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Jewish World Review April 10, 2000 /5 Nissan, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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Consumer Reports



Playing hardball with taxpayers -- AH, THE UNMISTAKABLE SOUNDS of baseball's opening day: the thwack of bats, the crunch of Crackerjacks, and the deafening roar of greedy team owners demanding millions of dollars in new government subsidies.

In Washington state, home of the nation's most expensive baseball stadium, the Seattle Mariners want taxpayers to pick up $100 million in unanticipated construction costs. The demand comes despite the team owners' repeated promises to pay any cost overruns for the $517 million, publicly-funded, retractable-roofed ballpark known as Safeco Field.

While the M's moan about being in poverty, the team recently announced that it turned a healthy profit last year and hiked up its payroll to nearly $70 million. What do Mariners' fans get in return? The second-highest ticket prices in the nation and a threat by the team to sue them and the rest of the public for the cost overruns.

On the opposite coast, the Florida Marlins ball club is busy trying to shake down the state Legislature to help pay for its proposed new sports palace. The team's lobbyists came close to securing a $4 per day per passenger cruise tax that would have provided municipal bond funding for a $400 million stadium in Dade County.

Marlins' backers referred to the hefty tax as a harmless "surcharge." Gov. Jeb Bush didn't buy it. This week, he threatened to veto a bill pushing a ballot measure that would ask local voters them whether they wanted to impose the tax on the cruise industry. "This was not a chance to vote on taxing oneself," Bush said at a recent news conference. " This was a chance to tax an industry that could easily move."

The stalled legislation is a setback for the Marlins, but far from a strikeout. The team's legislative cheerleaders say they are already exploring other public funding alternatives. And while Bush rightly opposed the cruise tax as bad public policy, he is apparently open to the general idea of extracting tax dollars from individuals and families to pay for luxury playpens. That's "a matter of great debate" is all Bush will say.

For anti-tax, free-market conservatives, there is no debate. The government has no business picking winners and losers in the private sector. It has no business taking people's hard-earned money to prop up art which offends them, professional sports which bore them, or recreational activities which they consider a waste of time.

I prefer professional figure skating to pro-baseball. Why not subsidize deluxe ice rinks and enact price supports for Spandex costumes? That would create jobs and foster community. While we're at it, what about a slice of government pork for those of us who crochet? We contribute to the economy, too. Give us tax-exempt bond funding to build bigger yarn stores. Get us a federal write-off on craft supplies. It'll pay for itself!

Time and again, such economic arguments for sports welfare have proved bogus. Most recently, statistics show that Bank One Ballpark in Arizona the $355 million, government-financed home of the Diamondbacks -- has had a negligible effect on the economy in Phoenix. "These things can only be viewed as a redistribution program," University of South Florida sports economist Phil Porter told a local Phoenix newspaper. "This takes the money from people who don't care about professional sports and gives it to the people who do."

Ordinary fans don't benefit from these deals. A new report shows that the sport's average ticket price rose 11.8 percent this past year-- the highest markup in a decade. In Detroit and Houston, which both marked the opening of new tax-supported stadiums, baseball fans got sacked with nosebleed ticket prices. The average at Detroit's Comerica Park is $24.83 per ticket, the fourth-highest in baseball; tickets at Houston's Enron Field cost an average of $20.01, putting them eighth-highest among the 30 major league teams.

Meanwhile, deep-pocketed owners and players reap and keep the rewards of stadium-fueled franchise appreciation all to themselves. They continue to enjoy federal tax exemptions on stadium bond arrangements. And while the Justice Department cracks down on Microsoft and its low-cost products, baseball team owners are protected by an archaic antitrust waiver that allows them to openly operate monopolies that fix prices, restrict access, and encourage legalized extortion.

America's pastime: Getting something for nothing. You gotta love this game.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate