However, even though this beefy football lover will be rooting along with everyone else for a Chiefs victory this weekend, it knows that the broadcast from Arrowhead Stadium will only remind this cutlet what a Royal screwing local taxpayers are facing.
This should be the best of sporting times in Kansas City, with a resurgent Royals franchise and the 13-3 Chiefs playing in classy stadiums under long-term leases in a city that's rabid with excitement.
So why, with the teams under contract to play at Kauffman and Arrowhead until 2015, are local politicians scrambling to put a measure on this year's ballot that would raise sales taxes on both sides of the state line to benefit our professional sports teams? The bistate tax Jackson County officials want so badly would, in part, fund a new agreement between the county and the teams to spend at least $354 million in taxpayer money for improvements to the stadiums -- matched by only $65 million from the teams themselves. But with the Royals and Chiefs obligated to play in town for another eleven years, why rush to give the teams such a sweet deal?
An answer to that question showed up in the Pitch a couple of weeks ago.
In the December 25 issue, while other news reporters must have been opening gifts and chugging eggnog, Kendrick Blackwood reported what's been missing from recent public discussions about the proposed regional tax: Jackson County leaders are desperate to find a way to keep the teams from leaving, and their departure could come as soon as 2007 -- eight years earlier than most folks realize ("Dropping the Ball," December 25).
See, it turns out that Jackson County got hosed when it signed leases with the teams in 1990. Back then, there was plenty of worry that the Royals might skip town. Then-owner Ewing Kauffman's business partner, Aaron Fogelman, had gone broke, and there was concern Fogelman's creditors would unload his half of the team in a bankruptcy fire sale that would take the team to another city. Kauffman agreed to save the day by buying out Fogelman, but only if he got some major concessions in a new lease.
And that's where the rest of us got the shaft.
Well, it didn't seem like it at the time. Back then, 25-year leases for both professional teams sounded like good deals, even if they came with a list of scheduled improvements to the stadiums that called for year-by-year upgrades and facelifts. Some of the upgrades are so meticulously spelled out that they even define by which year new toilet-tissue dispensers are needed in the stadiums' bathrooms.
The only thing missing from the long, detailed "master plan" was any mention of dollar limits. And that's where the teams have us by the short hairs.
Each year, Kansas City, Missouri ($2 million); Jackson County ($3.5 million); and the state of Missouri ($3 million) contribute a total of $8.5 million to follow those guidelines and keep the stadiums in working order. And as recently as six years ago, Jackson County officials trumpeted that a $40 million bond issue -- pursued partly to fund new seats for Arrowhead -- would ensure that the county could keep up with the improvements called for in the leases.
But with no dollar amounts limiting the cost of those scheduled improvements, there's nothing to keep the price of the goodies we owe the teams from ballooning out of control.
Six years ago, Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields reassured the public that the $40 million bond sale would cover things. But now she's singing a different tune. She claimed to Blackwood that the county simply doesn't have the cash to meet the most expensive upgrades, such as new press boxes, security offices and locker rooms, which are due in 2007. Without them, the teams can then leave without any financial penalty.
Blackwood's story got a quick response from eternally vigilant City Auditor Mark Funkhouser, who expressed some relief that someone, finally, was making noise about the crappy stadium leases. Starting in 1993, he tells the Strip, he tried for three years to get the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council to start asking questions about all the green stuff the city was coughing up to pay for its portion of the stadiums' upkeep. It was clear, Funkhouser says, that the council wasn't going to question how it had been sacked with the $2 million in annual dues. (The leases themselves don't specify an obligation from the city.) Moreover, Funkhouser couldn't get the council to consider his warnings about how the lack of dollar limits in the contracts left taxpayers as vulnerable as Manning in a Chiefs safety blitz.
After including his alarms in three consecutive yearly budget reports, Funkhouser simply gave up -- it was obvious that no one at the city level was going to wonder about the stadium deals, he says.
Two weeks after Blackwood's story appeared, there's still no indication that the major media agenda-setting player in town, The Kansas City Star (a big backer of the bistate tax proposal), plans to ask those questions, either.
Watching Dante Hall dance his way through the Colts' defenses this weekend, the Strip will remember why it's so great to have kick-ass teams like the Royals and Chiefs here in a city that appreciates them. But before it throws its protein-filled weight behind an effort to raise cash for the teams, this flank steak wants to see a lot more public discussion about what's really behind such a mad rush for another new sales-tax hike.
And here's an idea: Perhaps this time, the Star -- which just got through realizing that it helped to promote the bus-tax increase without reading the fine print -- could do a little homework before it resumes pushing the bistate tax like a blocking dummy.