May 16, 2002

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if our wonderful legislators voted to give money to Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world? The Senate didn't help out Microsoft, but the powers that be did vote a bill out of committee that will give more than $600 million to the state's four largest tourist centers to help them make even more money.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for economic development. But why is it that we are spending taxpayers dollars on professional sports stadiums, an exposition center in Springfield and an arena and convention hall in Branson when there are so many other sites in Missouri that are in dire need of an economic influx. Let's face it, Kansas City, St. Louis, Branson and Springfield are doing just fine on their own. The big four are raking in the dough. So why do we need to add to their money pile, especially in a time when the state is in a budget crisis that is forcing cuts in education spending and funding for numerous other important projects?

Anyone who knows me, realizes that I am a huge sports fan who loves to follow the Cardinals and Royals baseball teams as well as the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL. I don't attend to many conferences in Springfield and have no desire to see the Beverly Hillbillies in concert in Branson. So you could say I'm 50/50 on backing the benefactors of the proposed tax funding. Yet I'm still 100 percent against the legislation even if it means possibly losing our sports team to other cities and states that are silly enough to give into the corporate ransom demands for publicly funded stadiums. I can't imagine the Memphis Democrat could go to Jefferson City and get a new office building by threatening to move to Illinois or Iowa.

If this bill passes will it mean lower ticket prices at the ball games? I went to Kansas City Thursday night and it cost me $21 for a ticket. Add in six bucks for parking, $5.25 for a beverage and $22 bucks for a t-shirt for the little girl and I had spent more than $50 bucks. If I'm going to be a stakeholder in building a new facility I should at least get a price break on tickets. They should do it like the conservation department does hunting licenses, charging much more for out-of-state hunters who do not pay Missouri taxes.

I realize the big four get all the attention, have plenty of power and boosters with lots of lobbying power. But what makes more sense, spending $600 million so we can host a couple extra dentist conventions next year and brag that we have two baseball teams that the average citizen can't afford to go see play in their new stadiums. Or using that money to truly fully fund the education formula with plenty left over to use on legitimate economic development issues likely expanding businesses and attracting new commerce to the state's economically disadvantaged areas like northeast Missouri.

Kansas City, St. Louis, Branson and Springfield already are the state's golden children, let's not give them everybody else's gold too.

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