Opinion: A Tough Question for Gina

Ah, what’s a governor to do?

It’s a hard call. Do you support a ballpark in Providence, to the delight of organized private labor unions that put you in office, or do you listen to the people who are tired of having the state take on more and more financial commitments?

Sure, you may be looking to Washington in the not too distant future and that labor support would sure come in handy, as well as some good campaign donations from the well-to-do players behind the stadium.

But then you remember that you were only elected by about 40% of the people who actually voted, and you are seeing public support for a Providence stadium waning quickly.

And then there’s that “jobs, jobs, jobs” line that was reliant on a high-end tech use for the property currently being eyed. Sure, it saves you from having to live up to the economic engine pledge, but it really doesn’t pass the smell test.

Putting up state money, in whatever disguise, is not an option here. The reality is that a transfer of hot dog vendor jobs from Pawtucket to Providence is not real economic development (unless you are prepared to claim them as ‘jobs saved’ in the jobs created column).

Sure, there will be a brief uptick in construction jobs, but moving forward? Not really.

Admittedly, this is not the same deal as 38 Studios, but it has similarities beyond the common theme of baseball. There is the shrouded secrecy concern that, in light of the secrecy during the Governor’s General Treasure stint, does not engender blind trust from the public. Then there are the big money players behind the scenes looking for corporate welfare at a time you are trimming state aid budgets.

Rhode Islanders would support a stadium in Providence, but they are not looking to buy one. People actually like Pawtucket’s old McCoy Stadium. They stupidly believe that if Ben Mondor could profitably operate McCoy, why can’t other astute business hands do the same?

I cannot blame the business interests for attempting to get into the state’s pants. There is no harm in asking, only in granting. States in dire straits are prime targets for such investment schemes, even though they are the states that can least afford such luxury purchases.

Making it more attractive by allowing “only decades of easy payments of $2 million a year” is sheer insult to a taxpayer reeling from 38 Studios, the landfill fiasco, the International Center at URI, and dozens, if not hundreds of yet to be uncovered problems in Rhode Island fiscal management.

What’s a governor to do? Dance the dance. State that the offer is not good enough for the RI taxpayer, continue behind the scenes, have the pot sweetened (slightly and only to the extent it was originally anticipated by the stadium players), eventually capitulate saying you’ve gotten the best deal for the taxpayers and economic development. Jobs, jobs, jobs!! We’re moving forward.

Sit back. Feel slightly comforted in the fact that you no longer need to actually economically develop the I-95 land into a high-tech wonderland, consider the win being the extra campaign contributions from supporters (waiting has a way of encouraging courtship), position yourself to be ready to accept the best deal in a few weeks (get that PR machine cranking), practice the “moving forward” line a few more times.

The reality is that if the PawSox want to move to Providence, they should do so, with their own financing. State involvement in funding is, at least in Rhode Island, a continuation on the path to hell.

If the state is dead set on spending money, invest in Pawtucket. If the owners are not happy, move. Let some other state fund this business venture.

Remember the lessons of the past: When private business won’t fund it, it shouldn’t be funded. When a state is a business partner, the too big to fail logic often sets in, except in Rhode Island, where the state just ends up paying the bill with the remaining funds that have been sidetracked (more accurately, stolen) from pensioners and not yet handed over to hedge funds managers or 38 Studio investors.