It appears that Glendale cannot catch a break financially. Camelback Ranch opened in 2009 as the new Spring Training home of the Dodgers and White Sox at a cost to Glendale of $158 million: The ballpark cost $121 million, plus $37 million for off-site infrastructure. Glendale knew that reimbursement from the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority (AZSTA) would be a long time in coming but at least it knew that in the future it would be partially reimbursed for its investment (if I remember correctly, it was 70% of the cost) .
AZSTA utilized a 2000 voter approved tax on car and hotel rentals to pay for the construction of the University of Phoenix Stadium and various Spring Training facilities in addition to reserving a portion for youth sports. It issued bonds for stadium construction that are paid from the rental taxes.
On Tuesday, June 17, 2014 Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dean Fink ruled that the car rental tax was unconstitutional because the tax was being used for what he determined were impermissible uses. Here is the link: http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/consumer/call-12-for-action/2014/06/18/judge-strikes-rental-car-tax-stadiums/10723905/ .
There is a hotel industry suit waiting in the wings claiming that it’s tax is also unconstitutional. No doubt there will be an appeal of all rulings related to this issue so it may be at least a year or more until there is final resolution.
If the car rental industry and the hotel industry finally prevail Arizona will be forced to rebate all of the tax it collected to those industries. It will be an amount way, way north of $150 million. This action raises a host of questions. Will AZSTA come up with another taxing mechanism to replace the unconstitutional one? Will it take it to the voters for approval? Will it renege on its obligations? Will cities with new, spring training facilities be able to sue AZSTA for breach of contract if it fails to reimburse them? The implications of such a ruling, should it be upheld, are breath taking.
For Glendale it is not catastrophic in the short term because it knew AZSTA’s reimbursement was some time off. But, if AZSTA does not fulfill its obligation to reimburse Glendale and it is solely responsible for paying off the construction debt of approximately $17 million a year, it becomes another financial obligation that bond rating agencies will take into consideration when rating Glendale’s ability to pay its massive debt. This result, if not reversed on appeal, provides no light at the end of Glendale’s long and dark financial tunnel.
© Joyce Clark, 2014
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