Friday, April 20, 2007

Chinatown shenanigans

I live in Washington, DC, it's a fun place to be. It has the quirks and conflicts of any city: creepy rush-hour street musicians who use too much chorus effect on their guitars, volatile homeless people, and an atmosphere of vehicular lawlessness.

While DC is the mecca of international political intrigue and 18-year old bootsniffers in silk suits, the city itself has some fun political history all its own. It what many people (particularly sociologists) will remember, DC's former mayor, Marion Barry, was caught in an FBI sting smoking crack cocaine. What did he have to say for himself of the affair? "[The] bitch set me up." Nice. He went to jail for 6 months, and then immediately ran for seat on the city council under the campaign motto "He May Not Be Perfect, But He's Perfect for D.C." Truer words could not have been spoken, because he was elected to the council and then to the mayorship two years later. As Kent Brockman so eloquently put it, "I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work."

Anyway, the point of this is not to go on about Marrion Barry's countless offences (he forgot to pay his taxes again), but just to give everyone a sense of DC's whacky, laissez-faire political texture.

So this story ran in the Washington Post about two months ago, and I'm not sure why I'm coming back to it now. I guess it's because it just keeps pissing me off. For the record, I haven't met another person who had heard anything about this.

District May Fund Arena Upgrades,
$50 Million Urged For Verizon Center
Link to story

The rub-down: DC Council members get a tricked-out luxury suite at the Verizon Center and the ticket-holders get to foot their bill for the next 40 years.

"Three D.C. Council members introduced a bill yesterday that would provide $50 million in public funding for improvements at Verizon Center, a move that supporters said would spur more economic development near the Chinatown arena.

As part of the deal, the city would take over ownership of the building from Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin in 2047. In the meantime, the city would get a rent-free, 24-seat luxury suite, which includes a private bathroom, two TVs, a refrigerator, a food service area and an
unobstructed view of the arena floor.

The legislation, under which the District would issue $50 million in bonds and increase the tax on tickets and merchandise at the center, was requested by Pollin, who built the arena with private financing. The Wizards, Washington Mystics and Washington Capitals play in the 20,674-seat arena, which also hosts major concerts.
... more...

Under the proposal, the city would issue the bonds, which would be repaid by a 4.25 percentage-point increase in the tax on tickets and merchandise at Verizon Center. The current tax at the arena is 5.75 percent, so the legislation would push the tax to 10 percent.

Because about 60 percent of patrons at the center are from Maryland and Virginia, Evans said, much of the increase could be considered a "user tax" on nonresidents. "People who use the arena are going to the pay for the arena," he said."

First of all, they may as well strap C4 onto the Verizon Center if it is actually turned over to the DC government in 2047. It's better off as a heap of rubble than in the hands of DC's incapable politicians.

Now, usually when politicians take bribes for handing out pork, they at least try to make it a little less obvious. But the bar is set so low for DC politics, these guys gladly (and overtly) took a 24-seat luxury booth---worth probably $300-$400K/year---in exchange for doling out this "public funding"...which comes straight out of the pockets of eventgoers.

Doesn't that seem strange to you? What this says to me is that the Verizon Center wants to buy the right from the city to double the tax on tickets so it can buy itself some new stuff. The V.C. doesn't have to worry about the DC Gov't getting in the way because they give it a suite, and the DC Gov't doesn't have to worry about spending out of its own pockets because the cost comes right out of our pockets. It's win-win! So who doesn't come out on top of this one? Everyone else.

Further, why does the Verizon Center need $50M worth of upgrades already? It was built less than 10 years ago and from what I understand recently got a brand new JumboTron.

Ironically, this same issue came up in 1997 when Barry was mayor, but public outcry nixed the deal.

Finally, the last paragraph of this is hilarious. 60% of eventgoers are out-of-towners, so we feel comfortable doubling the tax on tickets. And I assume as a DC resident (one of whom comprises the other 40%) that I'll be exempt from this "user tax" on nonresidents, right? What better way to encourage attendance at events than by increasing the price for no perceptible reason!

So I have a better idea for you, DC Government. You can still take that extra five bucks out of my pocket when I go to a Caps or Wizards game, but instead of putting it into new carpeting and plasma TVs for the luxury boxes, why don't you put it into the shitty teams I inexplicably pay to watch lose?

(ABOVE) "Alright, who else wants to come to the game tonight. We have 9 free seats left and plenty of standing room. You're with me tonight, alright?"


LMNt said...

This is several of the worst parts of Atlas Shrugged actually coming to life before our eyes. Sheesh.

Nate said...

Adrian Fenty is by far my favorite mayor in America right now. Just look at that posse he's rolling with - this dude does everything right. Think back to how well the city reacted to the several "snow emergencies" we had this year. That's right...and that's all Fenty, bitch.

Brice Lord said...

Yeah, good point nate. That inch and a half of snow was a real monster, but he handled it well enough that R St was only iced over for the next two weeks.