Perfect plan for baseball


   By Tony Ahern
   The Oregon Legislature has baseball on its mind.
   There's Say-it-ain't-Sosa and his corked bat, the Mariners forging the Major's best record without Angry Lou in the dugout, Inter-league play and the enthralling arguments of the DH and of NL vs. AL superiority.
   But all those hot topics pale in comparison to the big issue: the stadium funding plan in front of the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday. The issue has already passed the House, but that left it only on second base. It still needs the Senate to drive it home.
   But the baseball stadium plan isn't facing a cream puff pitcher. Its detractors are battling with the tenacity of a Roger Clemens fastball. They laugh at the talk of baseball in the Rose City, attacking the idea as a boondoggle. They insist the Legislature has more pressing issues to deal with. Yes, they do. But I can walk and chew gum at the same time, and I bet you can too. The Legislature can tackle school funding issues, address the PERS crisis, and still approve the ingenious plan to get a stadium built and possibly a Major League Baseball team in Oregon.
   Many legislators, especially those located far from Portland, used the baseball stadium issue as a political football. By tagging it as a frivolous sports and entertainment issue, legislators think they can drape themselves in the cloak of fiscal conservatism. The cloak is actually draped over their heads, blinding them to tremendous economic benefit of Major League Baseball.
   The stadium plan will not add to the tax burden of present tax-payers. In case you missed it, this plan does not call for new taxes for existing tax-payers, and doesn't dip into any other existing tax pool. We aren't robbing schools to pay for this, and the hungry won't be hungrier. The $150 million the state needs to secure the bonds for the project would come from taxing the incomes of the millionaires who would profit from the stadium: the players and management of the teams. It's so ingenious it almost seems illegal, but the system is in place at other venues, and no athlete or general manager has quit the game in protest.
   The stadium plan, and the co-joined prospect of landing the Montreal Expos, is not about frivolity or entertainment. It's about economic stimulus and business development, spurring a lagging economy. It's about adding to the livability of the greater Portland area -- and the entire state.
   It's easy to envision the economic benefit a stadium and team would have on the Portland-metro area. But big league baseball from April through September in Portland would have economic reverberations hundreds of miles from the confluence of the Columbia and the Willamette.
   For instance, Madras is the closest Central Oregon town to Portland. Just two hours away. Baseball nuts -- like those folks who winter down in Arizona just to watch spring training -- that want to live east of the Cascades would have another reason to choose the Madras area. Also, all those traveling from south of Madras to and from the game would come through town. That's great news to grocery stores, gas stations, restaurant and motels.
   Being a short hop over Mount Hood from Major League Baseball might someday help land more industry in Jefferson County.
   The Oregon Legislature has focused its entire fiscal attention to saving money, paring expenditures to fit the budget. Agreed, that should be Job 1. However, it must also recognize economic development potential. The effort to bring in Major League Baseball is one of the few economic development plans of significance bold enough to enter the shadows of present-day Salem.
   I don't want to hear the argument that Portland isn't a baseball town, that people don't flock to see the AAA Portland Beavers. I haven't traveled to watch the Yakima Sun Kings Continental Basketball Association (read, minor league), but I've paid to see the Trail Blazers several times. Go to the Mariners game and probably 20 to 30 percent of the fans are from Oregon and Southwest Washington.
   The Mariners are an attractive team (Bob Whitsitt's the general manager for the Seahawks, not the Mariners) that's easy to root for. The Portland Timberjacks, Columbians -- or hey, how 'bout the Portland Pioneers? -- would soon be just as loved by their fans.
   The State Legislature does indeed have many important issues on its plate. Many need to be solved right now, and some are indeed more pressing than the stadium issue. However, taking the relatively painless step to help bring major league baseball to Portland, to Oregon, will have tremendous repercussions for years to come.
   Don't fear the intimidating sneers of the opposition. Step up to the plate and get it done. Show the aggressive leadership that Oregon lawmakers were once known for. Open the door for Major League Baseball in Portland.