With parks closed across the country and employees needing to be paid even though there's no money coming in, should the theme park industry get a public bailout?
Industry association IAAPA has asked Congress for relief in the form of "a $250 billion Travel Workforce Stabilization Fund within the Department of Treasury for travel related industries, including $150 billion in direct grants, and $100 billion in unsecured, no-interest loans." SeaWorld today tweeted asking the public to ask Congress to support the theme park industry.
The Senate appears to have a deal together for an estimated $2 trillion stimulus plan, but it's unclear how much of the reported $500 billion in aid to companies will go to the travel industry — and specifically to closed theme parks and attractions. Still, whether that assistance is coming or not, I think it's fair to ask whether theme parks should be getting a public bailout.
I call it a "public" bailout rather than a government one because I want to remind everyone that we are the government. We elect its leaders and pay its bills through our taxes. What the government does should reflect the public's interests.
Unfortunately, too often, the government answers more to big-money interests than to the public. And that's the risk here with this latest bailout plan. Of course everyone's going to fight to get theirs in this trillion-dollar giveaway. Heck, I would love to see Washington write checks to self-employed writers (like me) who have seen their incomes tank this month, as some countries in Europe have proposed doing. I don't blame IAAPA and the attractions and travel industry for asking for a taste of the action. If I could afford a lobbyist and maxed-out campaign contributions, I would making my pitch now, too.
But that's the thing. Working people can't afford lobbyists and can't afford to write big checks to elected officials. If we own stock, we're the ones holding the bag when Senators trade on inside information to dump their stocks while telling the public there's nothing to fear. (That's a real story, BTW.)
With Theme Park Insider, I want to advocate for theme park fans, for in-park employees, for creators, for the industry, and then for individual theme park companies... in that order. The reason why I chose that order comes from my belief that if fans get value for their money - and companies take care of their employees and contractors without sabotaging others in the industry - normally everything will work out fine for Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, Cedar Fair, Six Flags, and the like.
But these are not normal times. Theme park companies are going to need help taking care of their employees and contractors while their parks are closed and there's no money coming in. That's basic math. I just want the public's assistance to go to as many members of the public in need as possible. I do not care about helping corporate shareholders or executives making seven-figure-plus salaries. If you want to justify taking the big bucks because you're taking "the risk," well, the risk is here. Time to take the loss. Let's bail out the people who have been working to create all that value that companies and executives have been taking as profit for the past decade. Like theme park employees.
If paying companies is the best way to get money to affected workers, then I'm fine with that. But I might prefer a more direct approach, where Washington writes the payroll checks straight to those workers. At least the theme park business would be more worthy of assistance than other segments of the travel industry.
Cruise lines register their ships in other countries to avoid abiding by American wage and workplace safety laws. Let them ask their countries of registry for help, then. Airlines want help, too. But after spending more than 90 percent of their money on stock buybacks over the past decade, they ought to sell stock to raise cash before asking the people they've been cramming into narrow seats for more money.
As theme park fans, we want to see our favorite parks get through this crisis. But we also don't want to get ripped off. So as an advocate for theme park fans, I hope we all pay close attention to this bailout deal — not just as we look forward to that date when the parks reopen, but also as we look forward to November's election. We're fans, but we are citizens, too.Tweet
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