Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Governor wants to move War Memorial Stadium under Parks and Tourism

Posted By on Tue, Oct 25, 2016 at 7:37 AM

WAR MEMORIAL STADIUM: It's become a symbol for budget hypocrisy.
  • WAR MEMORIAL STADIUM: It's become a symbol for budget hypocrisy.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson
has announced a 10 a.m. news conference "to announce a proposal for the future of War Memorial Stadium. "

Based on what I've been told, it's a move that isn't likely to extinguish the blaze set off by his announced intention to cut state support of the state-owned stadium, currently just under $900,000 a year, in half. The cut, with the already programmed loss of Razorback football game rental revenue, will put the stadium commission in a fiscal crisis.

I don't have all the details, but the governor apparently will propose moving the stadium, now run by a governor-appointed commission, under the wing of the state Parks and Tourism Department. It's a solid agency with dedicated tax revenue that operates many tourist attractions. Like the stadium, parks don't run at a profit but are viewed as an overall plus because the people they attract spend tax-generating money in related activities.

It's hard to imagine how Parks and Tourism can operate the stadium without spending money on it. That won't please Sen. Bart Hester, who started this ball rolling by calling for an end to state support, a cry taken up by other Republican hard liners. They want money for their stuff, but not for other people's stuff.

I'd written a column for this week decrying what had happened so far. Though Hutchinson is apparently  moving this morning to ameliorate things, I don't think it wipes away the politics that are at the root of the controversy. So rather than waste a good rant:

Football and foster kids

It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.

It happened last week when KARK broke the news that Gov. Asa Hutchinson wanted to slash the state’s contribution to operation of the state’s War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock in half, from $895,171 to $447,647.

It’s all about a more “efficient” state government, the governor said. He promised a coming plan for an envisioned new “sustainability” for the stadium, even though it faces a future without the big paydays of Razorback football.

Kevin Crass, the Stadium Commission chairman, said he couldn’t envision a day the stadium could operate profitably. Of course not. None do. Verizon Arena, fabulously successful, is a break-even operation thanks, first, to a building provided debt-free by taxpayers. That’s the same for convention facilities all over Arkansas, which get a cumulative millions in rebates from the tourism sales tax dollars they generate. Without that state subsidy, they’d be toast.

Those rebates and other spending put the lie to both Hutchinson and, particularly, Sen. Bart Hester, the Northwest Arkansas bully who pushed Hutchinson to cut War Memorial funding. Hester hates Central Arkansas. He thinks all the money should go to his part of the state and aggressively lobbies for all Razorback games to be played in Fayetteville. (Which, by the way, is something I’ve advocated.)

Hester made no call for sustainability when the state sent a half-million dollars to a Bible college just down the road from him in Springdale. He’s called for no cuts in subsidies to other arenas and convention facilities.

War Memorial Stadium, it should be noted, also spurs sales tax dollars, with events that draw high school bands, high school and college football teams and many others from all over the state each year. But a state support cut and loss of Razorback revenue will leave a $1 million budget gap that no amount of flea markets, motocrosses and drum and bugle corps can cover.

What’s particularly hypocritical and dishonest is Hester saying the $449,000 War Memorial savings is all about adequate state services for foster children.

It’s a pittance for one thing.

It is also a stinky red herring that he could throw out on every budget bill. Do we really need to spend a million bucks at the Governor’s Mansion? Think of the foster children.

And how about that Bible college his pals helped? Think of the children.

Or what about that whopping $5 million Gov. Hutchinson just gave to El Dorado for an “arts district”? Think of the number of foster children THAT could help.

That’s not how you budget. You do as the court has ordered the state to do on education. Determine the needs to provide the proper level of service and appropriate the money to pay for it. Some services, though costly and unprofitable, provide public services worth preserving, including entertainment.

Hester is the worst person to pretend to have a bleeding heart for kids. He’s a foe of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which brought health care security to 300,000 Arkansas men, women and children. Hester hates every dollar of it.

Obamacare might be the reason Hutchinson threw Hester a bone on the football stadium. Hester was a key vote in the sham legislative trickery that allowed Hutchinson to continue the private option Medicaid expansion, which in turn saved his budget and a major income tax cut. Hester voted against the Medicaid expansion, but the bill to kill the program was crafted so as to provide a pathway to a gubernatorial veto override that saved the program.

I wonder, too, how many dollars could be generated for children by the unconstitutional tax cut Hester engineered to reduce the property tax bills on people who own billboard property (as he does).

The War Memorial fight isn't football vs. foster kids. It is politics, of a particularly hypocritical and dishonest sort.

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