketball, and women's pro basketball games. Concessions, shops, restaurants, and a museum bring in additional revenue. Add it all up, and one thing's clear: this sports tycoon is no pauper. Yet, Pollin lobbied for specially-tailored tax breaks that would essentially subsidize the construction costs of his 20,000-seat entertainment playpen.

According to the Washington Times, the proposal would have let employers hiring at least 400 people and investing $25 million to finance their new businesses in the District's enterprise zone with federal tax-exempt bonds. New employers also would receive a 20 percent wage credit and preferential deductions for investment and equipment. These targeted breaks dubbed the "Rising Tide" plan -- would apply retroactively. The flow of tax relief would lift one prominent boat: Pollin's.

Who pays for charitable gifts like these? We do. The cost in foregone tax revenues to the U.S. Treasury, estimates the Heritage Foundation, is about $21 million for every $100 million in federal tax-exempt bonds issued for arena, stadiums, and other Taj Majals built with a purported "public purpose." In addition, our tax dollars paid for special Metro subway access to Pollin's palace. And the perpetually cash-strapped D.C. government somehow scraped together $79 million to contribute to MCI Center, including the land underneath it.

Both Democrat and Republican supporters of this Aid to a Dependent Sports Team Owner program touted its civic benefits.
Pollin
Allowing Pollin to refinance his construction loans at an estimated interest savings of about $4 million a year would help "the nation's capital achieve its full potential as a national gathering place,'' area lawmakers claimed. (Never mind that Pollin charges some of the highest ticket prices in the nation and was sued successfully by paralyzed veterans when he refused to provide enough wheelchair-accessible seats.)

Rep. James Moran (D-Virginia) said President Clinton was personally behind the Pollin bailout. "He has a commitment to our nation's capital," Moran told the Wall Street Journal. Uh-huh. What Clinton and cronies have is a deep commitment to deep pockets. Pollin is a longtime campaign donor. Two years ago, he co-hosted a fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee that brought in $2.3 million.

Using the FECInfo database on the Internet, I tallied up Pollin's hard and soft campaign contributions since 1980. He has given at least $312,650 to candidates and political action committees, and at least $101,500 in unlimited soft money funds almost all of it to Democrats. Common Cause, the D.C.-based campaign finance watchdog, reports that Pollin also gave the National Republican Senatorial Committee an in-kind $20,000 contribution last fall.

Oops. He should have spread the wealth more evenly. GOP leaders turned back the "Rising Tide" plan late Wednesday night (Nov. 18) and declared the tax breaks dead this session. But don't raise the roof just yet. Pollin's lobbyists have faked out opponents before.

One key Republican, House Approriations Committee Chairman Bill Young of Florida, says the measure should simply be attached to a "different vehicle." And White House Chief of Staff John Podesta still insists the tax breaks are "on the table."

Stay tuned, taxpayers. When it comes to publicly-funded sports scams, it ain't over 'til the fatcat sings.


JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate