Sonics madness gets crazier

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The Republican head of the Oklahoma State Senate is planning a bill that would shovel statewide taxpayer dollars at the billionaire owners of the Seattle Supersonics, but don't expect to read about this in the Oklahoman or the Whirled.

Oklahoma State Senate Co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, said he'll sponsor a bill offering tax breaks if the team moves.

"I don't have the language yet, but we're working on it," Coffee said. "In general, there are some costs to relocating the Sonics to Oklahoma City."

Coffee said the incentive would likely resemble the state's Quality Jobs Act, which gives rebates to companies for creating jobs, and the cost would be recovered when the Sonics and their opponents pay income taxes for games played in Oklahoma.

Democratic Senate leader Mike Morgan of Stillwater and House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, have also been involved in discussions with Coffee. The lawmakers said the Sonics approached them about enacting the tax breaks.

Oklahoma City voters last month approved a temporary 1 cent sales tax to raise $121 million for upgrades to the Ford Center and construction of an NBA practice facility.

[Clay] Bennett's ownership group has not been asked to contribute any money toward that project. The team would receive most of the cash generated by the renovated arena under lease terms spelled out by Bennett in a 16-page letter of intent to Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. The city would pay the arena's operating expenses.

The Sonics would pay annual rent of $1.6 million for the arena, and $100,000 for the practice facility, increasing the payment with inflation. The city also would receive more than $400,000 a year for arena naming rights, with the team getting any cash above that when an expected new naming-rights deal is struck.

The Sonics could break the agreement after six years if ticket sales fall below certain benchmarks.

As an Oklahoma Republican who hoped that a Republican majority in the legislature would mean an end to a century of insider dealing at taxpayers expense, I'm embarrassed. First, there was Lance Cargill, and thankfully the House caucus forced him to resign as Speaker. Then there was Sen. Harry Coates (R-Seminole), opposing HB 1804 because of certain industries that depend on cheap illegal labor. Thankfully, he's in the minority on the issue. Now, Glenn Coffee, the man who would be the second-most influential politician in Oklahoma if the Republicans take over the State Senate for the first time ever, is saying that taxpayers all over Oklahoma need to foot the bill for massively wealthy Oklahomans to bring an NBA team to a market that serves less than a third of the state's population.

I found this story in the Seattle Times, and I learned about it by reading Field of Schemes, a blog about pro sports teams and how they manipulate local governments to fork over government money for private benefit.

I wonder why we aren't seeing coverage about this in Oklahoma. You don't suppose it's because the ownership group's head is married to a Gaylord, the family that owns the Oklahoman?

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3 Comments

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

They don't need tax breaks. They have already gotten the Ford Center refurbished, so that's enough. The fact that a Republican is sponsoring this is shameful. Whatever happened to fiscal responsible conservatives?

Bob said:

I was SHOCKED that OKC voters approved, by a reported 60% the expenditure of $120 million to remodel a five-year old Arena, and another $20 million for a "practice facility". That practice facility will end of costing more that Union Public Schools very own White Elephant -the UMAC, which seats 6,000 spectators.

I also see where Benham Group has already nailed down the engineering work on the "remodeling" job that exceeds the $90 million original cost of the Ford Arena.

Any guess on whether Flint or Manhattan Construction is awarded the Ford Arena remodeling job?

Of course, I was also "shocked" when Tulsa voters in 2003 approved, again by that effervescent 60% majority, the Vision 2025 sales tax. That 13 year tax included $140 million in funding for the BOK Arena which ended up actually costing at least $200 million.

In the five years while we've been watching the snails-pace of our BOK Arena construction, our city streets have fallen even further into disrepair, and its anyone's guess as to how many of our city pools will again remain closed this summer.

Bob said:

And another thing......

How on earth can our state legislative leaders even consider funding Mr. Bennett's "Welfare for Millionaires" when our state highways are in such terrible shape?

The state ill-maintains local highways hereabouts in Tulsa. They are full of pot-holes, divots, ridges, gaps, etc. Some of the bridges are literally falling apart.

I-244, U.S. 75, I-44, U.S. 64, and even older parts of relatively new U.S. 169 are badly in need of repair.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 23, 2008 7:51 PM.

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