U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson is backing a bill to give some relief to minor league baseball teams, including the imperiled Idaho Falls Chukars.
Simpson, a Republican who represents eastern and south-central Idaho, is one of the co-chairmen of the congressional Save Minor League Baseball Task Force along with Reps. Lori Trahan, D-Massachusetts, David McKinley, R-West Virginia, and Max Rose, D-New York. Trahan and McKinley introduced the bill, and it has 20 co-sponsors including Simpson so far.
The Chukars, a Kansas City Royals affiliate and the defending 2019 Pioneer League champions, were facing an uncertain future even before coronavirus prevented the start of the 2020 season. Major League Baseball had been considering cutting ties with the Chukars and 41 other minor league teams after the 2020 season, including the entire Intermountain West-based Pioneer League.
It is likely many of the teams would not survive the loss of their major league affiliation, meaning the end of professional baseball in many of the towns that currently have minor league teams. The future of Minor League Baseball in Idaho Falls and numerous other towns is on hold as Major League Baseball tries to figure out how it will proceed with its 2020 season.
“During the ever-changing environment we live in today, the sense of community has become increasingly important,” Simpson said. “Our Chukars are a staple of the Idaho Falls community and with this legislation we can offer them a lifeline in the shape of loans. The Idaho Falls Chukars, like many organizations, have significant local public resources invested in their facilities. To give up on these local gems would be devastating to small town America, and make our national pastime exclusive to big cities like New York and Los Angeles.”
The bill Simpson is co-sponsoring would create a federal loan program of at least $1 billion through the Federal Reserve to give loans to community-owned or private small businesses with less than $35 million in revenue that are contractually obligated to make lease, rental or bond payments on publicly owned sports facilities, museums or community theaters. The money could only be spent on defined uses such as facility rent, lease, bond payments, utilities or property taxes, facility or infrastructure improvements and paying employees.
“In many cases, communities approved bonds for their facilities’ construction, which must be repaid regardless of whether events are taking place,” according to a news release from the four lawmakers. “The suspension of athletic events for Minor League teams, performances at community venues, and closed attractions like museums due to COVID-19 does not amend these bond agreements.
In fact, communities are more reliant than ever upon rent payments from businesses to repay those bonds or as a reliable source of budget revenue. These revenue streams are in serious doubt without additional relief from the loan program proposed in this legislation.”
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