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Originally published Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 3:56 PM

Region's NBA dreams shouldn't involve public investment

Professional basketball fans may be enthused by talk of investor groups hoping to attract a new NBA team. But this has to be all about private money. The climate has changed dramatically for public investment in such an endeavor.

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SEATTLE basketball fans are excited by news that two different investor groups are trying to bring NBA basketball back to the region — either to the Eastside or Sodo area of Seattle.

But the idea will not go far unless the latest groups trying to replace the departed Seattle SuperSonics are willing to invest huge sums of private money in a team and an arena.

The current economic climate precludes public investment from any existing or new revenue sources, including the recently expired sales tax on bars and restaurants in King County.

An investor is acquiring property in the stadium area of Seattle and talks have taken place with Mayor Mike McGinn about efforts to attract a new NBA franchise and facility. Hockey is apparently part of the planning.

If the city wants to fast-track permits or make minor transportation adjustments to accommodate a job creating endeavor, that would be fine.

But with the state, county and city cutting numerous basic services, public investment cannot be part of the equation.

A persistent sour economy means voters statewide likely will see a proposal on the ballot this spring for a higher state tax to support the flagging general fund. For Seattle voters, there is talk of a new library levy, possibly next August. The city's crumbling sea wall — with gribbles devouring support timbers — needs to be replaced. Money, money, money.

Voters already struggling financially have no patience or wallet space to assist overpaid athletes and sports venues.

It is true that Seattle area taxpayers bucked up for baseball and football in a variety of ways and we supported those efforts. But this is a vastly different economic environment.

One idea under consideration is to mix sizable private investment with some sort of tax on players or teams in all major league sports to cover the cost of building a new arena and future repairs to existing stadiums. This approach is used in a few other NBA locales.

If this becomes a prelude to an income tax, forget it. Voters are an unequivocal no on that idea. If it becomes something more creative, skepticism is the first reaction, but we need to hear more.

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