The Great CSN Houston Tax Scam

Everybody's pretty damn tired of the CSN Houston situation. Tired of being screwed out of Rockets games. Tired, maybe, of not being able to see the Astros get swept by the Oakland A's. Tired of watching CSN's Matt Hutchings constantly on the television and lying out of his teeth about who's responsible for this situation.

But leave it to the Houston Chronicle's business columnist, Loren Steffy, to get to the heart of the matter: The taxpayers have provided some pretty generous taxpayer subsidies to the Rockets, Astros and CSN. But with a reward of paying to be blacked out on television.

"What's more, Comcast SportsNet Houston itself, as [Steffy] wrote last year, got $1 million in tax handouts from the city for setting up here.

"Taxpayers, then, have already subsidized both the teams and the network, in exchange for a blackout."

The games aren't on television. Ticket prices are outrageous, the Astros make the Chicago Cubs look competently run, and Les Alexander has decided it's easier to make a profit not using Toyota Center than it is letting somebody other than the Rockets make use of it.

Steffy suggests in his column that maybe the Astros, Rockets and CSN should chip in a few bucks to cover distribution costs for the network, which in turn might keep cable bills a bit cheaper. Yeah, that's never going to happen, but maybe instead of demanding the satellite and cable providers show up for negotiations, Mayor Parker ought to be cracking down on the various pro sports franchises of the city and demand they start to do something in return for those millions of dollars they've scammed.

Instead of it standing dark for most of the year, maybe the mayor should demand that the Astros make Minute Maid Park available to Little League and high school teams when the Astros are on the road, especially to those intercity leagues and schools that don't have access to a decent field. And there's been talk of using the place for football games in the past, so maybe some high school teams can play football inside of it. And there's nothing wrong with letting the citizens of Houston and Harris County duck inside whenever they want to play games of baseball and softball. They did help to pay for the place, after all.  

And since Les Alexander has decided it's way more profitable to use Toyota Center for just the Rockets and the occasional concert, perhaps he should be forced to open up his basketball court for constant use. And since the Rockets don't use the place from June through October, maybe Toyota Center can be used as a place for the homeless to duck inside and get a little air conditioning during the hottest months of the year.

Don't forget about Reliant Stadium. That new gigantic scoreboard that Reliant Stadium's getting? If Bob McNair and the Rodeo really want it, let them pay for it; they have more than enough cash. The taxpayer money being used for that boondoggle can instead be used for something that fans will really enjoy: massive improvements to the roads around the stadium.

The mayor doesn't have the guts to even suggest any of that. But instead of doing their bidding with CSN Houston, she really should be doing something to remind them of just how much money they've bilked from the taxpayers.

Jim Crane's made it clear that he'll only pay attention to people who give him $10 million checks. And use of Toyota Center shouldn't revolve around Les Alexander getting revenge for the way he was treated at The Summit.

Taxpayers shouldn't have to take out bank loans to attend events in buildings they helped to build. They shouldn't be forced to sign up for service from the world's worst cable provider to watch a station they're subsidizing.

Maybe there should be some kind of way for the city to take over running all of the city's sports facilities -- leave the Dynamo alone for now since they didn't really run the same scam as the others. Just think of what the city can do with the cash it would rake in from the Astros, Rockets, Texans and the Rodeo. Just think of the infrastructure repairs or the reinvigorated libraries or the new and improved parks.

It's a pipe dream. It's never going to happen. But if the owners are going to scam and con money out of taxpayers, shouldn't they suffer in some fashion when they deliberately set out to deprive those taxpayers of access to the teams and facilities?

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