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?

  • Aisle 424

    I’d be more inclined to agree that the money would be a necessary evil if there was a drop of a chance that the Cubs would ever leave Wrigley. They aren’t. Not only has Ricketts stated time and again how much his family loves Wrigley, but pretty much every other state is in the same bind as Illinois. There aren’t going t obe many suitors lined up to try to take the Cubs away at this point.

    Illinois isn’t just in debt. They can’t pay their bills. They are behind in payments by an average of 4 1/2 months. State employees are going to get canned and others that contract just won’t get paid for the work they did (but they’ll get taxed on the income they haven’t received yet).

    Ricketts’ trickle down benefits aren’t significant enough to prioritize handing them money the state doesn’t have.

    • Ace

      And I’d be more inclined to agree that the money is a concern if the $200 million, spread over 35 years, was more than a drop in the bucket when compared to Illinois’ *annual* tax revenue, which comes in just short of $30 billion. It’s an ugly point to make when state workers are getting furloughed, reduced pay, or laid off, but it’s a point just the same.

      I’m certainly not an economist, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that Wrigley Field (and the Cubs) are worth a whole lot more to the State of Illinois than 0.02% of the State’s annual revenues (approximately $6 million / $30 billion). But when politics come into play, making rational decisions go out the window (damn it, there’s that cynicism slipping out…).

  • pfk

    In the dictionary next to “bad timing” is a picture of Ricketts. I think a good case can be made for this but not at this time during the Great Recession. Ricketts said he has no “Plan B.” Don’t believe that for a minute, he has every letter of the alphabet covered. Daley and others will come to the rescue with options. Plus, there are several ways to do this with private money. The Cubs haven’t even begun to maximize possible revenue streams like other clubs have done. Stay tuned. I’ll bet money, chalk and marbles he comes up with the dough.

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