OK, everybody, let's jump in the tank for a new baseball stadium.
Sure, the Cardinals' ransom demand of $431 million in public assistance is the most atrocious proposal of our time. Well, maybe it's only tied for the honor, now that the requests have come in from Kansas City, Springfield and Branson to match this giveaway for pet projects in those cities.
Yes, the public is overwhelmingly opposed to this unprecedented raid on the taxpayers' money. Of course the Cardinals' collective-billionaire owners and multimillionaire athletes don't need the help. And we know the impoverished state is facing hundreds of millions in budget cuts and can't even meet its tax-refund obligations.
But this is America, a place where money talks and idealism walks, especially where politicians are involved. Besides, we have guns to our heads. Those nice men who bought St. Louis' 127-year-old civic treasure just a little more than six years ago -- out of loyalty, not for business reasons, we were told -- are now openly threatening to move it away if we don't fork over the cash.
So let's do what politicians do: cave in to the big boys. But let's have a little fun along the way. Let's slip in some little amendments to the stadium-subsidy bill. Just as the real politicians do.
Yes, Cardinal hostage-takers, we surrender. We support your stadium plan -- with ten innocent additions.
Presenting the amendments of the People's Stadium Bill:
Welfare should be means-tested. The Cardinals must submit evidence that they've been rejected for stadium financing by at least five major area banks, not including institutions owned in significant part by team owners.
Just who are you fellows, anyway? The Cardinal ownership group must reveal the names, taxpaying addresses and voting shares of all of its members, along with audited financial statements for each.
Are those real bullets in that gun? Sworn affidavits must be submitted by Illinois officials stating their intention to fund a new stadium for the Cardinals if Missouri fails to do so. At least three officeholders of each party (either statewide officials or members of the Legislature's leadership) must participate.
No, we don't believe the check is in the mail. The promise of $300 million in Ballpark Village investments must be guaranteed in full by the team and its owners (with personal signatures), payable within five years of the projected timetable for each investment, regardless of whether the team is sold.
Remember, guys, we're your partners now. In the event the Cardinals are sold, fully or in part, during the 30 years of taxpayer funding, the government partners in this deal will receive 66 percent of the proceeds above the current market value of the team (adjusted for inflation), reflecting their share of the stadium cost.
Show us the money, gentlemen. The Cardinals and state officials must disclose all revenue projections for the new stadium, broken down by each source. A panel of expert economists, drawn from state universities, must certify the validity of these projections.
No, we don't want to eat cake. The governor may not sign this bill into law in a year in which state social services have been substantially cut, when the budget is in a deficit or when the state has had to borrow money to meet its general-revenue obligations.
Why, we'd love to share the hidden costs. State officials must determine the infrastructure costs associated with the stadium and the Ballpark Village, and the team must pay at least one third of those costs, without limitation.
We know you politicians wouldn't think of taking favors for this. All state public officials and employees, and their immediate family members, are forbidden from receiving free baseball tickets, memorabilia, clubhouse tours, luxury-suite visits or other unpaid services from the Cardinals.
We're all about freedom of the press. For constitutional reasons, Pulitzer Inc., owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, must divest all interest in the team when it enters a partnership with state and local governments.
There you have it.
If the Cardinals and their supporters agree to these minor points, we have a deal. We're all over this new stadium -- and they didn't even have to spend millions on us like they did with the politicians.
We do have one confession to make: We have land-mined this thing. It contains three poison-pill amendments that would be virtually impossible to achieve.
The Cardinals could never certify their inability to receive a loan, because bankers would battle for their business. Illinois legislative leaders would never swear to an interest in luring the team, because they have none. And no serious economist would sign off on the bogus revenue claims of this project.
We have included these requirements for the specific purpose of killing the deal while appearing to support it. We are dealing in bad faith on the theory that the end justifies the means.
We've learned how to do this from the Cardinals.
Our inspiration comes from the team's two favorite points of propaganda: the Ballpark Village-in-Wonderland scam and the notion that the public would "share" in the proceeds if the team were sold after the building of a new stadium enriched team owners' asset by a cool 100 million or two.
Backers of the stadium plan talk excitedly about how the team is "guaranteeing" to invest $300 million in the Village, backed by stiff penalties, in an effort to save downtown. In the actual deal, however, all that's saved are the hides of the owners -- thanks to their slick lawyers -- because the team could escape all obligations by building a lousy parking garage.
The fine print on a sale of the team is just as deceitful. For public consumption, the Cardinals are graciously offering to share as much as 12 to 15 percent of the proceeds with public partners. That's the headline material. Oh, but by the way, that's after team owners pocket the first $288 million of the proceeds.
This is nothing more than a giant con game, the largest ever perpetrated on Missouri taxpayers. The Cardinals have been lying through their teeth since the very beginning, all the way back to 1997, when they innocently approached the Legislature with a request that a sports authority be created to "study" the stadium situation.
At the time, Cards owners expressly stated that Busch Stadium would be viable for 15 years or more. But we have to plan ahead on these things, they said, so let's set up an innocuous little commission to figure things out.
The team's idea was well received. A brief controversy came up when a few skeptical legislators wanted to force the authority to take its recommendations to the public. The Cardinals fiercely -- and successfully -- fought that idea.
Now we know why.
The Cardinal owners have never claimed -- or been asked to claim -- that they could not easily afford to build a new stadium themselves, just as the San Francisco Giants did with stunning success.
If capitalism broke out in Missouri -- or even common sense -- the stadium deal wouldn't have gotten into legislative committees, much less out of them. There's not one penny of benefit here to taxpayers that wouldn't be realized if the team, denied corporate welfare, had to build the stadium itself.
But what if the sky should fall? What if the team moved to Illinois and took all that revenue? What would poor downtown do?
The short answer: It isn't happening.
As reported in this column last week, Illinois legislators have no interest in throwing hundreds of millions at the Cardinals. Faced with their own budget crisis, bloodied by their own battles over Soldier Field and Comiskey Park in Chicago, the last thing Illinois politicians want is another stadium saga.
If this is such a fine idea for Illinois, why are those politicians standing limply by while Missouri gets an uncontested run at the prize plum known as the Cardinals? Answer: It would be as much a political nightmare on the east side of the river as it is in Missouri.
Without the Illinois card, the Cardinals have no leverage. Without leverage, their ransom demands are empty. Missouri can easily call the bullies' bluff.
Then, one of three things will happen. One, the team could continue playing at beloved Busch Stadium, which will be viable for decades to come. Second, they might build that new stadium themselves, almost certainly in their best market area -- downtown.
Finally, they might sell the team in a huff, which would be fine. It's hard to imagine we'd get less responsible corporate citizens than these economic terrorists.
That, Missouri taxpayers can take to the bank.