Compared with what I read in the paper this last week, those man-bites-dog stories are nothing. How about a dog that orders a man to roll over – and the man does as he’s told? I don’t know what part of the story was more remarkable – that the University of Washington had the chutzpah to ask Washington taxpayers to fork over $150 million dollars to help renovate Husky Stadium, or that legislative leaders received the request so warmly.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown D-Spokane indicated that Democrats would probably shower the money on the Huskies as requested.
“I believe that the Huskies will always be here,” she said. "I don't know that you can necessarily say that about a professional sports team, but I don't think the Huskies or the Cougars are going anywhere.”
Well, it’s not as though universities have the option of threatening a move to Oklahoma City should the taxpayers fail to build them a new playground, as the Seattle Supersonics are threatening to do if they are not given a new or remodeled arena.
But it’s funny that she should mention the Cougars. Because, just down the road a short piece from her Spokane district, Washington State University is renovating its stadium. But WSU’s doing it without a dime of taxpayers’ money: “We've always worked under the premise that state funds were not available for athletic facilities,” said Washington State University’s Athletic Director, Jim Sterk.
And so the Martin Stadium renovation is being underwritten entirely from contributions. Huskies were never forced to pitch anything into the pot. But Cougs will not be excused from dropping change into the Huskies’ tip jar.
It makes sense that Jim Sterk would have been working under the assumption that funding the Martin Stadium renovation was the Cougs’ problem, because it’s not an assumption at all. About a quarter century ago the legislature let it be known that university athletic departments would not be receiving any taxpayer funds and should plan to operate as completely self-supporting programs.
Huskies Interim Athletic Director Scott Woodward apparently did not get that memo and argued that, “We are a public institution, and we have a right to these funds.”
And it seems that the current crop of lawmakers have forgotten about the memo as there seems to be little opposition to the subsidy.
Woodward’s curious reasoning was echoed by Representative Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, whose district includes the University of Washington: “I'm open to talking to the university about it because it's obviously a public facility,” Chopp said.
“It can be used for a lot more than just Husky football. They are talking about a series of high school football games. If you have ever been to Memorial Stadium in Seattle, it's in pretty bad shape. (Husky stadium) is not professional, it's not for profit and the players make nothing.”
So, because public universities exploit their athletes so cynically, their athletic programs are entitled to taxpayer subsidies, provided the athletic program is also named the University of Washington.
And as everyone knows, the state has no other priorities where that $150 million might be squandered that matter more than Husky football. It’s not as though there are any crumbling roads or bridges that could use a little upkeep.
But of course, UW argued that the stadium actually makes money for the state as Husky football supposedly generates $211 million in sales for state businesses, and $83 million in labor income. Put all this together and Husky football pours almost $13 million into tax coffers annually, meaning that the stadium will pay for itself in about 12 years or so, except that entertainment dollars tend to draw from other parts of the economy and really doesn’t generate wealth as much as it redistributes it. If people didn’t spend $211 million on tickets, parking, booze, kielbasa and Chinese-made Husky sweatshirts, that money would be spent elsewhere in the Washington economy and would generate just as much tax revenue and probably create more jobs.
We only elect those who are wiser and more intelligent that ourselves. So why does a $150 million request for taxpayer cash get such a warm reception from the legislature? Well, you can see Husky Stadium from the Space Needle, the test frequently given to setting legislative spending priorities. And a pro-westside bias qualifies as a real dog-bites-man story.