Paul Jacob

There are needs and there are wants. And then there are priorities.

A crippled child or a victim of crime has needs, while no doubt some people fervently want a bike path built or a brand new sports arena.

That’s where priorities enter the picture.

What are the needs, wants, priorities and responsibilities in Sacramento, California’s capital?

First, the city is presently $2 billion in debt — roughly $5,000 per resident. Half of that goes for pensions and health benefits for retired workers. Much of the rest is owed to pay for past economic development projects.

Second, Sacramento ranks second for “most violent” city in California. Second for “property crimes” too.

Third, since 2007, the region has lost more than 10 percent of its jobs, with one in six homes in Sacramento County in foreclosure.

“What do the leaders of this failing city, home to only a quarter of the region’s residents but with a disproportionate share of its poor and its highest and most regressive taxes, tell us is the best way to combat the region’s decline?” asked Mark Paul in an article for Zócalo Public Square.

His answer? “They want the city to take up the whole burden of an arena subsidy —currently estimated at no less than $255 million, roughly equivalent to an entire year of city tax revenue.”

Mayor Kevin Johnson, former superstar point guard for the Phoenix Suns, doesn’t want to lose the town’s National Basketball Association franchise, the Sacramento Kings. Meanwhile, the NBA threatens to move the team to Seattle if the city — meaning the taxpayers, of course — won’t cough up the bucks to build a new stadium. My bet is that the project’s price tag, including interest, would rise above $255 million.

The mayor, city managers and the council argue that keeping the Kings in Sacramento is worth the cost. “With all due respect to Seattle, I do hope they get a team someday, but let me be perfectly clear it is not going to be this team,” Johnson said in announcing he’d lined up potential new Sacramento buyers. “Not our team. No way.”

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.