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Voters tell rich team owners to just bug of

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Would you reconsider a vacation to Seattle if you knew there was no professional basketball team there? If you owned a business and wanted to relocate, would you eliminate any consideration of Sacramento simply because the Kings had left town? How about Los Angeles? Do you think the economy in that city has been hurt by the absence of an NFL team for more than a decade now?

I think I know what your answers are.

I definitely know the answers of people who live in those cities. They gave them at the ballot box on Nov. 7.

Lost amid all the Election Day news about Democrats taking over Congress was the message taxpayers gave to professional sports team owners nationwide in a series of initiatives. It's something politicians along the Wasatch Front ought to examine closely as they continue to decide whether to use public funds for a professional soccer stadium in Sandy.

Here's a quick rundown of how voters treated pro sports:

Seattle: A ballot initiative that prohibits the use of city funds for pro teams passed by an overwhelming 74 percent. This came despite the very real threat that the Sonics may move to Oklahoma City if they can't get a new arena. Supporters of the initiative now say the rest of the state should honor the results, as well. That may not happen, as some Seattle suburbs appear interested in offering arena deals — without any public votes, that is.

The head of a group known as "Citizens for More Important Things," said the vote shows people have priorities for public funds other than helping wealthy people in search of handouts. In a New York Times story, he was quoted as comparing owners who try to hold cities hostage to "the neighborhood crack cocaine dealer."

Sacramento: The NBA's Kings are demanding a new arena. To get around a law requiring a two-thirds vote for any large tax increase, supporters of the team broke a public-subsidy proposal into two separate ballot questions. Voters rejected one by 72 percent and the other by 80 percent. The Maloof brothers, owners of the team, are billionaires. California Assemblyman Dave Jones told the Associated Press, "Voters understood that we were being asked to provide a public handout in the form of an arena for a billionaire corporation."

Pasadena, Calif.: A city measure to use public funds to renovate the Rose Bowl and make it fit for an NFL franchise lost 72 percent to 28 percent. The head of a group opposed to the measure told the Los Angeles Daily News that people asked themselves, "Do we want the NFL to control us with their whims?"

Overland Park, Mo.: A $75 million soccer proposal was on the ballot. It was a necessary precursor to luring the Kansas City Wizards Major League Soccer team to the suburban city. Voters rejected it 64 percent to 36 percent.

Lest you think a new Real Salt Lake stadium in Sandy is a done deal, Salt Lake County has just signed a contract with Economic Research Associates, a national firm, to analyze the proposal, the team's finances and whether the county will get a fair-market return on its proposed $40 million investment. The firm's report probably won't be ready until early January.

The county's chief administrative officer, Doug Willmore, told me the report will have a huge impact on whether County Mayor Peter Corroon decides to support the stadium. In the meantime, however, the county and the team remain far apart on "technical aspects" of a deal.

Meanwhile, it would be foolish for local politicians to look at the anti-stadium revolt nationwide and think it has no application here. This election was, among other things, a rejection of the arrogance of power. Apparently, that arrogance includes wealthy team owners who say they are vital to the economies of major cities.

Jay Evensen is editorial page editor of the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: even@desnews.com