Sacramento silliness: Once again, taxpayers foot the bill for a new arena


Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson poses with Kings fans after the Sacramento City Council approves a plan to help finance a new $391 sports and entertainment arena. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
March 11, 2012

In my beleaguered home town of Washington, the license plates say, “Taxation Without Representation.” In the beleaguered capital of my adopted home state of California, the license plates should read, “Taxation Without Reason.”

Congratulations, Sacramento, the good news is you’ve kept your NBA franchise.

The bad news is that you’ve struck another deal against common sense and civic responsibility.

Yes, once again ordinary citizens will pay an extraordinary price to pay for a new rich-people’s playpen. To prevent the Kings from leaving, a compliant Sacramento city council voted, 7-2, to foot two-thirds of the cost of a new arena. The arena project was spearheaded by former NBA star Kevin Johnson, who was elected mayor of Sacramento but acts more like mayor of the Sacramento Kings.

(Couch Slouch is worn out, my friends. Trust me, I’m tired of preaching. I don’t even have the right clothes to deliver a sermon; I own only one suit, which I use for weddings and court appearances. Besides, this is supposed to be a humor column — proselytizing and punch lines don’t mix.)

Last year I began my “No More Stadiums, With or Without Tax Subsidies” Tour. We went all across Sports Nation — well, actually, I ran the whole operation from my Barcalounger — trying to convince folks to stop financing sports complexes and to start rethinking solutions to critical community problems.

My efforts were a bust. Nobody cares that, as a rule, public investments in sports buildings seldom are justified by public benefits; everybody just wants a shiny new arena or stadium, with plenty of parking.

Alas, I’m one part stubborn and two parts stupid, so I’m back again, with a retooled “No More Stadiums . . .” Tour.

(Before going any further, let’s get back to our nation’s capital. A previous group of local leaders in D.C. okayed a taxpayer-financed $611 million baseball park. Now, the current local leaders are angling to pitch a sweetheart deal to get the Washington Redskins to move their training facility into the city on a 30-acre piece of prime public land that was designated for health care, recreation and education use 10 years ago. Hmm. Why not? I mean, if choosing between mixed-use development that delivers amenities the region needs OR a weight room for pro athletes, I’ve got to say: Bring in the dumbbells, ASAP!)

In 2006, voters in Sacramento overwhelmingly rejected funding an arena through a sales tax increase. The city had already helped build two other arenas since 1985 – the feckless civic leaders there are serial subsidizers. And, now, Sacramento will contribute $255.5 million to the cost of the Kings’ new $391 million palace, largely through parking revenue.

“This city is on the verge of insolvency,” said councilwoman Sandy Sheedy, a rare dissenting voice who contends the project “will scoop up every nickel and dime” left in the budget.

The happy recipients of the city’s largesse are Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, broke millionaires getting a bailout from people who can’t even afford to attend NBA games.

(If you want to go to this Sunday’s Timberwolves-Kings game in Sacramento, a good mid-court ticket will run you $169, something behind the basket costs $114 and the nosebleed seats go for $50 a pop. If a family of four goes the cheap route, it’s still $250 with parking and concessions. What I would do is this: Get a bucket of Popeyes for 20 bucks and watch the game at Sears and, if we get thrown out, listen to the rest of it on the car radio.)

It’s sick: We need creative, progressive minds to tackle difficult education, transit and housing problems, and, rather, we get a line of bodies shouting for new arena construction.

Because of budget cuts in California, the state likely will eliminate all money for school buses next year. That’s right — no school buses. Why stop there? Why not eliminate all schools? Then you could convert the empty buildings into basketball arenas and replenish state coffers with parking fees.

Dang — I think I’ve stumbled on a platform to get elected!

Ask The Slouch

Q. First some Wall Street Journal clown starts calling his column “The Couch,” then Rick Reilly steals your pay-the-man-Shirley bit. What’s next, George Will trying to run away with Toni? (Harold Smith; Chicago)

A. If she wants me to wear a bow tie, I’ll wear a bow tie.

Q. When filling out your brackets, do you put more emphasis on results from “Rivalry Week,” “Judgment Week” or “Championship Week”? (John Dodds; Wauwatosa, Wis.)

A. I actually rely on Fashion Week and go with the best-dressed coaches.

Q. If Pete Rose’s bookie had left the betting sheets in his home basement for two days, would Rose have gotten off on a technicality? (J.L. Rossiter; Cedarburg, Wis.)

A. Sure, but on the day of his appeal, I guarantee you Rose would’ve been laying down a bet.

Q. Did Jimmy Graham collect a bounty last year after he broke Sean Payton’s leg? (Don James; Westminster, Md.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash! For Norman Chad’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/chad.

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