On page 13, you'll find a handy list, compiled by our news intern, warning you about a few initiatives that are making the signature circuit this summer. Conservatives are shopping everything from an estate-tax repeal to an anti-immigrant initiative to a "takings" initiative that will upend environmental standards.
But I'd like to warn you about an initiative that progressives are shopping: I-91, the initiative that would prevent the Sonics from getting a subsidy to revamp KeyArena.
As any regular Stranger reader knows, I'm against the $220 million subsidy that the Sonics want. I'm not, however, for bargaining in bad faith and precluding the possibility of ever investing in sports teams.
I get it: Our current lease is already a bum deal for the city because we got stuck paying off the $74 million renovation we funded in 1995. Obviously, the Sonics were supposed to pay off the debt. Instead, we're paying $2.3 million a year (spiking at nearly $3 million last year) on a tab that's going hit about $130 million by 2014 when debt service is included. The public is sick of subsidizing a private business that hasn't kept its end of the bargain.
So, what's wrong with I-91, an initiative that operates under the guiding principle that "when the government subsidizes stadiums for sports teams, it takes money away from other, more important needs," and mandates that "in order for the city to enter into a lease agreement for a sports stadium, the city must earn a positive return on its investment"?
For starters, the initiative would do more than sack the unworthy Sonics deal—it would make it impossible for the city to ever help a sports team financially. The details of the initiative say that in addition to getting paid back, the city must earn interest on any loan equivalent to the return on a 30-year treasury bond (recently calculated at around 7 percent)—which means, in the current example, that the Sonics would have to pay the city an additional $15 million a year. That's unreasonable and unfair.
The city can't predicate its investments—be they in arts, social-service nonprofits, local companies, or even evil sports teams—on such a whopping return. Locking everything to unreasonable financial returns would prevent city leaders from ever considering the potential intangible and indirect financial payback on investments.
And there is a chance, thanks to the good work that the council already did, that the Sonics will come up with a reasonable offer. A recent council resolution stipulated the parameters under which the city will help the team out. Those parameters include: putting any public-funding proposal up for a public vote; using any new tax revenue for the Sonics to first pay off the 1994 loan; and, most importantly, ensuring that any non-Sonics revenues generated from KeyArena ultimately come back to the city.
Let's not lose the moral high ground, by ignoring the good work the council has done, with a citizen mandate for bad-faith bargaining standards that will tie the city's hands.