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A hardball tax

By Steve Bailey, Globe Staff, 5/31/2000

t's do or die time. Time to put up or shut up. Prime time, crunch time!

Pick your cliche, sports fans, but the hour of decision has arrived on a new Fenway Park. Today, Tom Menino, Tom Finneran, Tom Birmingham, and last - and yes, least - Paul Cellucci will hold a summit in the governor's office to hash out the only questions that really matter now: Who will pay? And how much?

Enough of the dance. Because I don't have to stand for reelection, I'm going to tell you what the pols should have told you long ago: If you want a new Fenway, you should be willing to pay for a new Fenway.

Forget those fantasies about a privately financed ballpark. It's not going to happen, shoehorned into an expensive urban neighborhood like the Fenway. And probably not anywhere else, given the economics of professional baseball today.

A new Fenway is - sadly, very sadly - a must if the Sox are not to become the Pittsburgh Pirates. And government is going to have to front some money to make it happen. But the mayor and the speaker are right - dead right - in insisting that the city and state should get paid back. I love Pedro, too, but I can think of many better uses for my tax dollars than paying his ample salary.

It is - forgive me - late in the game. There is no time for voodoo economics, a hodgepodge of taxes and tax credits that may or may not allow the city and state to get repaid. What the Sox and the pols need to get this park built is money they can take to the bank.

The state has always had the best of this deal: The parking garages are expected to produce $11 million in annual revenue, more than enough to cover the state's debt payments on the $82 million it will cost to build the garages.

The math, however, is a lot more challenging for the city. Boston will need roughly $12 million a year to finance its $140 million share. The Sox have proposed that the city recoup $6 million by crediting property taxes to be raised on development on the site of the old Fenway Park and another $6 million on an unspecified series of other taxes, presumably things like added meal and hotel taxes.

Politicians are not the nitwits we make them; they like indirect taxes for obvious reasons, and I don't blame them. But a fairer, more straightforward way to build Fenway is to tax those who will use it. User fees are hardly revolutionary; we pay them every day on the Mass. Pike or in the state parks.

User fees can give the city revenue it can count on. And such fees have the benefit of being easy to understand:

A ticket surcharge. A $1 city ticket charge would raise $3 million if attendance rises as expected to 3 million. (Note the simplicity of the math.) The Wang Center and other theaters have been tacking on a buck a ticket as a restoration fee for years.

Parking tax. About 750,000 cars go to Fenway a year. Add a $2 parking fee on each car. The take: $1.5 million. Extra benefit to the neighborhood: This fee encourages fans to take public transportation.

Fat cats. In addition to the $1 surcharge per ticket, slap a 10 percent surcharge on each luxury box. At an average price of $200,000 per box, the Fat Cat Tax would raise another $2 million. What's an extra $20,000 in shareholder money to Terry Murray to see a Sox game, anyway?

Total take from user fees: $6.5 million. That's real money, every year, that no one has been willing to talk about.

I can hear the whining. Fenway is already one of the priciest tickets in all of baseball, and you want stick it to the fans even more? Please. Did anyone really think it would be cheaper to see a game in the new Fenway than the old? I refer you to the Celtics and the Bruins and those $4.75 Heinekens at the Fleet Center.

A surcharge would increase the average Fenway ticket to $30.33, from $29.33. If you want a new Fenway, you should be willing to pay for it. What about it, sports fans?

You can reach me at 617-929-2902 or bailey@globe.com

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 5/31/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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