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The Marion City Council will decide on Monday whether to raise its city sales tax to help finance a new baseball stadium complex to house a minor league baseball team. Mayor Bob Butler and members of the city council have already indicated firm support for the project, which could help spur additional economic development in the Interstate 57 and Illinois 13 area.

The overriding question is whether tax money should be used to help finance or subsidize private development, in this case a baseball stadium. This use of tax money is not a new one but is one that always generates strong comment from both proponents and opponents. And well it should; these decisions have great implications for a community as it commits huge amounts of public money for private investment.

The issue requires assessing both short-term and long-term implications as well as philosophical ones. In this case, we believe the city of Marion is making a good decision to invest in a project that will produce greater benefits not only for its citizens but for the entire region.

The Marion sales tax would be raised by one-quarter cent with half, or one-eighth, going toward the baseball project and the other half, or one-eighth cent, to be designated for yet-unspecified projects. Under home rule authority, the city has the power to raise its sales tax without consulting voters.

The foundation for such action is that the sales tax money serve as an investment in local economic development and, in return, the projects provide jobs, more tax revenues and improved quality of life. In regard to the baseball stadium project, East Alton attorney and Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees member John Simmons has already purchased one minor league team and is pursuing the purchase of a second team with a stated intent to bring that team to Southern Illinois.

The money raised from the new sales tax would help retire the debt on a tentative $15 million loan Simmons would take out from the Bank of Marion to build a stadium complex in Marion.

In his budget address earlier this month, Gov. Rod Blagojevich reaffirmed his support of bringing minor league baseball to Southern Illinois and pledged to commit $3 million in state funding to the project. Both Blagojevich and Butler have acknowledged there might be some criticism of the project, but both have said they are willing to face that criticism in order to spur the regional economy through this project.

Minor league baseball games have proven to be a real family attraction at ball parks across the country. The atmosphere and excitement at these games is conducive to the love of fun and sports that is such a part of Southern Illinois.

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As the tourism industry continues to flourish in the region, minor league baseball would be a good addition at a very good time.

On Monday, the Marion City Council should take that key step toward making minor league baseball in Southern Illinois in the spring of 2006 a reality.

Marion officials should move forward with the sales tax hike and keep this project in motion.

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