Monday, January 08, 2007

Tennis Thoughts

There has been a lot of criticism of the councils decision not to fund the tennis complex. Criticism is deserved, but not for the reasons I hear the most. I really feel the council made the right decision, but for the wrong reasons.

Tennis is a popular sport around the country. Locally, there are a number of tennis players that play at country clubs, at school or on various free courts such as those at the recreation centers. The following is not as large as football, baseball or soccer, but there are a number of people that play. I support them having quality facilities that are open to the public. That is not where I have a problem.

I have a problem with what the ½ cent sales tax is degenerating into. Watching and following the debate on the tennis facility is like watching kids in a candy store complaining because someone got more chocolates or peanuts or peppermint than they did and its just not fair. Realistically, candy has been distributed pretty broadly with various sales tax projects in all the cities districts. When we have to get out scales or tape measures or balance sheets to make sure the split is "fair", there is a problem.

I have a problem with the continual justification of these projects for their economic impact. Last time I looked at a breakdown of San Angelo's jobs, two things jumped out at me. First, the travel, tourism, food service, and leisure business areas which are where the sports facilities create jobs, are among the lowest paid jobs we have. Second, I notice that San Angelo's median income is about 20% below that of Texas as a whole. This is in spite of the fact that our cost of living has caught up with other cities our size. One of the reasons for this gap is the number of jobs in the industries I have just mentioned. One quarter of the sales tax is required to be used to attract or support jobs close to the average wage of San Angelo. Much of the rest of the tax money supports projects that only create jobs at the lowest pay scale. I have a problem calling that economic development.

Finally, I have a problem with government at any level promoting sports and deciding what sports should be subsidized with free money. Tennis is a wonderful sport. It is one of 35 sports currently in the Olympics. That doesn't include the sports recognized by the Olympics and the International Sports Federations, popular sports such as bowling and billiards, or up and coming sports such as skate boarding and paintball. Many of these sports are at least as popular as tennis so what do we do when they ask for a public facility of their own? There are alternatives to tax handouts to build sports facilities. We need to look at them closely. There are also opportunities for multi-use facilities that can react to changing public tastes, and can have strong, popular sports help support new sports as they get established.

In the end, I hope that a tennis facility, hopefully as part of a flexible multi use facility gets built. At the same time, I believe that tax dollars should be used to provide a healthy economic diet before supporting candy store projects. That will take some political courage and voter approved changes to the sales tax, but I don't see a better solution.

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