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Friday, February 20, 2009

Paulson stadiums deal: State getting into the act

Remember the 2003 state law that committed state tax dollars to building a major league baseball stadium in Portland? It was quite a dramatic story -- the proposal failing at first but then passing. The whole deal was on track until it came time for the baseball proponents to get the city to commit to its part of the funding. David Kahn, speaking for the sports types, was supposed to woo then-Mayor Vera Katz and the rest of the City Council into enacting all sorts of local taxes and fees to pay off part of the bonds that would finance construction, but he didn't get the job done before time ran out on Katz's administration. Her replacement, Tom "Grampy" Potter, killed the stadium deal immediately upon his arrival.

Well, Grampy's gone, Vera's creepy understudy has got the city's reins, and the major league baseball folks have quieted down. So now the taxpayers are going to blow about half as much money as they would have on big league baseball, but on more minor league baseball and something that calls itself "major league" soccer. The faction pushing to have taxpayers build one new stadium and radically revamp another for these teams is now seeking to commandeer the 2003 state law, which although never used remains on the books. State Reps. David Hunt and Tobias Read have introduced a bill that would substitute professional soccer for professional baseball as the beneficiary of that state largesse. A first hearing on the switcheroo proposal is set for Tuesday.

I supported the baseball stadium bill -- I still think it would be great to have genuine major league baseball in Portland someday -- but there's a big difference between that and what passes for "high-level" pro soccer in the United States. More importantly, it ain't 2003 any more.

The soccer stadiums proposal is a raw deal for taxpayers, for the benefit of a rich, rich man, at a time when we're closing schools early and can't fix the potholes. Hunt, Read, and anyone else who plays along ought to have their heads examined, and they ought to be held accountable come next election (when Hunt might be angling for governor). (Co-sponsors are Representatives Scott Bruun, Chris Edwards, Arnie Roblan, and Mike Schaufler, and Senators Richard Devlin, Rod Monroe, and Frank Morse, apparently all "at the request of Portland Timbers.")

At this point, the right thing to do would be to repeal the baseball financing statute, not expand it.

By the way, is anyone paying lobbyists to push this bill in Salem? If the city weren't, I'd be surprised. The Paulson family gets you coming and going.

Comments (17)

Hey, is there any way to take a short position on the deal?

I'm troubled by the fact that the Major League Stadium Grant Fund (ORS 184.408), which is overseen by the State Treasurer's Office, is not listed in a document submitted to the MLS/3A Task Force titled "Potential Project Funding Sources" dated January 20, 2009. And as far as I know (I haven't read all of the task force minutes or the documents submitted) it hasn't been mentioned at all, anywhere in the process.

The ML Stadium Grant Fund uses general fund dollars to give grants for the construction of a stadium in Portland in exchange for the incremental personal income tax revenues of players. The grants will be subject to an agreement with the state, but the statute doesn't specify whether the grants must be secured by the income tax revenues, or whether repayment of the grants must be guaranteed or required.

Also, the amendment to the baseball stadium statute, HB 2531, doesn't substitute "soccer" for "baseball" but "athletic" for "baseball" and "soccer stadium" has been added as an alternative to a "baseball stadium." If there's room for a major league baseball stadium in the Rose Quarter, it won't surprise me if Portland will be getting that, too. Mayor Adams will be shepherding the financing plan for the MLS/3A project according to the February 3rd task force meeting notes. He may have burned his bridges to DC, but maybe not to Salem.

Are these people f@%#$&g nuts. We can't afford our schools, old folks losing benefits, pensions down the drain, pay is being cut, jobs lost, houses forclosed and these craven bast%*^s are funneling money to Hank Paulson and his rich spoiled kid.

If there's room for a major league baseball stadium in the Rose Quarter, it won't surprise me if Portland will be getting that, too.

There isn't enough borrowing power for that. Even Wall Street isn't that stupid.

Papa Paulson has the money, somewhere.

HB2531 would include salaries of anyone working for Merritt Paulson's organization,not just players, and their spouse if filing jointly, in calculating the subsidy level. With the income of both senior and junior Paulson and their spouses in the mix they could get the maximum level of subsidy allowed under this bill.

Senator Gordly brought the 2003 bill to a halt when it came to the Senate floor the first time. In order to win her vote, they had to amend the bill, including the language that prevents any public body from being a guarantor of the bonds, as you stated in your post that day:

UPDATE, 10:07 pm: According to an e-mail message just received from my state senator, Avel Gordly, a key to the passage of the revised bill was the addition of language that no "public body" can be the ultimate "guarantor" of the bonds that will be used to finance construction of the stadium. That will present some challenges.

The new language means that no governmental entity can be on the hook for the cost of the stadium if things don't work out. This should actually make the politics easier for the City of Portland, because now the mayor can tell the major leagues, "Sorry, but you'll have to take the downside risk. We can't do it." But whether the major leagues or team owners are willing to take that risk remains to be seen.

The issue remains that this bill is another tax subsidy for the Paulsons.

That a private corporation would be guarantor for paying back hundreds of millions of dollars on bonds issued by a government entity sounds questionable. Corporations are made to protect the idividual from that kind of liability.

Any protection in the statute this year can quietly be removed in the next legislative session.

The first hearing on House Bill 2531 scheduled for next Tuesday (February 24th) is before the House Sustainability and Economic Development Committee. Members are:

Sustainability and Economic Development Committee:

Tobias Read, Chair
Larry Galizio, Vice Chair
Scott Bruun, Vice Chair
Jules Bailey
Vic Gilliam
Chris Harker
Matt Wingard
Brad Witt

If the committee passes it, it will go next to the House Revenue Committee. Members are:

Revenue Committee:

Phil Barnhart, Chair
Jules Bailey, Vice Chair
Cliff Bentz, Vice Chair
Chuck Riley
Sara Gelser
Tobias Read
Nick Kahl
Sherrie Sprenger
Scott Bruun
Vicki Berger

By all means, call, write, or email these legislators to express your objections to state funding for major league sports during the current economic crisis. Most of these legislators have no stake in building arenas in Portland and may well be just as adamant about not giving money to the Paulsons as we are (speaking for opponents here), particularly while people in Oregon are going hungry and homeless.

How many signatures would it take to make them put this on a ballot? If we've got to collect signatures to get our mayor to move on, we might as well collect them to protect our public coffers from this daylight robbery, while we are at it.

The best thing would be to challenge the city bond issue, if you could get it done. That would get Wall Street's attention, and drive the spendthrifts at City Hall nuts.

I wonder if the funding for the Major League Stadium Grant Fund would apply to anyone drawing a paycheck from Shortstop LLC. If it does include anyone on the payroll, for example having Phil Knight do some sort of promotional event for which he receives a token fee, could that put them on the payroll of Shortstop LLC requiring funds matching their state tax for the year going into the Major League Stadium Grant Fund.

JerryB, could you expound a little? What is the effect of what you are saying after I hopefully can understand.

lw, the Major League Stadium Grant Fund receives State of Oregon General Fund tax dollars in the amount equal to the taxes paid by baseball and soccer teams and their supporters.

Part of the statute reads:
"'Member of a professional athletic team' means an athlete or other individual rendering service to a professional athletic team if the compensation of the athlete or other individual exceeds $50,000 in a tax year."

For anyone who is paid by Shortstop LLC at least $50,000 in any year, an amount equal to their entire state income tax bill, plus that of their spouse if filing jointly, would be contributed to the Major League Stadium Grant Fund from the state general fund. If that is the case, Merritt Paulson could have a few people in a very high tax bracket do some consulting work for Shortstop LLC forcing the State of Oregon to pay an amount equal to their tax bill into the Major League Stadium Grant Fund.

Something I'm uncertain about is if compensation refers to compensation by the team, or just total wages earned from all sources.

or other individual rendering service to a professional athletic team

If the person providing consulting did so through a corporation, the bond fund would probably get nothing.

But who cares? With major league baseball, where salaries are astronomical, this was a lot of money. What do "major league" soccer players make? Probably not that much. And without even looking, you have to guess that whatever the stadium dudes are projecting for that is probably inflated. This is the liars' budget phase, after all.

"'Member of a professional athletic team' means an athlete or other individual rendering service to a professional athletic team if the compensation of the athlete or other individual exceeds $50,000 in a tax year."

That sounds like the fund is not based just on the guys on the field, but anyone on the Shortstop LLC payroll, including the Paulsons and anyone else they hire.

Housecleaning post: I concede your point jack.


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