Wednesday, March 27, 1997
Do we really want
Bengals at any cost?


BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Do we have buyer's remorse? Well, I think maybe we do.

After an enormously persuasive sales pitch, the voters of Hamilton County agreed to a sales tax to build stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds. We were promised an easy payment plan and a few extra frills in exchange for our business. You know, frills like property-tax rebates and money to repair our schools.

If we had the option of choosing just the Reds, it was in print so fine that we didn't see it. We bought the deluxe package. Loaded, as they say. We even sprang for a practice field for the football team. On the river.

Reality check

A little time has passed.

We are like a family that agreed to buy a great big camper and a smaller family sedan. We can make the payments. But maintenance on the camper has turned out to be more expensive than we thought. And it takes up more space in the garage than we were led to believe it would.

In fact, it's so big that we may have to park the sedan on the street.

Or wedge it into the garage.

The salesman isn't as nice as he was when he was making the sale. And it occurs to us that we don't really use the camper that much - maybe eight or 10 times a year. It's not very versatile. You can't exactly use it to make a run to the grocery store. In fact, you can't use it for anything else.

We use the sedan a lot. It's more dependable than the camper, and, actually, the neighbors seem to be more impressed with it than with the great big gas hog. Truth to tell, everybody in the family seems to like the sedan better.

It's more fun.

Besides, we can't help noticing all the other things we could do with the money we are going to spend on this expensive toy. And how easy it would be to park the sedan if we didn't have to work around the other vehicle.

And now it turns out that the camper salesman doesn't like our original deal. He's threatening to back out. To sell his vehicle to somebody else. This might be our chance to let him.

Hamilton County commissioners need a signed lease agreement from either the Bengals or the Reds by June 30 or the half-cent countywide sales tax to finance two new stadiums will expire. Bengals owner Mike Brown says he's not going to sign if the city goes through with a proposal to increase the tax on tickets to for-profit events.

A proposal was presented Monday to city council's Committee of the Whole, which is expected to vote in committee April 15.

Keeping a promise

Councilman Phil Heimlich, one of the five who made the proposal, says he's willing to talk to the Bengals. But he says the city needs to raise the $100 million it promised to the schools.

A lot of people who were squeamish about forking over about a half-billion dollars for two sports stadiums were swayed by the idea that schools would benefit.

That is a promise that must be kept.

So how else is the city supposed to raise the money? More property taxes? More earnings tax? Squander the hotel-motel room tax needed for an expanded convention center on one more concession to Mike Brown?

Because he doesn't want his customers to pay for it. ''If the Bengals were to shoulder the tax through a ticket price raise,'' Mr. Brown said in a guest editorial in The Enquirer, ''it would add more than $30 to the average price of a season ticket.'' Or we could raise the taxes on everybody else, people who will never set foot inside the stadium.

Now that we've had a chance to think it over, do we really want to spend $200 million or $300 million on the Bengals? What if the salesman gives us a second chance? An out? A loophole?

This was not a decision we reached easily. Remember Tim Mara and his ''Taxed Enough Already?'' And Mike Brown, a private and solemn man, actually became a public spokesman and photo op. And we bought what he was selling.

A great big camper that maybe we don't need after all.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

PULFER ARCHIVE