May 21, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Schools before stadiums

4 min read
We already have a perfectly good stadium, and the cost of upgrading PK Park is substantially less than that of building an entirely new stadium. When you vote this May, I hope you’ll support our schools through the 4J and send the new stadium back to the drawing board.

by Marty Wilde

If you had to pay another dollar to local government, where would you want it to go? For many of us, education would be high on the list, while an unnecessary new baseball stadium would not appear on the list at all.

Property taxes are the least progressive form of taxation we have, hitting seniors particularly hard. When we choose property taxes as a revenue source, we owe it to our neighbors to use those dollars to make the maximum positive impact in our community.

Schools should make the cut; a stadium should not.

4J’s $25 million 5-year levy supports 200-250 teachers, about a quarter of the 800 or so teachers in the district. Without those funds, class sizes would skyrocket and education options plummet. We’d quickly return to the dark days of “No School November” and low graduation rates.

The levy may be substantial, but it has a substantial positive impact on the community. Further, the levy would not raise anyone’s taxes, but rather continue the existing tax rates. Eugene voters have stepped up to partially correct the Legislature’s chronic underfunding of public schools for decades. I hope they will continue to do so.

Conversely, it’s hard to see much public benefit in a new baseball stadium, when we already have a perfectly good stadium in the University of Oregon’s PK Park. While the Ems claim that they can no longer play at PK because of Major League Baseball’s new mandates, the reality is that the cost of upgrading PK is substantially less than that of building an entirely new stadium.

On top of that, the cost estimates for the new stadium seem unreasonably optimistic, probably leaving the taxpayers to pick up the bill for any shortfall. While the voter’s pamphlet misleadingly claims that the Ems can no longer play at PK, the truth is that they (and the University, to some degree) just don’t want to deconflict schedules with UO’s baseball team. Too bad. PK is a perfectly good venue for the Ems and upgrading it comes at a much lower cost to the public than a new stadium.

The potential public benefits of a new stadium are overhyped. As someone who spent a lot of my military career working on issues surrounding disaster relief, I see the new stadium’s proposed role in those operations as marginal; support could be more cheaply provided elsewhere. We already have a great outdoor venue for concerts in the Cuthbert, which is also in public ownership.

The proposed positive economic impacts of the project appear mostly to reflect the possibility of the loss of the Ems, rather than the possibility of renovating PK to support them there. The collateral benefits just don’t justify the expense, especially from a new property tax.

The tourism and lottery bond revenues supporting the project are, respectively, misguided and regressive. Lane County’s primary tourism goal is to increase winter visitation, which a baseball stadium would have no impact on. Community support for the project largely comes from the possibility of receiving out-year revenues from tourism taxes to fund that priority, not the stadium’s own value. People who don’t already come to watch the Ems are not going to start coming because of a new stadium.

Further, the lottery bonds supporting roughly a third of the proposed cost come largely from video poker, the lottery’s most predatory form of gambling. When I advocated for reforming the lottery, I found myself stymied by the commitment of future revenues from those poor policies to support projects like this.

Gambling revenues are the heroin of state budgets – easy to get addicted to, bad for the state’s health, and hard to quit.

I have been going to Ems games at Civic Stadium since I was a child. I don’t mind supporting them with a more modest public expenditure to upgrade PK Park. But supporting the Ems doesn’t mean writing them a blank check from not just my taxes, but my neighbors’ as well.

As the least progressive form of taxation, property taxes should be reserved to fund those priorities and projects that have the greatest public benefit. It isn’t just whether I want to pay for a particular expenditure, but also whether I think it is fair to force my less-fortunate neighbors to pay for it as well.

When you vote this May, I hope you’ll support our schools through the 4J and send the new stadium back to the drawing board.


Marty Wilde represented central Lane and Linn counties in the Oregon legislature. For more of his Letters From a Recovering Politician, subscribe at https://martywilde.substack.com/subscribe or buy him a cup of coffee at https://buymeacoffee.com/martywilde.

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