In past years, we have been vaccinated against the Hong Kong flu and the swine flu, but there’s a more insidious disease to guard against this winter – “arena fever.”

The symptoms are easy to observe: foaming at the mouth at the mention of luxury suites; breaking out in cold sweats at the thought of losing the Mavericks and Stars to another City; otherwise fiscally conservative officeholders becoming spendthrifts.

Honorary co-chairmen of the recently formed “Mother Teresa’s Charity for Professional Athletes and the Owners that Love Them” (Ross Perot Jr. and Tom Hicks) have graciously offered to build a new sports arena in Downtown Dallas – if we pay for it.

In fact, I’m pretty sure I saw Little Ross at LBJ and Skillman last week with one of those cardboard signs that reads: “Will Build an Arena for Food.”

With the spirit of the holidays still in the air, it does a heart good to be able to help the needy and arena-less.

As you read on, I would like you to join hands with the stranger next to you and softly hum “Kum Bah Yah,” which is Cherokee for “why pay for something yourself when you can get somebody else to do it?”

Having recently completed another successful local expenditure of $2 billion for a mass transit system that has moved its passengers from buses to trains and is confronting the prospect of even more debt to continue to operate, our local leaders are now recommending that we spend $125 million (or more) to build a new arena for Perot Jr.’s Mavericks and Hicks’ Stars.

In exchange, Perot and Hicks get total control of the design and construction of the arena, total control of selling the arena name to a corporate sponsor and merchandising that name, and total control of operations; they don’t have to pay any property taxes or sales tax on any personal property purchases, they get all revenues generated by the arena, and they have the right to veto any other City development that would compete with the arena.

How much would you pay for all of this? Well, don’t answer yet, because there’s more. We also get to open a Pandora’s Box of known and unknown environmental hazards lurking beneath the surface at the former TU Electric site that has been selected for the Perot Arena – a.k.a. the “Purina.”

The folks who really think this is a great deal rationalize it on the basis that a new arena will rejuvenate Downtown and be an “economic engine” for the Central Business District.

Studies by two national think tanks have concluded that the puffery of new sports arenas doesn’t play out as promised, and this “economic engine” is not the “little one that could.”

In the meantime, however, the teams, the players and the owners make out quite handsomely – but who would begrudge these underpaid and overworked models of citizenship and upstanding behavior?

Learning from their players, Perot and Hicks have threatened to move their teams to another City, despite the fact that their current contracts require them to stay in Dallas until 2003 (Stars) and 2008 (Mavericks)

While we are watching the hands of the wealthy reaching into the pockets of the working man for a new arena, an interesting initiative is developing at Fair Park. A group of committed local leaders is trying and succeeding in its effort to raise $140 million privately to renovate and dome the Cotton Bowl.

Do you mean to tell me something can actually be accomplished in Dallas without relieving taxpayers of even more of their money? Well, shut my wallet!

We’ll have the opportunity to vote on this extraordinary example of misplaced priorities Jan. 17.

Personally, I’m weary of big ticket expenditures with dubious benefits. Let’s get back to basic City functions. It’s your choice: potholes or Perot.