The political machinery is in gear, and it isn’t turning favorably for Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, whose plan to skim money from amusement tax revenues (gathered at Cubs games) to make improvements to Wrigley Field has met with opposition from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.
Daley said he’s not about to saddle his successor with a deal that requires Chicago taxpayers to forfeit 35 years of amusement-tax growth needed to bankroll basic city services.
“That would deny the next mayor — if I sign the agreement and say, ‘Go ahead’ — of the revenue they need to balance the budget,” Daley said. “And government needs money in order to balance budgets.
“We have to really talk about how you finance this without jeopardizing — whether it’s $5 million, $7 million or $8 million of — future growth….It’s a good concept. They’re well-intentioned….but that would really burden the next mayor. You wouldn’t want to do that.”
Daley said he has other ideas on how to bankroll the Wrigley renovation without burdening taxpayers, but he declined to give specifics.
Two years ago, former Gov. Jim Thompson, chairman of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, floated a plan for equity seat licenses, but the Cubs rejected the idea.
Quinn said he, too, is “very skeptical of the whole thing” and plans to put the plan “under a microscope” at a time when the state budget is drowning in as much as $15 billion in red ink.
“We have top priorities in Illinois right now that must be dealt with,” Quinn said, adding that the Ricketts family’s proposal “would not be a top priority for me.”
The governor also has his nose out of joint that the Cubs shared their plan with House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) but left Quinn out of the loop.
“Apparently, they don’t think I’m as important as some others,” Quinn said. “I am important in this matter because I’m goalie for the people of Illinois to make sure they get their top priorities addressed.”
The governor added: “These are private owners of a baseball team. They spent almost $1 billion buying it. They knew what they were buying. To be coming to the people of Illinois for assistance now after an election isn’t a top priority… If they wanted this to happen, they should have talked about it before the election — not after.” CHICAGO SUN-TIMES.
Each politician’s position is understandable, and without allowing my cynicism to leak in, I agree that it’s not a great time to seek handouts from local and state government. That said, it’s also not a good time to cut off your nose to spite your face: like it or lump it, Wrigley Field is a draw for many, many visitors to your city and state. If someone were proposing tax dollars to rejuvenate the Art Institute, I have a hard time believing there would be as much hand-wringing. Is the issue simply that the Cubs and Wrigley Field are privately owned? Is that a reason to turn a blind eye to the reality that they are important to your city and state?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but I will concede that the Ricketts plan doesn’t bother me as much as it does some others. Citing a massive budget deficit makes sense only where a plan to spend money doesn’t return money to your city/state. Shouldn’t, therefore, the basis for the discussion not be about how much money Ricketts is seeking (again, from a tax on folks who are paying at Wrigley Field), but about how plausible it is that the plan could bring jobs and additional future revenues?