With the opening gavel at noon today, state lawmakers will be asked to help build a domed horse/rodeo arena in Lewis County, a new arena for the Sonics professional basketball team in Renton or Bellevue, a NASCAR racetrack near Bremerton and a hockey rink in Kent, and to make improvements to minor league baseball stadiums.
Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, looks at the growing number of sport franchise lobbyists with their hands extended for state money and says, "It's an uphill battle ... for all of them."
We appreciate Fraser's candor and her skepticism. Many residents are asking why public tax dollars should be spent on what are basically private ventures - especially huge moneymaking ventures such as the National Basketball Association and NASCAR.
The Sonics have priced middle-class families out of courtside tickets. Why should those who cannot afford to go to a Sonics game help pay for a fancy arena to watch NBA players who make as much as $20 million a year dribble a ball up and down the court?
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There are those who wring their hands and say that without that new arena, the Sonics will leave town - possibly to Oklahoma City, where the investment group that purchased the team last summer is located.
"Let them move," others say.
Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, makes an excellent point when he questions how a person like Clayton Bennett, the new Sonics chairman, can be such a supporter of the free enterprise system in this country, yet come to the state Legislature with his hand outstretched to bail out a revenue-generating machine like the NBA. That takes a lot of moxie.
As for NASCAR, it speaks volumes when the state legislators from the Bremerton area, the proposed location of a new racetrack, have misgivings about the project. According to one published report, nine state lawmakers who represent the peninsula are either opposed to the plan or highly skeptical.
Rep. Bill Eickmeyer, D-Belfair, whose 35th district includes parts of Thurston, Kitsap, Grays Harbor and all of Mason county, predicts the track will go nowhere in this legislative session. His 35th District colleague Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said he thinks a NASCAR track would be good for Washington, but he opposes public financing for sports franchises. The third member of the delegation, Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, said she's not going to support the NASCAR plan.
That validates Sen. Fraser's "uphill battle" prediction. She says only one of 10 similarly owned tracks in the country receives public funding.
As for the Lewis County group that wants to build a domed arena for horse and rodeo events near Centralia, there will be some sympathy in the Legislature because the area just lost 600 jobs when the coal mine closed. But that sympathy is unlikely to result in taxpayers picking up the tab to pay as much as two-thirds of the $50 million to $80 million project. Horse arenas can be a black hole sucking up one dollar after another.
Taxpayers feel overtaxed already. Convincing them to bail out the Sonics or NASCAR or even a horse arena is doubtful indeed.