It started as a fairly routine suggestion on the editorial menu that I compile weekly for fellow editorial-board members.
“Ave Maria gift: Any problem with saying the Sabres’ owner’s $4 million is better spent here on super gym rather than income taxes in New York?”
It was a reference to the donation by billionaire Tom Golisano, a native of Rochester, N.Y., and owner of the National Hockey League team in Buffalo, for a full-fledged field house at the campus between Naples and Immokalee. He had made headlines previously by moving to Florida to avoid paying $5 million a year in New York income taxes, and saying so in the New York Post.
An editorial board e-mail exchange ensued.
Although editorial-board deliberations routinely are private, with the board speaking with one voice after consensus is reached, the participants in this discussion agreed to have their comments published — as written.
Harriet Howard Heithaus, our arts/entertainment/home improvement editor, chimed in first:
“First, I’m not sure at all how $4 million spent for a private school gym in a planned development in Florida is better stewardship than paying the New York state taxes that provide the streets your players and employees drive, the police who protect them and the schools that educate their kids. (The donor owns the Buffalo Sabres and the Rochester, N.Y.- based Paychex payroll processing systems.) Second, people who make big noises like this about gigging their home state will also make a big noise about Florida when it does something they don’t like. I’d steer clear of this guy.”
Columnist Brent Batten responded: “It seems to me that if someone wants to move from one state to another for tax advantage, that’s their business. He could have moved and spent the tax savings any way he wished. He chose to do something good for an institution he believes in. Again, his business.
“As far as him speaking out against Florida, should something happen here that is not to his liking, so what? Are the wealthy not entitled to freedom of speech, or for that matter, movement and financial choice?
“The guy did a good thing and I have no problem with us saying so.”
To which Heithaus wrote: “If he had put the gym in Immokalee, I’d say he did a good thing. He put the gym in a private university that reflects his religious beliefs to strengthen a program that reflects his religious beliefs. I have no problem with that. But doing something to further his personal agenda should be its own reward. And I’ll be interested to see what people say when he decides he wants to play politics here as he has in New York.”
Batten’s reply: “Private universities, including those with religious underpinnings, do great things all over this country with the help of benefactors. That there is a religious component to something shouldn’t prohibit us from commenting favorably.
“How many positive editorials, rightfully so, have we written about St. Matthew’s House, for example?”
With no one rallying to her side — or Batten’s either — Heithaus wrote: “I suspect I’m the only one feeling this way. However, I found (Golisano’s) entire approach rather punitive to his home state. I still don’t see a major thank you in order for a man who gave a grant to an extremely conservative, heavily controlled community and loudly proclaimed that the state where he does business won’t get his money.
“Whatever we say, I’d skip the idea that the money was spent better there than in paying income taxes. There is no proof of that.”
And there you have it.
An editorial by us after all of that would be redundant — and anti-climactic.
To think that it all started with the proposition that the money was better spent on this gym than on another state’s income tax.
Makes me wonder how much comment we would get from readers if we posted those same editorial menus at naplesnews.com/blogs.
I bet we would get a ton.
Lytle’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Call him at 263-4773. Check his blog at naplesnews.com/blogs/jefflytle