I was on vacation when word broke that Mayor Emanuel was thinking of giving the Cubs roughly $200 million to rebuild Wrigley Field.
The timing probably was a coincidence, or maybe it went like this:
“Hey, boss,” says an excited aide, bursting into the mayor’s office. “Joravsky’s out of town—let’s give some TIF money to the Cubs!”
For the record, we don’t actually know if the handout would come from the tax increment financing slush fund, which the mayor has yet to reform as promised.
In fact, we don’t actually know much at all about the handout. The Cubs and city officials have provided precious few details since leaking the story to Crain’s political columnist Greg Hinz, though they’re reportedly discussing a number of means of siphoning tax money to the ball club.
“According to sources, the plan envisions as much as $200 million in public help for a $400-million rebuild of Wrigley, with officials given a menu of potential funding options to get the needed cash,” Hinz wrote on August 18. “‘Rahm’s people have been much more interested than [former Mayor] Daley’s were,’ said one inside source.”
Oh, brother—here we go again. Just when you think a lousy idea has died a just death, it springs back to life like Lazarus with a check from City Hall in his pocket. What’s next, Mr. Mayor—a bid for the Olympics?
No, no—I’m kidding! Please, don’t even think about it.
Look, here’s everything you need to know about a handout to the Cubs: they don’t need it and we can’t afford it.
There are no real community economic development benefits to be gained by pumping $200 million into Wrigley Field. The surrounding Wrigleyville area is already booming—as wild on weekends as the French Quarter in New Orleans.
There are certainly other areas in town—like most of the west and south sides—far more deserving of public subsidies. And, as we all know, the schools and city are deep in the red.
All in all, it’s really not a good time to essentially take money that could go to public school students—among other worthy recipients—and turn it over to a baseball team.
Especially one that’s as wretched as the Cubs. Sorry, easy target.
The Cubs should be able to rebuild Wrigley without a handout. They’re owned by the billionaire Ricketts family, which made its fortune with the trading firm TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. The Ricketts bought the Cubs from Tribune Company owner Sam Zell after they managed to scrape together $845 million in 2009.
If the Rickettses can’t afford to rebuild Wrigley without a public handout, that’s not our collective problem. I can’t afford to build a swimming pool in my back yard, but that doesn’t mean the taxpayers should foot the bill so I can.
In short, if the Rickettses can’t afford to run the team, they shouldn’t have bought it.
In fact, speaking for many Cubs fans, I wish they hadn’t. (Please come back, Mark Cuban!) But that’s another story.
Just in case you forgot, the last politician to seriously consider handing over public money to the Cubs was the great Blago. That was back in 2007 and 2008, when Governor Rod Blagojevich’s administration held a series of backroom conversations with Tribune Company officials. According to the feds, Blago was looking to cut a deal in which the state gave Zell millions to remodel Wrigley in exchange for Zell firing an editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
And you thought the Brock-for-Broglio deal was bad.
Blago’s plan fell apart after the feds arrested him for trying to swap Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat for campaign contributions.
By then Mayor Daley had already come out against using public money for Wrigley on the grounds that taxpayers can’t afford to subsidize billionaires. Funny how he didn’t see it that way when he was forking over $15 million in TIF funds to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
There are several theories as to why Daley vetoed the Cubs deal.
One is that he hated the Cubs, having grown up in Bridgeport, just down the street from White Sox park.
A second is that he hated the Tribune because, well, he pretty much hated anyone who asked him questions.
And a third is that Daley never forgave Zell for having the audacity to go to Blago for the handout before coming to him.
Personally, I favor the third explanation. But it really doesn’t matter. The bottom line is this: you know it’s a bad deal when it’s even opposed by Mayor Daley, the man who all-but-bankrupted Chicago.
On this matter, Mayor Daley had a point (even if he didn’t always heed it himself): as a practical matter, the city should reserve subsidies for communities that wouldn’t be developed without it.
Seems sort of obvious when you think about it, though the logic has apparently eluded our mayors and aldermen, who have thrown money at United Airlines, MillerCoors, and the Willis Group, to name just a few.
Speaking of United, let’s pause to appreciate a little irony. Over the last decade or so, United has pocketed about $40 million in TIF handouts to move its headquarters and operations from the suburbs to the city. Yet, as Kathy Bergen of the Tribune reported last week, they opened an office in downstate Sycamore in order to avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes to the city of Chicago.
Good story, Kathy!
If Mayor Emanuel were truly as tough as his boosters claim, he’d demand that United return the taxpayer-funded subsidies it received to repay some of the taxes it skipped out on. But I guess the mayor’s been too busy raising taxes on the rest of us to cover shortfalls in the schools caused in part by these TIF giveaways.
But back to the Cubs deal. It’s not clear exactly how this proposed Wrigley Field handout will be structured. Hinz says the city’s considering things like giving the Cubs a break on the amusement or property tax.
In other words, instead of paying taxes into public coffers, as ordinarly people are required to do, the Rickettses will get to spend that money on themselves—and maybe more.
I called the mayor’s press people for comment, but they said they would get back to me. They haven’t. In their absence, we’ll have to rely on the unnamed sources cited by Mr. Hinz, who say both sides are still working out the details of the deal.
My hunch is that they’re trying to concoct a clever PR spin to fool the public into believing a handout to the Cubs is not really a handout to the Cubs. That shouldn’t be hard, given the happy, easy-to-fool citizenry of Chicago.
Coincidentally, news of the proposed Cub handout broke at about the same time as the latest offer from the Chicago Public Schools to its teachers. Mayor Emanuel and schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard will raise teachers’ salaries by 2 percent—and in return the teachers merely have to work an extra 90 minutes a day and give up the 4 percent pay raise they were previously promised.
That means teachers can look forward to making between $4 and $5 an hour for the extra hours they work. The minimum wage is currently $8.25 an hour, for you folks keeping track at home.
In short, teachers get less than minimum wage while the Rickettses may get less than $200 million.
Every time I think our priorities couldn’t get more out of whack, a Chicago mayor proves me wrong.