Thursday, August 18, 2011

If At First You Don't STIF Us... Try, Try, Again

Crain's runs with a new story on the Ricketts latest attempts to get public financing to fix Wrigley Field.

The details are really the same as the old story. What do they want? $200 million, same as last time. How do they want it? There's the amusement-tax revenues. This is called Sales Tax Increment Financing or STIF. That method diverts the growth in tax receipts that are used for general municipal purposes into the Ricketts hands. Then, there's the sales or property-tax subsidy. This is actually a bigger giveaway than the STIF as it doesn't just take the growth in taxes, it takes taxes already collected and redirects them from schools and roads to the Ricketts. Lastly, they suggest bonds issued by the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority. Why tax bonds? Because those bonds carry a lower interest expense than private bonds. I'm sure a lot of private entities would like that.

The reality is that the State of Illinois, Cook County, and City of Chicago are all running budget deficits. To divert money from public uses to a private enterprise, one that knew that Wrigley needed rehabbing when they bought the team two years ago, is insane.

It's also certain that a guy like Joe Ricketts, who is the leader and primary funder of the Ending Spending Fund, would despise such a project.

The Ricketts are going to smile and talk about how Wrigley is an economic engine that creates jobs and brings in tourist dollars. That's going to be a hard sell given the empty seats this year and little expectation of improvement for next year.

All the news in this story is really that the Ricketts have decided that the time is right to renew their request for taxpayer dollars. Like the decision to change the front office, they've dithered so long that their request looks even more silly now than it did the last time they asked.

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