Or should they goDavid Hoppe
After state legislators shot down proposals to fund a new downtown stadium with the proceeds from gambling, local pundits were anxious to look on the bright side. In an editorial entitled "Stadium Game Far From Over," The Indianapolis Star declared, "For now, the shared commitment to keeping the Colts is the most critical development to have emerged." While the degree of real economic benefit the team has brought to the city may be dubious, there is no question that losing the franchise would be a setback. And it is almost certainly true that the chances of getting another team down the road are nil.
The Star's editorial writers took heart from what they saw as a general agreement among legislators that the Colts must stay in town. But, the editorial concluded, all of us must "accept that shared sacrifice will be necessary - from the city, the state, the fans and the team."
The Star made it sound like if we all eat our vegetables we'll get to go to the Big Game.
But this analysis jumps ahead of one, rather pesky, detail: People in Indianapolis may want to keep the Colts, but we don't want to pay taxes to do it.
Our mayor knows this. That's why he wanted to use gambling revenue to fund the $40-plus million annual fee that building a new stadium will entail. When he made his presentation to the state House of Representatives, Bart Peterson talked about why he thought using gambling money was a reasonable idea. In the first place, he recognized that the state is in a fiscal crisis. He didn't think that legislators, who are supposedly trying to dig us out of debt, would want to divert precious tax dollars away from other priorities in order to fund a stadium in downtown Indy.
But Peterson went even further. He said that public safety in his city was his top priority, implying that he recognized needs for taxes here that must take precedence over a sexy beast like a retractable dome.
Peterson's gambling strategy was an attempt to avoid a Colts versus Cops, Kids or Clean Environment scenario. The city is facing a host of costly challenges. At the same time, many of us are still reeling from an unprecedented property tax hike that feels more like punishment for living in town than a rational assessment of what constitutes our fair share of community support. It's no wonder that Peterson thought creating a new revenue stream with gambling was a decent, if somewhat dodgy, way to fund a major piece of downtown development.
What Peterson may have underestimated was the degree to which Republican legislators want to stick it to him. A year ago, Bart Peterson was being touted by some as a prime Democrat candidate for governor, or even as a successor to Richard Lugar, once St. Richard decides to vacate his seat. Peterson did little to discourage this kind of talk.
So Peterson was facing a less than helpful audience when he spoke to a House chamber dominated by Republicans who can think of worse things than tagging him as the mayor who lost the Colts.
While the stadium game may not be over, the chance to make this deal both/and instead of either/or appears dead. Peterson's scheme would have enabled the stadium project to move ahead with a funding source independent of other social needs. Now if we want to build a stadium, it will mean increasing taxes or creating new taxes.
This tilts the character of the debate in a way that many locals who are otherwise sympathetic toward a stadium project will find insupportable, never mind what state legislators or, for that matter, the editorial writers at The Star, might think. From now on, every question about Colts funding will be pitted against our sewer overflows, our inadequate public transit system or our dirty air. How can we justify creating new taxes for a stadium when the Legislature is recommending a budget that cuts funding to Indianapolis Public Schools?
Like a lot of people, I don't want Indianapolis to lose the Colts. For better or worse, the NFL franchise is one of those markers used by corporate America to signal a certain level of market viability. While the degree of real economic benefit the team has brought to the city may be dubious, there is no question that losing the franchise would be a setback. And it is almost certainly true that the chances of getting another team down the road are nil.
But Indianapolis can survive this kind of loss. What is less likely is that we can continue to neglect the problems besetting our public safety and health, environment and infrastructure without suffering a major hit to our competitiveness with comparable cities. Making the necessary public investments in all of these areas will cost money. New and additional forms of revenue will have to be found. Sacrifices will have to be made.
So our state legislators are "committed" to keeping pro football in Indianapolis. So what. No one has consulted the citizens in my neighborhood about how committed we might be. Taking gambling off the table reopens this debate. For many of us, the first sacrifice we make for a better Indianapolis may mean giving up the Colts.