By Mike Salk
The Seattle Times is at it again. This time the editorial board resisted the urge to use cheap writing tricks to push its anti-arena agenda. Great! Unfortunately, the arguments are still short-sighted at best and baseless at worst.
The latest written conversation between editorial staff members Lynne Varner and Bruce Ramsey stems from Wednesday’s announcement that big-money backers Steve Ballmer, Pete Nordstrom and Erik Nordstrom are part of Chris Hansen’s investment team. It sounded like great news to me — after all, Ballmer would instantly become the wealthiest owner in the NBA and his presence signified the legitimacy of this group. NBA Commissioner David Stern should be impressed with the group’s weight. The city should be more confident that the group can handle unforeseen expenses. Need $10 million for a cost overrun or a modernization project? This foursome has that in the couch cushions.
The Times, however, sees it differently.
Whereas Varner at least lauded the new names for their experience, she made sure to remind everyone that this doesn’t answer the questions posed in the previous editorials. Never mind that many (if not all) of those questions were based on either faulty logic or a clear misunderstanding of the proposal.
But Ramsey? He has used the inclusion of three new names to take a shot at rich people in general and Hansen specifically.
“Now it’s this fellow from San Francisco who nobody ever heard of before,” he writes, as if Hansen’s previous anonymity is somehow a strike against him. Yeah, what a jerk Hansen is! How dare he have the nerve not to parade around in the tabloids and society pages! Why hasn’t he been touting himself and his wealth around Seattle? Why doesn’t he lunch daily at the Met or summer in Chelan like local rich people that Ramsey might know? Does he have something to hide?
Attacking Hansen, however, is just a quick punch line for Ramsey. The real target of his venom is Paul Allen.
In an editorial about the new investment group hoping to bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle, why not attack someone who is in no way connected to that effort? All team owners are the same, right? Hansen, Allen, Ballmer, Yamauchi, Steinbrenner, Bennett, Schultz, Cuban. Heck, forget owners. All rich people are the same, aren’t they?
According to Ramsey, Allen’s “modus operandi was, ‘I’ll put up several hundred millions of mine if you, the taxpayer, kick in some hundred millions of yours, to build something I want.'”
I don’t want to turn this into a political discussion, but I’m not going to condemn all private/public partnerships just because the municipality has to contribute. That would be like yelling at my employer for matching my contribution to an IRA account! In a state where we have no income tax, money has to come from somewhere.
But I digress. Let’s get back to Ramsey using a derogatory tone to make a legitimate and smart proposal sound conniving and nefarious:
“I understand that the arena proposal has no new tax on me, which makes it a less-bad proposal than the Mariner stadium was. Still, it involves the use of public funds, starting with my local government buying land a [sic] $100 million from a guy who just paid $40 million for it, and allowing him to deftly use public credit, public ownership and public revenues to reduce the costs of a private business venture.”
Here we go again. We saw this in Sunday’s piece as well! Here are the facts:
The only people that know how much Hansen has paid and will pay for his land are Hansen and those that sell to him. Since he has yet to close on all of the properties, there is no way to establish $40 million as the price he paid. That figure is made up. As for the $100 million, it stems from the maximum amount the city is prepared to use in bonds to buy the land. The proposal calls for the city to actually pay whatever the appraised price is of the land. It could be much less than $100 million. Furthermore, the team pays rent to the city for 30 years and the city gets the entire arena at the end of the lease.
If they are going to cite facts and figures, I think the editorial board at our only remaining local paper should give us the whole story, not just a cursory glance. I know the board offers opinions, but shouldn’t they at least be based on facts?
Finally, we get to Ramsey’s philosophical problem with this whole proposal:
“Local government is about public safety, roads, schools, etc. Necessities. This is entertainment. And entertainment — whether rock concerts and truck pulls or Italian opera — is not a ‘need.’ It’s a ‘want.’ People should pay for their own.”
I know this will surprise you, but I kind of agree with him. We don’t need sports in Seattle. We don’t need an NBA team, nor do we need the opera nor do we need Pike Place Market. They are all extras. They aren’t necessities, like roads and schools and cops. But they sure improve our quality of life and make Seattle the great place it is to live.
Personally, I don’t mind paying taxes that fund things I don’t need. I don’t have children old enough to use the public schools but I’m happy to pay into a system that funds them because I think educated people make society run better and I’m okay with footing part of the bill. But I understand that not everyone thinks that way and I respect their choice.
There is only one problem here.
The people that “want” this new arena built ARE the ones that will pay for it!
Remember, as Ramsey himself admits, “the arena proposal has no new tax on [him].” The taxes which help pay for the project are specifically on those that use the new facility. Sports fans, concert-goers and others who use the arena will help fund it, allowing those that do not use the building to go about their merry way without paying a dime! Ramsey wants those who want the arena to “pay for their own.”
It sure sounds like he has his wish.
Hansen, Ballmer and the Nordstroms are willing to invest a significant amount of money into a new arena that many people will enjoy. Will they make money on owning the teams? Probably. The television rights alone will probably make them a fortune. But I’m not attacking them for that.
Rather than taking personal shots at wealthy people, exaggerating claims and half-truths about the proposal, and generally talking down to the sports-viewing public, I hope The Times’ editorial board can spend some time reading the proposal, considering it with an open mind, and keeping the people of Seattle legitimately informed on it.
That’s what I want.