Wednesday, November 17, 2010



Lest I be accused of never saying anything positive about my namesake in the governor’s office, my hat is off to Governor Quinn for so far resisting the entreaties of the Ricketts family to use incremental amusement tax revenues to refurbish Wrigley Field. It is never a good idea to use public money to subsidize private enterprise, no matter how many billions consultants hired by the potential recipients of our largesse tell us we will make in the deal. And just because we have gotten in the habit of doling out dollars to proprietors of various modern manifestations of the public circus doesn’t make the practice any less dyspeptic. Doing so is especially appalling in the case of the new Cubs owners, who bought the team only about a year ago knowing that they were buying a rickety old stadium badly in need of repairs as part of the deal. Furthermore, Tom Ricketts’ initial plea for the money was pathetic; he cited the fact that Wrigley does not have its own kitchen, so all food served at the stadium must be (apparently Mr. Ricketts is as good as any modern Fortune 500 type in throwing around meaningless drivel disguised as sophisticated terminology of the cognoscenti.) “staged” elsewhere. He made it sound like he needed $200mm for a kitchen. Surely, there are plenty of contractors, even politically connected contractors, around town who could build Mr. Ricketts a very nice kitchen for a sum considerably less than the amount for which he wants to dip into our pockets. But I digress.

Proponents of your reaching into your pockets to further enrich the Ricketts family (chieftains at construction unions, various pols who represent districts in reasonable proximity to Wrigley Field, and Chamber of Commerce types whose most salient features are their hands outstretched while their mouths proclaim their fidelity to the principles of free enterprise and rugged American individualism) argue that no existing public funds will be used for the stadium refurbishment; only the growth in amusement taxes coming from the stadium will be spent. So, they argue, the expansion plans are virtually costless. Hmm…notice how these types react when those few pols who make a legitimate feint toward fiscal responsibility propose spending freezes. Why, these same parasites who in this instance are arguing that incremental revenue is not really taxpayers’ money scream, yell, and roll around the floor kicking their feet while wailing that those future expenditures to be nixed in a spending freeze are “vital,” “necessary,” and “essential,” but I digress again.

Further, the Ricketts plan involves more public money than Tom Ricketts lets on. The bonds that will be sold and serviced through those incremental amusement tax revenues will be backstopped by the 2% hotel tax that currently is being used to finance two other notable boondoggles in town, Soldier and U.S. Cellular Fields, once the bonds used to fund those subsidies to the rich and famous are retired. If memory serves me correctly, that 2% hotel tax was introduced as part of the scheme to finance yet another public boondoggle, the McPier Authority, which was charged with stealing from the taxpayers, visitors, and conventioneers in order to build the new Navy Pier (My family really likes Navy Pier; therefore, in the interest of maintaining familial peace, I will refrain from commenting extensively on the merits of Nay Pier as currently configured.) and refurbish that other oddity on the lake front, McCormick Place. When this tax was initially levied, we were assured that it would be temporary. Once the bonds used to impose the “new” Navy Pier and McCormick Place were retired, visitors to our fair city would no longer be further discouraged from visiting us by this onerous tax. But then tearing down one of America’s great old ballparks and replacing it with a cookie cutter tribute to the banality of professional sports had to be built. Then a UFO and to land, or a toilet bowl had to be implanted, within the walls of Soldier Field, so the 2% hotel tax had to be continued. Now the Ricketts family needs a $200mm kitchen. Then there will be something else. The temporary tax that a vastly outnumbered few of us (I was active in the Civic Federation and the City Club at the time these tributes to profligacy with the public purse were proposed and fought strenuously, and, of course, futilely, against the tax and the projects it was designed to finance.) argued would be with us long after we had departed this mortal coil has achieved the closest thing to eternal life this world offers. But I digress a third time.

Governor Pat (no relation) Quinn, though, has so far stood steadfastly against using any public money, present or future, to build the Ricketts their $200mm kitchen, and my hat is off to him; he is showing the type of grit and determination that goes with his last name. His motivation for his opposition may be impure; talk is that his only objection to funding the Ricketts’ $200mm kitchen had its genesis in Tom Ricketts’ having approached House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton before coming to him, upsetting the Governor’s apparently fragile ego. But we can’t count on people’s motivations or we would never get anything done; St. Francis of Assisi has been gone a long time, and he has left few genuine imitators. The beauty of capitalism, by the way, is that it doesn’t count on honorable motivations to achieve salubrious ends, but I digress yet again. Whatever the reasons, though, we have a Governor who is, for now, sticking up for the taxpayers.

Why do I keep repeating “for now” when I cite the Governor’s bravery in this matter? Given the Governor’s track record, I am quite confident that as soon as it is demonstrated that the Ricketts’ $200mm kitchen will somehow benefit one of the governor’s actual, potential, or imagined constituencies, anyone who can come up with a quasi-convincing sob story, or one of the many who make their living around this town nurturing real or imagined grievances, the Governor will fold more quickly and completely than the team that plays in the Field that apparently badly needs a $200mm kitchen.

Am I being unfair in assuming that the Governor will soon be doing an imitation of the team that plays in the world’s largest open air singles’ bar, or at least the world’s largest open air singles’ bar not equipped with a $200mm kitchen? Perhaps I am. So here is my challenge to my namesake Governor: prove me wrong, Governor (no relation) Quinn; hang tough on this deal and let the Ricketts build their own kitchen. One suspects that, without access to the public purse, the Ricketts family, who are a very clever and resourceful bunch, will find some way to build their kitchen for considerably less than $200mm.

So, again, Governor…prove me wrong and continue to say “No!” to the parasites who feel entitled, by virtue of their connections and/or lineage, to a substantial chunk of the public purse.

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