Todd Portune: Hamilton County Stadium Fund Running Dry

May 11, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown watches work outs during mini camp at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

It is a well-known fact around the Tri-State area that the Bengals and Reds have two fantastic stadiums and were able to have them built because of the Hamilton County tax dollars. I am no lawyer or specialist in the field of budgets or taxes, but the deal is a bit one-sided. Not only this, but it is so one-sided towards the professional teams that last July the Wall Street Journal called the Bengals/Hamilton County stadium deal "one of the worst...deals" in the history of professional sports. To put it bluntly, whether you agree or not, Paul Brown Stadium is bleeding the city dry.

In a recent article on cincinnati.com, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune has proposed a new plan to solve the deficit in the county fund that pays for the Bengals and Reds stadiums. The basics of this plan are for the city to borrow money (that is never a good plan) "against future sales tax revenues, defer payments on projects and provide equally for the Reds and Bengals, despite the Bengals' lease calling for more tax dollars (emphasis mine)." In short, the fund that pays for the stadiums will fall short in 2013 with a $13.2 million deficit, and in 2014 that deficit more than doubles to $30 million dollars.

Some have taken Portune's new plan as a way of walking out on the county's contract with the Reds and Bengals, such is the case with fellow Commissioner Greg Hartmann who, in response to Portune's plan, stated, "Todd, here we go again...Walking away from these leases is just fantasyland."

Regardless of how you feel concerning the stadium deals, it is a fact that the stadiums have put undue hardships on the city by forcing it to close county service programs because of funds being slashed, and has generally put the city in a hard economic period because it cannot pay for the stadiums and deal with the issues that any city must face (i.e. road maintenance, public school systems, police force, etc.).

The opposite side of this coin, though, is that the city was a "willing participant" in the negotiations and you "can't blame the Bengals at all for negotiating the most favorable deal they can." The stadium deals are just like the old saying, "It takes two to tango;" one side cannot be blamed for the problem, and you have to take into account both sides of the story.

Let's be honest with each other and say that if the Bengals had won a Superbowl, or even a playoff game, since the inauguration of this deal, the stadium deal might not be an issue. Note that I said "might" and not "wouldn't," because it is easy to focus on a horrible deal when one of the promises made by Mike Brown is that he would create a playoff team in Cincinnati and do everything in his power to help the Bengals be continually competitive in the NFL. Needless to say, this has not happened and Bengals fans, prior to the 2011 season (and probably until halfway through the season), were very upset because Brown has only given Cincinnati three winning seasons since the signing of this deal. Add to this that Brown is notoriously stingy with the cap room he has available and his overall apathy towards spending money of any sort (indoor practice facility, free agents, or re-signing current players to long-term contracts) and the intense emotions from fans are exacerbated to the point that they wish Brown would have moved the team when he threatened to in the late 1990's.

In response to Portune's proposal, Bengals lawyer Stuart Dornette discredited Portune on every point and put the blame on the county for making bad financial moves, compounded by a national economic downturn, that put itself in this situation. The Bengals are consistently one of the most profitable teams in the NFL and capable of paying for the stadium's renovations, like a new High-Def video screen, but because they made the deal of the century, the county is stuck with a tab it cannot pay. Mike Brown was not named Executive of the Year in 2011 for nothing; Brown is a very smart owner and businessman, and the choices that he is making on the field are turning into wins and a promising future for the Bengals franchise. On the other hand, what happens if the city goes bankrupt because of the price it has had to pay for the Bengals' and Reds' stadiums? Will there even be any fans left to cheer on their hometown teams?

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