Monday, June 03, 2002

Ye gods--the stadium, again?

Yes, this week's column was, yet again, the new NFL stadium, which is going to go to a public vote in Mesa, the host city. Two different groups filed separate petitions to refer the City Council's approval of the Mesa site (and accompanying public expenditures) to the voters this week, so what the heck--why not beat this particular drum again? We'll see if anyone picks up on the "Incompetent Redistricting Commission" line.


A couple of thousand petition signatures have put the new Cardinals stadium in limbo. If enough prove valid, Mesa must hold a referendum on the proposed stadium site. The election would occur in September, but the Tourism and Sports Authority must select a site that month, or else the whole deal--including our new tourism taxes--goes before Maricopa County voters again.

This development frustrates The Tribune enormously. A small minority of frightened, backward-looking, and parochial nay-sayers willfully ignores the benefits to the larger community. Problem is, these folks are merely following the weakened-government, market-worshipping, and highly individualistic libertarianism that dominates Arizona politics and, yes, The Tribune editorial and op-ed pages. It’s only when these petition-gatherers apply that philosophy to the new stadium--our quaint local version of the steel tariffs and bloated farm bill--that it’s a Big Problem.

One of these pages’ continuing themes is that government must shrink and play less of a role in the economy. This paper supports remarkable, even radical, changes in healthcare finance and electricity. Even with life’s very necessities, The Tribune trusts the market unquestioningly, urging government out of way immediately, if not sooner.

Except for pro sports, where we simply must accept the world as it is. As the vast majority (but, remember, not all) of teams get taxpayer-subsidized facilities, our team needs one, too. We seek a brave new libertarian world for electricity or healthcare, but for the NFL, we’re slaves to the status quo.

The Mesa petition signers, whether consciously or not, are fighting for smaller government--who needs a Tourism and Sports Authority, anyway? They want government out of the entertainment business--can’t the private sector provide our amusements? Are they being small-minded, or does The Tribune’s philosophy not apply just to sports?

These pages also support lower taxes--name the tax, it should be lower. So with tourism crippled since Sept. 11, with taxes allegedly too high generally, why keep these new, higher taxes on tourists?

The Mesa referendum should give Maricopa County voters a chance to cut taxes on a key Arizona industry. The petition signers, whether meaning to or not, are fighting for lower taxes, which is usually a Good Thing here. Are they really frightened and backward-looking--or is there a pro football exception to The Tribune’s beliefs?

And while The Tribune has been mostly silent on this issue, the political elite in this state has no problem with our late, low-turnout primary election and overwhelmingly one-sided legislative and congressional districts. Districts, both in the past and this fall, thanks to the IRC--the Incompetent Redistricting Commission--are overwhelmingly either strongly Democratic or strongly Republican, but only rarely competitive.

Thus, our political leadership has no problem with virtually all elections being settled in the majority party’s primary, where only a couple thousand voters determine the winner. Absent getting indicted, either in court for criminal activity or on the front page for political stupidity (welcome back, Jeff Groscost!), the majority party nominee wins.

People have no problem with a small number of voters calling the shots for the vast majority--except when it comes to the stadium, when it’s outrageous that a small number of voters may call the shots for the vast majority. It’s that football exception again, I guess.

Of all things deserving an exception from principle, the stadium should come last. Proponents and hired-gun consultants have abandoned trying to claim any economic benefits. The justifications are all psychological and emotional now--we’ll feel major league! To which those of us who believe in a role for government and investment in community say, couldn’t we save it for more important stuff?

Maybe hard cases make bad law. But if your philosophy can’t handle an easy case like the stadium, it’s not a hard case. It’s a bad philosophy.

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