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Surcharges for new Cubs stadium clear hurdle

An effort to finance a new Spring Training stadium in Mesa for the Chicago Cubs through surcharges on rental cars and baseball tickets cleared its first hurdle today and won approval from a House panel, despite opposition from every other baseball team in the Cactus League and Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.

Many of the lawmakers on the House Commerce Committee acknowledged the bill, H2736, is far from perfect and needs improvement before it goes to a vote on the House floor.

“We just need to figure out a way to make it work,” said Rep. Bill Konopnicki, a Safford Republican.

The plan calls for a $1 surcharge on all vehicles rented in Maricopa County and an 8 percent surcharge on all Spring Training tickets. The money generated by those fees, combined with bonds the City of Mesa will ask voters to approve later this year and money from the Cubs, will allow the city to build a $200 million facility and guarantee the team will stay in Arizona for 25 years.

On top of that, the financing system would create an additional $81 million for the other 14 Cactus League teams over 25 years, said the bill’s sponsor, House Majority Leader John McComish.

The Cubs are the most popular Cactus League team, McComish said, and policy makers need to ensure they stay in Arizona. The team has been courted to move its spring training base to Naples, Fla., he said.

“What we wanted to avoid was a general tax on the populace,” he said. “We tried to make it as tourism-centric as we could.”

But critics said it was unfair to pay for the new stadium by taxing an unrelated industry and fans of other teams. John Kaites, a lobbyist who is representing the other 14 Cactus League teams, said the plan is designed to benefit only one team and one city.

“This plan is not a comprehensive plan for the Cactus League, by any means. It’s meant to deal specifically with the Cubs,” he said.

The rental car industry opposed the measure, as well. Kelsey Lundy, a lobbyist for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, said most of the company’s business comes from people who live in Arizona.

“This is a tax (increase) on Arizona residents,” she said.

Patrick Ray, a lobbyist for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, said the ticket surcharge would place a burden on those who attend the pre-season games.

Rep. Michele Reagan, a Scottsdale Republican who chairs the committee, said the surcharge would amount to $1.60 on a ticket that costs $20. Even if someone rented a car to drive to a game, she said, the extra cost would only be $2.60.

“Every time I’ve been to a Spring Training game, I’ve never seen anything I can buy for $2.60,” she said. “How much of a burden is that?”

The bill was approved by a 6-2 vote. It will be sent to the House floor via the Rules Committee.

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