Obsessive Wrigley Renovation Watch: Mayor Considering Amusement Tax Increase

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Obsessive Wrigley Renovation Watch: Mayor Considering Amusement Tax Increase

Chicago Cubs

The Wrigley Field renovation story has grown cold over the last few months after the Chicago Cubs, city of Chicago, Cook County, and state of Illinois failed to come to an agreement on funding earlier this year (the biggest stumbling block, other than the general reluctance to offer up public dollars, was the Joe Ricketts anti-Obama campaign flap, to which I’ll link, rather than re-hash). No one seems to believe a deal won’t eventually get done, but neither does anyone seem to believe that construction will start in earnest this offseason, as the Cubs had originally hoped it would.

Now there may be a new wrinkle to the process, the implications of which are relatively hard to pin down. From the Sun-Times:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is exploring the possibility of raising the city’s 9 percent amusement tax and the “sin” tax on cigarettes of 68 cents a pack to chip away at a $369 million shortfall in the city’s 2013 budget ….

Chicago’s two-tiered amusement tax was last increased in 2009, to 5 percent from 4 percent for mid-sized venues and to 9 percent from 8 percent for large sporting events. The lower tax rate applies to live theatrical, musical and cultural performances in venues with more than 750 seats. Smaller theaters are exempt.

Until an ill-timed controversy over the conservative politics of Joe Ricketts, the patriarch of the billionaire family that owns the Cubs, team owner Tom Ricketts was still hoping to use 35 years’ worth of amusement tax growth to help finance a $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field.

Emanuel was prepared to sign off on that plan, a $150 million variation of a financing scheme he once called a “non-starter.”

So, how does this impact the Wrigley renovation plans? Maybe not at all, other than serving as a coincidental eff you to the Ricketts family, which maybe puts things back to square one at the negotiating table after the Joe Ricketts political flap took things off course. The tax increase could result in the highest ticket tax in the country. “You pissed me off and made me look like a fool politically, and now I’ve cost you some money. Let’s start talking again.” It’s possible, but let’s underscore the “coincidental” portion of things here: closing a city budget gap is a far greater concern than needling the Cubs. Heck, the tax increase would impact the Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, and White Sox, too.

One thing is certain – the tax increase would mean that your $45 Cubs tickets would cost an extra $.45. Of course, that would also mean that, if the amusement tax growth is used to fund a portion of the Wrigley renovation, the city wouldn’t be beholden to the Cubs for quite so long. So … maybe it’s a net good thing for the Cubs?

Nah. I think that probably goes too far – higher taxes on Cubs’ tickets will never be a good thing, as they reduce the take the Cubs could theoretically get off of their product (not to mention the extra pain on Cubs fans). At least the tax isn’t Cubs-specific.

I don’t think we’ll hear much on the renovation plan until after the political season winds down. It has become a political grenade, and, in the context of an already struggling state and city (bubbling on the edge of socioeconomic riots, what with the teachers’ strike and all), I doubt anyone’s going to want to carry the banner for the Cubs right now. And that’s true regardless of what happens to the amusement tax. I reckon we’ll see the issue revisited at some point this Winter.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.