Government has higher priority than baseball

So, the new private owners of the Las Vegas 51s minor league baseball team want the city, the county and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to chip in to defray the cost of a nice, new stadium in Summerlin.

The ownership group — including former pawnshop chain owner Steve Mack, uber-lawyer Chris Kaempfer, Bart Wear and Summerlin developer Howard Hughes Corp. — paid $20 million for the team. The new stadium complex is estimated to cost $65 million. (Full disclosure: My wife works for a public relations firm that represents Howard Hughes.)

But before we commit public dollars to support an entirely private enterprise, there’s a few things we ought to do first.

For example, let’s make sure the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has enough officers. The county is scheduled to vote today to raise the sales tax to pay for new officers, and that still doesn’t address a $30 million estimated shortfall in the police department’s budget. Until there are enough cops on the street, any commissioner or council member who even entertains the idea of underwriting bonds for a sports stadium should be run out of town.

And while we’re at it, let’s make sure we have enough firefighters and paramedics on the job at both city and county fire departments. No citizen should have to wait precious minutes after a car accident or during a house fire because the department is short-staffed.

Over at University Medical Center, deficits are the norm because the hospital treats those who cannot pay. But it makes much more sense to devote tax dollars to a lifesaving institution such as UMC — which serves the entire community — before we spend one thin dime helping private owners of a baseball team build their dream stadium.

Although not everybody enjoys baseball, most of us drive, and often on roads that are too crowded or in need of repair. The city and the county should be able to report to voters that every pothole is filled, every street light is working, every bridge is in good repair before they even give a thought to underwriting the cost of a new baseball stadium. And while we’re at it, let’s make sure our mass transit system is working, too, with adequate bus routes and safer shelters than the ones we have now.

The LVCVA is in the midst of an expansion of its aging facility, a key asset that brings huge shows (and more than a million tourists) to town every year. In addition, it’s trying to create more tourism with a global business district. Until a minor league baseball team can boast the numbers we see at the Consumer Electronics Show, MAGIC or similar events, room tax dollars should be used exclusively for the LVCVA’s current priorities.

There’s no more important duty of Clark County than caring for abused, neglected and foster children. The department that oversees those services has had its problems, however, and until those problems are completely fixed, elected officials would be out of their minds to even consider spending money on a new baseball stadium.

And then, once we fix all of those issues, how about putting this question on the ballot: “Hey, voters, would you rather we subsidized a new minor league baseball stadium in Summerlin, or should we lower your property tax instead, now that we’ve done everything else?” It’s easy to predict how that would come out.

No one is saying a new baseball stadium up in Summerlin wouldn’t be a nice community feature, even a tax-and-jobs generator. But the government (read: us taxpayers) shouldn’t be the ones paying for it.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach hi at 387-5276 or

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