Representatives Chad Campbell and John McComish joined Mesa lobbyist John MacDonald and Phoenix Councilman Claude Mattox March 26 for an hour-long debate hosted by the Valley Citizens League at the Irish Cultural Center. Sitting at a table with peanuts and Cracker Jacks, the four talked about possible solutions to keeping the Chicago Cubs in Mesa without making fans of other teams in the Cactus League pay an unfair amount to keep them here.
The bill at the center of attention is H2736, which would add a surcharge to Cactus League tickets to help pay for a new stadium for the Cubs in Mesa. Previously the bill had called for a rental car tax and had asked for an 8-percent surcharge on the tickets, but an amendment last week on the House floor removed the rental tax and made the ticket surcharge an unspecified amount.
McComish and Campbell stuck to their talking points. McComish said giving the Cubs a new stadium will help the Cactus League as a whole and ensure the league’s most popular team doesn’t go anywhere. Campbell disagreed and worried a surcharge for such a purpose might prompt other teams – particularly the Milwaukee Brewers – to find new spring training homes in Florida’s Grapefruit League.
“The overwhelming majority of the money still goes to the Cubs,” Campbell said. “It’s a troubling precedent for me, and it’s an issue of fairness.”
Campbell said he is was worried about the Brewers jumping ship if the surcharge is passed because language in their contract Phoenix states they can pack up and leave if any kind of surcharge is imposed. He wants to see TIF (tax increment financing) measures put in place that would create special taxing districts that could borrow money from expected tax revenue to pay for part of a new stadium.
McComish, House majority leader and sponsor of H2736, said the Cubs need to stay in Arizona to keep the Cactus League viable. The Cubs bring in the most fans, and building them a new and bigger stadium as part of the proposed “Wrigleyville West” entertainment facility will help all teams by providing a new funding stream, he said.
A lot of ideas are being thrown around about the best way to pay for a new Mesa facility for the Cubs, but nobody has been able to find a compromise that works for everybody. McComish doesn’t like a general sales tax in Mesa because people who don’t care about baseball will have to pay.
Campbell wants to take enough time to look at all options and try and find a solution next year because the Cubs contract isn’t up yet.
Mattox, in agreement with Campbell, chimed in to point out the Cubs have said they are willing to stay put for a year, but MacDonald isn’t convinced that will happen. There’s a memorandum of understanding between the Cubs and Mesa that states they will have a decision on how to move forward with funding for Wrigleyville West by July 1 of this year, MacDonald said, and the Legislature needs to find a solution before the session ends in April.
“They have a very willing suitor in Naples, Florida, who is rolling out the red carpet,” McComish said in reference to the personal and professional connections new Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has there.
McComish said lawmakers have until late April to give the Cubs and Mesa a solution, or Arizona could be losing one of its biggest tourist attractions. As far as an easy solution goes, he doesn’t have one yet.
“We desperately need other ideas,” McComish conceded.
That’s something – perhaps the only thing – all four agreed on.