The Seattle Mariners are an asset to Washington state and the Pacific Northwest. Having a Major League Baseball team in this corner of America is a big deal for baseball fans as well as the economy.
Nevertheless, the decision by the Metropolitan King County Council last week to approve $135 million in taxpayer funds for the Seattle Mariners to do upgrades and more at Safeco Field doesn’t feel right. The Mariners are clearly turning a profit with solid sales of tickets (anywhere from $20 to $600 for a seat) and food such as longbone beef ribs ($18.50) and chicken sandwiches with cheese ($12). Then, of course, is beer (at least $10 for a tallboy). The team’s value according toe Forbes is $1.45 billion.
That makes it puzzling that the King County government, using the tax money many of us provide by visiting the Seattle area, is subsiding stadium repairs.
After all, taxpayers built the stadium for the ball club in the 1990s. Keep in mind, voters in 1995 rejected taxpayer funding for a new stadium for the Mariners, but the state Legislature ultimately approved taxes for the stadium anyway. Public funds financed $372 million of the ballpark’s $517 million cost.
However, last week’s vote to contribute $135 million in public funds to about $800 million in planned repairs, upgrades and maintenance was a narrow, 5-4 vote. Part of the reason that some Council members voted against it was out of principle. King County can well afford the $135 million, but the bigger issue is that the Mariners can too.
Subsidizing a private business that can well afford the $135 million or more feels like a public fleecing.
Councilwoman Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a former state senator, listed several potential benefits the public is missing out on as a result of the current and future leases with the Mariners.
She said that the team pays no property taxes, which would be about $6 million a year and the team pays a “very, very low” rent of about $1.5 million a year, which will not come close to recouping the county’s public funding allocation.
Kohl-Welles and others against the vote made great points, but the subsidy of pro sports has become so pervasive that logic doesn’t stand a chance.
Pro sports owners have what the people want — a team to follow. If one city doesn’t want to fund a new stadium, another will. The Oakland Raiders football team is leaving the Bay Area in a few years for Las Vegas for that reason.
Given that, taxpayers probably got off cheap for $135 million. Still, it stinks for taxpayers.