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Colley: Baseball challenges

Some of our neighbors need to be entertained. A few weeks ago I did an informal online survey about the few remaining empty lots in Twin Falls. I asked people what they would fill these spaces with if they could open a business. Any business. There were several responses but I also heard from many folks who believe we lack opportunities for recreation, shows and spectator sports.

One want I keep seeing in repeated surveys is Olive Garden. As chain restaurants go I believe it’s very good.

The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto grew up in Endicott, New York, which at one time could’ve been described as an Italian colony in the United States. I managed TV news in neighboring Binghamton 20 years ago and the area is replete with good Italian eateries. While covering a political convention five years ago friends recommended Taranto try Olive Garden. He drove 40 minutes to his destination only to offer an average review. For those of us lacking a Mediterranean palate, Olive Garden is fine. Not so much for a guy raised on the real deal.

When it came to places to eat my favorite was the fellow who suggested a sports bar with a Basque menu. I’m in! Two dozen TV sets and great food. This is my demographic. My only worry is whiplash. A few days ago I went to one of these sports emporiums and found I couldn’t settle on one specific game.

My head was on a swivel and if you look up too fast to catch a big play you can wear your lunch, which already happens too much as I’m still in training with trifocal glasses.

A convention and business center remains a popular suggestion, although we’ve already got this at the county fairgrounds. Even if we had a more modern facility in Twin Falls, interstate proximity remains a challenge and the convention business is cutthroat. Conventioneers like to have a lot of entertainment choices after hours. It’s why Las Vegas is a more popular destination for trade shows and similar gatherings. Heck, even Ogden would be my choice before Twin Falls. Great museums and one downtown street alone has a restaurant for every hankering.

One respondent would like a large indoor pool complex for yearround use. I assume with multiple pools, a food court and meeting rooms. Heck, why not throw in a couple of ice rinks and a rodeo complex? I suppose local taxpayers aren’t quite ready to take the plunge. Now if someone hits Powerball and would like to create an endowment …

The baseball stadium came up, again. I’m not alone when it comes to thinking a ballpark and a minor league club would be the perfect way to pass hot desert nights.

There are people working at City Hall who share the same dream. There are also steep hurdles. A baseball team is the jewel in the crown for many small cities, but the competition for a decent league is fierce. Helena is losing its franchise.

When I was covering Single A baseball 30 years ago the local league was based in just two states and the largest city in the loop didn’t top 40,000 people. The Chicago Cubs had an affiliate in one of the smaller cities. There was a population of 12,000 as the base for the Geneva Cubs. Eventually a larger city poached the team.

I was at a small-cities conference and was having a conversation with the mayor of Niagara Falls. He was curious how my city’s “community owned” franchise operated and I gave him all the information I had available. Within a few years the league covered multiple states and Ontario and the smaller cities were left with lovely stadiums and no tenants.

There is a larger lesson for the stadium and ball club hunt. When a small city makes a decision to build a new park it often hinges on a multi-use property to placate taxpayers. Which is fine until it comes to an agreement to host a farm squad for a Major League outfit. A lot of money is invested in arms and bats even in rookie leagues.

The general managers don’t want young talent tripping over a gas main in the outfield or debris left from a concert the previous night. There are specifications you must meet straight down to the size of showerheads in clubhouses. Field conditions are constantly monitored. Concessionaires must now meet the usual politically correct standards so as not to embarrass the big team’s public relations effort.

One city kept its team by going independent and surprisingly have fielded multiple champions over the last 20 years, but visitors often make demands about field and locker room conditions.

Way back in April 1996, I spent a day doing live TV reports from a new Triple A ballpark. Everything was state of the art and every blade of grass was equal in height and not too high.

The family managing the local franchise had been involved in minor league baseball since the Great Depression. Within a few years they walked away in frustration.

The beautiful park is empty for a good part of every year. The parent club has no local fan base and most people come disguised as empty seats.

Before you build it, there are many questions you must answer.

Other view: Obamacare doesn't deserve a bailout

Since the day Obamacare became law—having passed with only support from Democrats—Republicans have worked to repeal the partisan law and replace it with patient-centered reforms. While the effort has been underway for more than seven years, only recently have we had a chance to make good on our promises and undo the harm Obamacare has inflicted on the American people.

The Senate had an opportunity in July to finally repeal Obamacare and replace it with reforms that, among other things, would have put Americans back in charge of their health-care choices and placed Medicaid on a sustainable path for future generations.

Admittedly, the replacement plan was far from perfect, and as is the case too often in Washington, the perfect became the enemy of the good. As a result, Obamacare remains the law of the land.

Those who cheered for Senate Republicans to fail have been celebrating ever since, and we’re now hearing calls for bipartisan solutions.

While most reasonable people would welcome a bipartisan outcome to this mess, the solutions proffered thus far would do little more than shore up the bad policies already in place with another slate of bad policies. We need legitimate, long-term reforms.

Case in point: Some are working on an approach that amounts to little more than a congressional bailout of Obamacare, including pumping tens of billions of dollars into the already failing system in the form of cost-sharing reduction payments and reenacting a temporary reinsurance program included in Obamacare that has expired. Of course, they aren’t calling their support a “bailout,” but that’s essentially what it would be.

Setting aside the valid question of whether pumping more money into an already failing system would have a significant impact on already skyrocketing premiums under Obamacare, a no-strings bailout would be extremely short-sighted. Anyone looking for a historical precedent doesn’t have to look far.

In 2015, after years of torment and agitation, Congress repealed the Medicare sustainable growth rate. Before that, patching the growth rate provided an annual display of political gamesmanship.

Members of Congress were understandably willing to do just about anything to prevent a massive drop in Medicare physician payments, and leaders from both parties constantly used that to their advantage.

Do we really want to create that kind of scenario for Obamacare? That’s precisely what we’ll get if we provide immediate funding to shore up Obamacare without significant reforms to the underlying system: A political bludgeon that Democrats will use for years to come to beat Republicans into submission on any number of issues.

Many experts agree that these shortsighted bailouts will do almost nothing to either significantly reduce premiums or increase choices, and they certainly have no impact on the middle-class families purchasing health insurance outside of the exchanges with zero federal assistance. The best-case scenario will barely maintain the broken status quo.

Of course, no one wants to sit idly by while our health-care system implodes even further. Action may well be necessary this year to protect American families from the failures of the current system. But any agreement to, for example, maintain Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies or payments to insurance companies should also include reforms such as relief for American families and job creators from the onerous mandates and taxes. And that’s just for starters.

For years, I have heard from Utahns—as well as individuals and families throughout the country—about the challenges they have faced under this unworkable system: Premiums and health-care costs have skyrocketed year after year. Taxes have been imposed on the middle class. Patients have had fewer and fewer options when choosing providers or insurance plans. Essential Medicaid resources have been diverted away from our most vulnerable populations, making the program even more fiscally unsound.

Obamacare has not improved over time, and it doesn’t work any better now than it did during the first few years of implementation. Without substantial reforms, people will continue to suffer. Rather than working toward an Obamacare bailout, the Senate should work to provide relief for Americans that can only come about with significant, long-term reforms to the health-care system.