The People's Stadium Bill

Ten tiny amendments

Backers of the stadium plan talk excitedly about how the team is "guaranteeing" to invest $300 million in the Village, backed by stiff penalties, in an effort to save downtown. In the actual deal, however, all that's saved are the hides of the owners -- thanks to their slick lawyers -- because the team could escape all obligations by building a lousy parking garage.

Charming.

The fine print on a sale of the team is just as deceitful. For public consumption, the Cardinals are graciously offering to share as much as 12 to 15 percent of the proceeds with public partners. That's the headline material. Oh, but by the way, that's after team owners pocket the first $288 million of the proceeds.

Wonderful.

This is nothing more than a giant con game, the largest ever perpetrated on Missouri taxpayers. The Cardinals have been lying through their teeth since the very beginning, all the way back to 1997, when they innocently approached the Legislature with a request that a sports authority be created to "study" the stadium situation.

At the time, Cards owners expressly stated that Busch Stadium would be viable for 15 years or more. But we have to plan ahead on these things, they said, so let's set up an innocuous little commission to figure things out.

The team's idea was well received. A brief controversy came up when a few skeptical legislators wanted to force the authority to take its recommendations to the public. The Cardinals fiercely -- and successfully -- fought that idea.

Now we know why.

The Cardinal owners have never claimed -- or been asked to claim -- that they could not easily afford to build a new stadium themselves, just as the San Francisco Giants did with stunning success.

Not once.

Not once.

If capitalism broke out in Missouri -- or even common sense -- the stadium deal wouldn't have gotten into legislative committees, much less out of them. There's not one penny of benefit here to taxpayers that wouldn't be realized if the team, denied corporate welfare, had to build the stadium itself.

But what if the sky should fall? What if the team moved to Illinois and took all that revenue? What would poor downtown do?

The short answer: It isn't happening.

As reported in this column last week, Illinois legislators have no interest in throwing hundreds of millions at the Cardinals. Faced with their own budget crisis, bloodied by their own battles over Soldier Field and Comiskey Park in Chicago, the last thing Illinois politicians want is another stadium saga.

If this is such a fine idea for Illinois, why are those politicians standing limply by while Missouri gets an uncontested run at the prize plum known as the Cardinals? Answer: It would be as much a political nightmare on the east side of the river as it is in Missouri.

Without the Illinois card, the Cardinals have no leverage. Without leverage, their ransom demands are empty. Missouri can easily call the bullies' bluff.

Then, one of three things will happen. One, the team could continue playing at beloved Busch Stadium, which will be viable for decades to come. Second, they might build that new stadium themselves, almost certainly in their best market area -- downtown.

Finally, they might sell the team in a huff, which would be fine. It's hard to imagine we'd get less responsible corporate citizens than these economic terrorists.

That, Missouri taxpayers can take to the bank.

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