An investment isn’t the same as a ‘handout’

There’s a fair case to be made that public dollars should never be used to subsidize private business — and it’s a case we’re usually more than happy to make. In the case of the NASCAR racetrack proposed for Kitsap County, however, the facts are a bit more complicated, and they aren’t served by opponents of the plan who cloud the issue with platitudes and disinformation out of little more than blind, narrow-minded opposition.

A recent editorial on the subject, for example, described International Speedway Corp., the apparently profitable private company hoping to build the 85,000-seat facility, as “a poor candidate for a public handout.” And we’d agree — if ISC were asking for a handout, which it isn’t. Which makes the statement disingenuous.

In fact, ISC isn’t looking for charity. It’s looking for an investment — and it isn’t even expecting that from the taxpayers. At least not directly. According to ISC’s funding plan, the project carries a pricetag of $345 million. The company itself plans to put up 48 percent of that total, or $166 million. Another 4 percent, $13 million, would come from admissions tax bonds, with the remaining 48 percent and $166 million coming from sales tax bonds.

The latter would be repaid out of track revenues. The state of Washington would only have to extend its bonding authority and would only be on the hook if the track failed to generate the kind of revenue its backers believe it will.

In that light, it’s completely dishonest to think of the track financing as though it were a $166 million gift from the taxpayers to a company that can afford to pick up its own tab.

Nor is it reasonable to start throwing around ideas for things like parks and schools that the money should be spent on instead. In fact, the $166 million doesn’t exist yet — and it never will unless a track is built and starts making money.

Far from being a handout, the money (or, to be more precise, permission to sell bonds on the state’s authority) represents an investment on which the taxpayers should expect to receive a return.

How big a return? That’s difficult to say, but officials in the vicinity of a similar racetrack in Phoenix estimate it brings $150 million worth of revenues into the community for each race weekend — of which there would be three each year in Kitsap County. One observer there compared it to hosting three Super Bowls a year.

That’s a potentially huge windfall for Kitsap County and the state of Washington — and well worth investing $166 million of the state’s bonding authority on.

At the end of the day, questions about noise, traffic and environmental impacts are nothing more than a smokescreen thrown up by obstructionists who simply don’t want a track here under any circumstances.

The more important question — the only question, really — is whether the project pencils out. If it does, we say go for it.

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