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Tax measure to save spring training in Tucson gets panel OK

Voters in southern Arizona are one step closer to being able to vote on a tax that proponents say will keep spring training baseball in Tucson.
A bill approved March 11 by a House panel will allow Pima County to call an election to ask voters to create a special sports district and pay for it by levying a tax on nearby businesses, hotels, rental cars, restaurants, bars and sporting events. The tax money — estimated at about $15 million per year — would be used to renovate existing baseball stadiums or build new ones.
Rep. Vic Williams, a Tucson Republican who sponsored the bill, said spring training baseball is an essential part of southern Arizona’s economy.
“It is important for the region to retain baseball, for our identity and our economic future,” he said.
Until this year, Tucson was home to three Major League teams each spring. However, the Chicago White Sox departed Tucson Electric Park this year, playing its spring games at a new stadium in Glendale instead.
That prompted the Colorado Rockies, which train at Hi Corbett Field, to announce they intended to leave Pima County for Maricopa County when their contract with Tucson expires. The Arizona Diamondbacks are the only other team in Tucson, and they have also said they are exploring relocating to Maricopa County.
A similar measure was approved by the House of Representatives last year but was not considered by the full Senate before the Legislature ended its annual session.
Lobbyist Kevin DeMenna said the recent influx of teams to Arizona’s Cactus League — the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, and next year the Cincinnati Reds, all recently decided to come west from Florida’s Grapefruit League — underscores the need for Pima County to improve its facilities if it is to retain teams and attract others.
“The facilities down there are, politely put, non-competitive,” he said. Without this funding, DeMenna continued, “it is almost certain” that Tucson will lose its spring training teams.
The bill, H2397, was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, which includes several fiscally conservative Republicans who have signed pledges not to raise taxes.
Additionally, three of the committee’s five Republicans, including its chairman, Rep. Rick Murphy, voted against the measure last year when it was voted on by the entire body. All three of the committee’s Democrats supported the bill in 2008.
But Williams, who called the committee’s passage “a litmus test,” said he expects to get the needed support for the bill if it makes it to the House floor for debate.?

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