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Mayor Johnson Warns of Danger from “Outside Interests”

Sacramento Under Attack

by SETH SANDRONSKY

“Outside interests are trying to attack our city,” said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. He will protect Sacramento residents as before from the bids of Anaheim two years ago and Seattle in early 2013 to lure away the NBA Kings.

Who are the attackers now? What makes them a threat?

The answers are clear. Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal oppose a publicly subsidized downtown arena/entertainment venue without a public vote.

On Dec. 10, the two groups delivered signed petitions to the Sacramento city clerk to put the proposed construction project before voters in June 2014. The city subsidy amounts to $258 million of construction bonds.

City parking revenues in the future would finance the bonds that represent 58 percent of the price tag to build a $448 million downtown arena for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. That bond figure does include interest payments.

Yes, Mayor Johnson, a two-term Democrat and retired NBA star guard, knows a thing or two about “outside interests” in Sacramento. His non-profit groups take cash from the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Wal-Mart, the union-free global retail giant based in Arkansas.

Try $500,000 from the WFF between Jan. 19, 2012, and June 5, 2012, to Stand Up for Sacramento Schools, the 501(c)(3) non-profit school reform group that Mayor Johnson launched four years ago. That half-million dollars is a small fraction of the more than $158 million the WFF invested last year to “infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system by increasing the quantity and quality of school choices available to parents, especially in low-income communities”.

Apparently, competition is the key to better learning and teaching. Accordingly, low pay and poverty that plague the working poor, scores of whom include Wal-Mart’s 1.4 million American workers, is a problem only public K-12 schools can solve.

We turn to Craig Powell, president of Eye On Sacramento. The group opposes a public subsidy for a pro basketball facility.

Who benefits from the proposed public investment in a private asset? According to Powell, among the big beneficiaries are Goldman Sachs, the billionaire and multi-millionaire owners of the Kings, Vivek Ranadive, et al., and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, bond counsel.

Goldman Sachs is the “too big too fail and go to jail” firm whose actions propelled a huge housing bubble that burst and crashed the economy in 2008. Absent taxpayer aid since then, the company’s executives would be accountable for their actions.

Instead, they live well. Their comfort is due not to market forces but Uncle Sam’s rescue with truckloads of public greenbacks.

If a new Sacramento pro sports arena is such a great investment opportunity, why is a taxpayer subsidy on the table? If liberty to take risks and reap rewards defines the so-called “free market” of entrepreneurs competing to serve consumers, why require tax dollars?

A public vote could answer such civic questions. There is a term for such citizen action: political democracy.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento-based journalist. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com