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Two excellent editorials today by the Chicago Tribune - And a totally unrelated development

Friday, Nov 12, 2010 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Did aliens take over the Chicago Tribune editorial board? The reason I ask is the paper ran two editorials today about state politics that were actually well-written and on an even keel. They didn’t once go all nutso on us.

* First up, an editorial supporting a civil unions bill

There are two significant distinctions between what happened in Iowa and what [state Rep. Greg Harris] seeks in Illinois.

First, this would not be a case of the courts creating a right that’s not supported by the public. Harris’ legislation would be an expression of the public through their representatives in the Illinois House and Senate. […]

We do not think lawmakers in most parts of this state would face a backlash for a vote in favor of civil unions. The public largely is supportive. This doesn’t engender as strong an emotional response as gay marriage. A vote for civil unions in Illinois would be a remarkable step, a fair step.

Legislative action is “an expression of the public through their representatives in the Illinois House and Senate”? Well, yeah, but I haven’t seen the Tribune say that in I don’t know how long. Usually, legislators are corrupt, arrogant and completely unrepresentative of the public interest.

Whether you agree with civil unions or not, this editorial was, indeed, “a remarkable step, a fair step” by the paper.

* Hey, I’m not complaining. I’m just shocked, that’s all. Pleasantly shocked, but shocked nonetheless. Check out the end of today’s other editorial opposing the current policy of allowing seniors to ride free on mass transit

We hope legislative leaders deliver to Quinn a more sensible means for handling senior riders. If Quinn issues a veto, we hope legislators override him and bring this notion of free rides to an end.

Not “We demand,” or “We insist,” or “We’re gonna stomp Madigan and Cullerton into oblivion if they dare disobey us,” but “We hope.”

We hope?

Seriously, was there a coup over there or something? Whatever happened, I’m all for it. Reason, moderation, logic, intelligence, facts. The high road rather than the high hat.

I could get used to this.

* And I’m so ecstatic that I’m not even going to think about cynically suggesting that the Tribune Company’s 5 percent interest in the Chicago Cubs has anything to do with this new editorial board attitude. Nope. Not in the least. Not gonna go there. Nobody ever influences that editorial board.

Heck, this new Ricketts Field bond plan which will be sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton isn’t even a horrible deal for the state. See? I hate all things Cub, but this $300 million borrowing proposal to renovate the park has no direct state cash involved. The city and county might say different, but that’s their problem

In 2009, the Cubs paid $16.1 million in amusement taxes to the city of Chicago and Cook County through a 12 percent levy on each ticket. The team proposes that the city and county would be guaranteed this amount for the duration of the bonds. But the incremental growth in amusement taxes beyond $16.1 million, either through increased ticket sales or increased ticket prices at Wrigley, would pay the bonds over time, Ricketts said.

The Cubs owner, though, is seeking a safety net in case the amusement tax does not cover the bond payments. Ricketts would like the bonds to be backed by revenue streams that are assigned to the facilities authority, including a 2 percent hotel tax.

The financing plan requires the approval of the Illinois General Assembly. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, will sponsor the legislation and plans to move it forward in the veto session that begins next week, said his spokesman, John Patterson.

“The state has no credit risk here,” Ricketts said. “No one is losing anything. It’s not a new tax, and it’s not increasing taxes. It will allow us to keep some of the growth in a tax.”

I’d prefer they just bulldoze that decrepit stadium into the lake, which would be a whole lot cheaper, but I guess they could at least fix it up a bit.

Although I will admit that Msall makes an excellent point

“The Civic Federation would urge caution before embracing any plans for $300 million in borrowing by a state agency if it does not relate to the overall financial stability of the state,” said President Laurence Msall. “The state of Illinois faces an enormous financial crisis and will be needing all of its borrowing power just to pay its bills and to continue to operate.”

Meh. Since when has the Tribune ever listened to Msall.

OK, I take that back. It was snarky. I apologize.

Carry on.

* Related…

* Ricketts want city, county to finance Wrigley renovation

* Request for state funds for Wrigley will be a tough sell

* Sun-Times: Let the Cubs pay for their own fixer-upper


  1. - hisgirlfriday - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 2:00 am:

    Thank you for this Cubs post, Rich. I was just about to head to bed, but now I get to get my rant on like I’ve wanted to since this afternoon…

    I may be a fan of the Chicago Cubs but the owners of that team sure aren’t taking long to make me despise them.

    The Ricketts family may have successfully shook down the taxpayers of Arizona for a new stadium in Mesa but I hope the taxpayers of Illinois SAY NO to this plan to increase taxes on the residents of Chicago and Cook County to pay for improvements to Wrigley. I know that Reinsdorf was able to shake down Illinois pols for a new Comiskey back in the day but that doesn’t make this right now especially when Illinois’ financial straits are so much worse now. Also, at least in the case of the Sox deal there actually was a real threat of the Sox leaving town. But the Cubs? Ricketts is threatening to move the Cubs out of Wrigley if the taxpayers don’t give him the money he hasn’t been able to squeeze out of Cubs fans with overinflated ticket prices or his bizarre Kraft macaroni and cheeze ad-sculptures? EXCUSE ME WHILE I TRY TO STOP LAUGHING!!! If Ricketts moved the Cubs out of Wrigley the value of the club would plummet by half… at least. I hope the legislators do not fall for this guy’s empty threat.

    It also strikes me as just so pathetically politically tone deaf for Cullerton to take this on as his top priority this legislative session. I realize this timing is probably just a matter of Ricketts trying to strike while the mayor is a lame duck and Preckwinkle is new and not in a position to raise too much heck about this yet, but it still is a horrible idea.

    PLEASE QUINN VETO THIS or MJM do your part and bottle it up in the House.

    p.s. FWIW, a quick glance at campaign contributions show the Ricketts family very active with donations the last few months of the campaign. (Todd gives $10k to Brady and $5k to Rutherford in late Sept./early Oct. while Laura gives two $5k donations to Quinn/Simon and one $5k donation to Preckwinkle in the last 10 days of the campaign. Hmmmm)

  2. - Concerned Observer - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 6:24 am:

    Well, there was a coup on the RADIO side…both PD Kevin Metheny (who orchestrated the major overhaul of the last year and a half) and ex-felon/host Jim Lask were fired yesterday at WGN.

    As a lover of Chicago radio, I sincerely hope the door DID hit them on the way out.

  3. - Piling on - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 6:36 am:

    Sounds like a nice amendment for the House to put on 174. Let’s see if the Tribbies deal with that.

  4. - Wensicia - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 7:18 am:

    “I’d prefer they just bulldoze that decrepit stadium into the lake…”

    Well, that puts you down a few rungs on the ladder of my favorite journalists.

  5. - anon sequitor - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 7:25 am:

    Okay Rich we know you’re biased, but why is it okay for the Sox to get a taxpayer financed shopping mall ball park (including extensive remodeling after first mistake) but the Cubs can’t get some help sprucing up broken down Wrigley?

    Frankly, I wish they would spend that money on a new ballpark. Then build a huge apartment, condo and retail complex on the site. That would teach the “preservationists” who want to stop any money being spent on improving Wrigley.

    Nevertheless, the good news for you is that the money won’t come out of your pocket, nor the Sox or their fans, but rather from the pockets of the rich yuppies who adore the Cubbies. Let them pay the piper in higher taxes and ticket prices.

  6. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 8:30 am:

    So to recap, if the Cubs suck and no one will buy tickets, the taxpayers eat the tickets?

    What happened to the Free Market, Mother Tribune?

  7. - wordslinger - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 8:38 am:

    I don’t get Msall’s point. If the ISFA issues revenue bonds backed by the city/county amusement tax, the state doesn’t have any exposure. The whole project could go in default and it wouldn’t effect the state’s revenues or credit ratings.

    The Chicago Skyway was built with revenues bonds issued by the city and backed solely by tolls. The bonds were in default for decades and didn’t harm the city’s GO rating, revenues or ability to borrow.

    Still, the city and county should want a better deal. Put a ticket surcharge on to back the bonds, and have the amusement tax as secondary security. That way, city and county taxpayers aren’t losing out on growth when the Cubs raise ticket prices (which is what the team is trying to avoid here).

  8. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 8:46 am:

    So, to recap: Civil unions are reasonable, and Bill Brady should be governor.

    Oh, Mother Tribune!

  9. - Scooby - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 9:36 am:

    The Cubs owner, though, is seeking a safety net in case the amusement tax does not cover the bond payments. Ricketts would like the bonds to be backed by revenue streams that are assigned to the facilities authority, including a 2 percent hotel tax.

    See, it’s not even true that there’s no risk to the state, ultimately the state facilities authority would be the one on the hook.

    How likely is that? Well when you consider that the revenue stream being used to pay the bonds, the surplus ticket tax over the amount being collected today, doesn’t have a lot of room for growth there’s a lot at stake here. Sure the Cubs are likely to raise ticket prices in the future, but considering they already sell just about every ticket they have how many more could they possibly sell? The only surplus being generated comes from the ticket price increases, and if god forbid the team stops selling all their tickets then the state could be on the hook for years and years. It wasn’t that long ago that the Cubs couldn’t draw many fans, just ask Lee Elia (audio NSFW), he has an opinion on this.

  10. - wordslinger - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 9:40 am:

    Scooby, I missed that ISFA security. Even more reason to make the fans pony up more with a ticket surcharge. They, along with the Cubs owners, are by far the biggest beneficiaries of Wrigley improvements.

  11. - Scooby - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 9:51 am:

    My real problem is the Cubs have no skin in the game. They want tax free bonds paid for with money that would otherwise be going to the city and the county, and in the event that money doesn’t cover it they want the state to be on the hook. And the fans get higher ticket prices. The Cubs get all these free improvements without paying or risking a penny, how is that a good deal?

  12. - Chilly Willy - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 10:03 am:

    Oh man…I found this little gem from a 2008 USA Today article.

    “My position’s very simple: Cubs play at Wrigley Field, new owner has to keep the Cubs at Wrigley Field, no taxpayer dollars,” Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a huge Cubs fan, said recently.

    I’m a Sox fan, and by no means a libertarian and even I know that the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority is a sham. Why on earth should public money benefit private firms? Stadiums don’t generate prodigious numbers of good paying jobs, nor do they spur economic development…all they do is make rich people even richer.

    I remember reading case study after case study in graduate school on the folly of publicly financed stadium construction. From professional teams in big cities, to college towns in the middle of no where, the only net beneficiaries are the teams’ owners. The new Twins Stadium, while impressive, is not exactly lifting the Twin Cities economy out of the recession.

    Here’s an article…

    Let the Cubs fans pay more for their ‘improvements.’

  13. - Angry Chicagoan - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 10:59 am:

    Dang, did the city hook the Tribune Tower up to a new water line or something? Did they just get a bunch of old lead plumbing taken out? Or what?

  14. - Ghost - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 11:17 am:

    Apparently approving millions of dollars in bonuses has changed the board.

    Millions of dollars the bankrupt paper does not have. Perhas the board will support giving raises to State MC employees as well so that the State can keep its good talent….

  15. - Mike Ins - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 11:24 am:

    Ok, let’s see. 75 years of sky-way tolls revenue gone? check.

    99 years of meter lease revenue gone? check.

    … next up… 35 years of amusement tax (increases)… check?

    Hey, anyone out there want to purchase my “revenue stream” for the next 25 years for a bargain basement price?

    Oh, wait, better yet… how about Rich sells me the next 35 years of any money beyond what he makes today in subscriptions on Capitol Fax and in return I will use the money to upgrade my computer and home and for my part I will graciously agree to continue posting comments here.

  16. - 47th Ward - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 11:42 am:

    Tax exempt bonds for Wrigley Field will definitely make them more attractive for investors, which will lower the cost of borrowing for the Cubs to do the renovations, which are sorely needed. And the precedent exists because of the White Sox deal and the Sports Facilities Authority. I agree that the Cubs and their fans ought to have the primary obligation to provide revenue with a ticket surcharge, but again, it should be similar to the deal the Sox got (and that the Bears got). If we’re OK with subsidizing sports owners, then why aren’t we OK with this?

    Speaking of the White Sox, didn’t the Feds just indict the former head of player development for taking kick-backs from poor recruits? Kenny Williams’ guy was ripping off both the White Sox and the players he signed. Nice.

  17. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 12:13 pm:

    Annual attendance at Wrigley Field: 3.2 million.

    Annual attendance at Lincoln Park: 20 million.

    We would be better off issuing $300 million in bonds to improve the parks we own. They provide much more benefit to our economy.

  18. - Ghost - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 12:24 pm:

    What if we trade the Cubs to wisconsin for their train manufacturery? :)

    YDD, but would upgradeing the parks increase attendance an revenue? if the market i stauated more money does not= a return.

    ALos, if they can both increase reveneu why not upgrade both instead of either or :)

  19. - Stormy - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 1:20 pm:

    The Ricketts family knew going in that Wrigley Field was crumbling and should have paid $300 million less. Sen. John Cullerton is sponsoring the deal to shift the millions collected from other priorities to pay off the IOU’s and Ricketts’ get a free ride. Check it out, Cullerton was a outspoken opponent of hotel and restaurant taxes to help fund converting Navy Pier from a lakefront eyesore into the highly popular tourist attraction.

  20. - jerry 101 - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 2:17 pm:

    Lets see here…

    1. So, instead of state wide taxpayers getting the shaft on this deal, Chicagoans and Cook County residents alone get the shaft. The City & County are just as hard up as the State.

    2. How could this ever possibly go wrong for the State, and turn super profitable for the already very wealthy Ricketts family? IOW, how will the taxpayers of the state get screwed? It’s not hard to imagine. The Cubs get their bonds, and then turn around and “thank” the fans by announcing LOWER ticket prices. Of course, what they’re not telling you is that 90% of those tickets will be bought by the Cubs in-house ticket scalping company, which will then sell them at an even higher price than before. Cubs fans pay higher prices, not only do ticket prices fail to go up, they actually go down. The city and the County get less than their current $16.1 million, and the State is on the hook for the bonds. And, the Ricketts family gets to claim they lowered ticket prices “for the fans”.

    3. Lets say my conspiracy theory doesn’t happen. What happens if/when the amusement tax reciepts EXCEED the amount needed for debt service in a given year? Who gets the excess? The State? The Cubs? Or does it get rebated back to the City/County? Somehow, I have a feeling about how this will work out.

    4. How about paying the debt service while the amusement tax builds up to being enough to cover the annual payment? I’m guessing the State’s on the hook right off the bat. It’ll take a while to increase ticket prices enough to cover the debt service. Who knows, it could take 15 years. Not like the Cubs are suffering for attendence, so you won’t see an attendence bump any time soon.

    5. Here’s an idea. The Ricketts family has a lot of money. The Cubs and that hellhole are worth a lot of money. There are these places called “banks”. Supposedly, they lend money. You promise to pay some interest, you pledge some assets as collateral (such as a large lot on the corner of clark & addison) and they give you money.

    (full disclosure - I’m a Sox fan. And I think the Comiskey deal was a bad deal, too. I think its high time that pro sports starts paying its own way. Pro sports facilities are a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars.)

  21. - Soccermom - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 3:01 pm:

    Word -

    Although I don’t think this was Msall’s point, the rating agencies do look at the overall revenue available in the state. If the city or county raise taxes significantly, it can affect the state taxpayers’ overall ability to pay. It’s not a huge factor but it’s something they consider.

  22. - A Cubs fan, but... - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 3:12 pm:

    47th Ward and others…. It is not true comparison to say this is like the Cell deal. The ISFA owns the Cell and therefore is improving its own asset. I am not a fan of the deal - as a Chicago/Cook taxpayers it is horrible. But if the Ricketts want to transfer ownership of the park to the ISFA and pay rent in exchange for the improvements, then I would listen. But as it is this is nothing more than a rich guy getting free money and telling every taxpayer in Chicago/Cook that his future needs are more important than theirs. And oh, by the way, if you give me $300 million, I will immediately turn around and spend my $200 million on a development that also benefits me. He has the money, he just doesn’t want to spend it on the park.

  23. - Anonymous - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 4:08 pm:

    Sox get a 200 million piece of crap stadium.
    Bears get a 600 million piece of crap stadium.
    Bulls/Hawks get 100 of acres for free.

    Cubs nada.

    Yeah, makes perfect sense to me.

  24. - wordslinger - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 4:13 pm:

    You can see why Zell was so hot make a deal with Blago to get the state to take responsibility for Wrigley. It’s an old park, a drag on revenues and a big liability.

    Quinn was just asked about it on the radio. Didn’t know anything about it, very unhappy that he learned about it in the paper, not supportive at all.

  25. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 4:15 pm:

    @Ghost -

    There’s no question that investing taxpayer dollars to improve parks and add public amenities increases attendance and revenues. Parks also raise property values, increase consumer spending, decrease health care costs, and improve the environment.

    On the other hand, I think we’d have to raise the national debt ceiling to bring home a Cubs World Series.

  26. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 4:20 pm:

    A Cubs Fan is correct.

    Like it or not, taxpayers own the Cell and Soldier Field. Atleast on paper.

  27. - 47th Ward - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 4:58 pm:

    OK YDD, how about letting the taxpayers own Wrigley Field, at least on paper? If that was part of the deal, is $300 million the right price? Is that the obstacle, or it is something else?

    It’s pretty clear that time after time, various ways have been found to put taxpayer money into the pockets of private sports team owners. Why are the Cubs being excluded, and what should they be doing to correct it?

    A lot of people here don’t care if the Cubs move to Hoffman Estates or god knows where, but a lot of people in Wrigleyville are going to lose a lot of money when the Cubs leave the neighborhood.

  28. - hisgirlfriday - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 5:06 pm:

    47th ward, you REALLY think Ricketts is going to move the Cubs to Hoffman Estates and out of Wrigley?

    As I said above, that would be an insane business decision that would instantly halve the value of the team. So much of the Cubs brand and value as a franchise is tied up into the Wrigley mystique itself.

    But if he’s that hard up for cash and feels like tanking his Cubs investment and running the franchise in the ground entirely while being pennywise and poundfoolish, by all means move the Cubs out of the city. But why stop at Hoffman Estates? I think Joliet has a fairly new park they don’t know what to do with right now that has room for some expansion. ;)

  29. - 47th Ward - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 6:24 pm:


    The Ricketts family made its money by investing. Although Tom professes a love for the Cubs, the rest of the family is in this for the business side of it. I’m a life-long Cubs fan, but I am not nostalgic about Wrigley Field. It has simply out lived its useful life.

    They are already cutting about $30 million from their payroll for next year. They know they need to keep player salaries down until they solve the stadium issue. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that they’ll cut payroll to about $60 million and limp along with good ole Wrigley drawing in the fans. How long do you think that strategy takes to destroy the team? Add in the sight of large chunks of concrete falling, and the ensuing law suits, and while moving is a bad decision, it might make more business sense long-term.

    Whether they stay in Wrigley or move, the Cubs near-term future is bleak. My main point was that it seems like every other sports team gets a break, but not the Cubs. I’m not saying I support what Ricketts has outlined at all, but it isn’t an unreasonable starting point for negotiations for some public support similar to the White Sox, Bears, United Center, etc.

    I’m not going to lose sleep worrying about the Ricketts family. Although if I owned Murphy’s, or one of the new corporate brownstone bleacher platforms, this issue would have my complete attention.

  30. - Honest Abe - Friday, Nov 12, 10 @ 8:16 pm:

    Say, Rich, how much “rental income” has the state seen from the White Sox? Just asking.

    Did the Sox pay anything during the 2005 postseason?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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