Saturday, May 1, 2010

Can Entertainment and Sports Save Illinois Schools? A Friday Journal

I want to offer a solution to a state crisis. I have an idea that might equitably save Illinois schools and put teachers back to work. 

This is a post of regional interest.  Of course, Illinois, and Chicago in particular, have been in the spotlight quite often in the last couple of years: for example, President Obama; the failed Olympic bid; Tony Rezko; ever-increasing violent crime; and a clownish legislature laboring under the shadow of a recurring nightmare of a former Governor.  So, maybe non-residents will find some interest here too. 

Briefly, Illinois' economy is in dire trouble, and no one can agree on an new source of adequate funding to keep Illinois education solvent, relevant, and competitive.  Governor Pat Quinn has advocated for raising the state income tax from 3 to 4 percent to raise money for Illinois schools.  Property taxes are already stretched to their breaking point, and the contribution of the Illinois Lottery, while supposedly funding K-12 through losing ticket revenue, is highly overstated.

Quinn has proved to be a lot more respectable than his disgraced predecessor, Rod Blagojevich (lately a contestant on Donald Trump's show "The Apprentice").  Many of us in Illinois wish Blagojevich and his haircut would just go away.  But the investigation into charges of  corruption, which prompted his impeachment while in office, is threatening to extend its sorry reach all the way to the White House.  Stay tuned.

Yet Quinn has yet to make a convincing case to voters and lawmakers.  The state budget deficit is so bad, with so few state payments being made, that some colleges have been in danger of closing their doors; teachers have been laid off, leaving qualified educators in an ever-increasing pool of unemployed teachers, and preventing talented new teachers from finding jobs in Illinois; class sizes are increasing to unmanageable levels; and extracurricular programs like athletics and music are losing funding.

It is not surprising that the income tax increase not politically popular.  Even Quinn is demurring, putting forth a possible cigarette tax, and threatening to force the legislature to remain in session until they create a satisfactory budget.

I have a simple solution:

Add $1 (or a percentage of a dollar) to every sporting event, movie  play, opera, or concert ticket, and contribute this revenue to education funding.

Even in a bad economy, entertainment venues continue to thrive, for the most part.  And most of us use them, whereas a relatively small portion of the population smokes cigarettes.  Arts and entertainment and sports can be  educational experiences in themselves, or they can be distractions in the pursuit of education.  However they are perceived, a tax on this form of activity makes sense, and is an appropriate source of revenue to a worthy cause.

Wrigley Field fills its seats consistently during the baseball season.  With about 40,000 seats, one game would fund one teacher's salary for a full year.

Movie ticket sales provide even more volume, all year long.  Just take one film--"Avatar"--which grossed $746, 600, 000 at the very least (assuming, for the sake of simplicity, that this was all generated in the US).  At $10 per ticket, which is conservative because of the 3-D markup, that's roughly 74 million tickets sold. To simplify, divide that by 50 (states); Illinois' equal share would raise over a million dollars in education revenue, from just one movie.

Multiply that by all of the movies, Bulls and Bears games, Concerts at Ravinia, or the Lyric Opera, or the Chicago Theater or Allstate Arena, and all the many, many others.. Considering how ticket prices for all sorts of entertainment venues increase with no notice, without adversely affecting ticket sales, how many people would even miss the extra dollar? And few, I believe, would protest the use of this money to help fix Illinois education.

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