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Football or hot potato

Football or hot potato

When I was a kid, I was horrible at football, but great at hot potato. And when I look at how state and city officials are handling the issue of a new stadium, I’m starting to think they may be playing a variation of that game.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months you are well aware there is a plan afoot to bring a new football stadium to downtown Indianapolis for the Indianapolis Colts. The moves taking place behind the scenes would make Edgerrin James proud. Allow me to elaborate. Two state lawmakers, Luke Messer (R-Shelbyville) and Mike Murphy (R-Indianapolis), have both put out plans to pay for a new stadium. Both involve slot machines in Anderson and Shelbyville and both involve money going to the city for the stadium. The city would get about $30 million a year under Messer’s plan and $48 million a year under Murphy’s plan. Sounds good, right? Money for a stadium and no tax increase. But wait, there’s more.

In the event lawmakers don’t go along with the idea of expanding gaming, and many of them aren’t too crazy about it, Murphy tells me he’s putting together another proposal that would provide money for the stadium without expanding gambling. The state would give the city about $35 million a year to pay for the stadium and the city would have to come up with the rest. Now, since the city needs about $48 million to pay for the stadium, Indianapolis would have to come up with $13 million. Murphy says the city should look at increasing taxes to raise the money.

However, the city comes back saying, “Hey, thanks, but no!” I am not making this up: City spokesman and Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell tells me a tax increase for the stadium won’t work because the city needs to raise taxes for other projects like a new jail, more court personnel and police pensions. And when I asked him what happens if the city has to pick up part of the tab, Campbell says it has to be paid for with state funding otherwise the Colts will leave and the convention center won’t be built.

Now let me make sure you follow me so far.

City wants stadium.

City proposes stadium and plan to pay for it with gambling revenue from casino in downtown Indianapolis.

State lawmakers’ jaws drop to the floor, and they propose an alternate plan, one of which includes the city picking up part of the tab.

The city says they can’t pick up part of the tab and if there’s no state funding the Colts will leave Indy like they did in Baltimore, except it will be at noon and not midnight.

So you think this would be the end of it, right?


Now we bring Gov. Mitch Daniels into the fray. The governor has always maintained that the Colts will stay, but he opposes a casino in downtown Indy and says the city should take the lead in looking for another source of funding. When I asked him about Campbell’s comments and the Colts leaving, he looked back at me and said — I’m paraphrasing here — “They’re bluffing.”

I never thought all the talk about football talk would lead to a game of hot potato, or at least chicken. City officials say it’s all state funding or no stadium. State officials say it’s some to mostly city funding or no stadium. Now, someone here is going to have to blink and do it by the end of April when lawmakers adjourn for the 2005 legislative session.

Who will do it first? My money is that the folks in City Hall will. Why do I say that? Because despite what some Colts fans might think, the farther you get away from Monument Circle, the less people could care about what happens down the street from the state Capitol, so any electoral repercussions probably won’t hit any state lawmakers too hard. Plus, lawmakers can say the mayor wasn’t flexible enough to work with them. And the mayor can honestly say he tried everything within his power to keep the Colts here, but those evil lawmakers didn’t go with the program.

The big loser in all this would be the downtown area. The stadium is an important part of its economic engine and its departure would result in Indianapolis and the state losing crucial revenue and economic activity. It’s kind of funny in a way, while politicians play chicken and hot potato, it’s the people who might get burned and run off the cliff.

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