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Safeco Field taxes bill finally drops with money shifting to arts, housing and convention center expansion

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Feb. 18, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
February 18, 2011 5:16 pm

King County Executive Dow Constantine has been preparing a bill that would divvy up some of the taxes that are now paying off the bonds for Safeco Field. But it too until Day 40 of the session for an actual bill to surface.

If a bill doesn’t pass this session, the taxes expire when the bonds are retired, probably sometime in late summer.

House Bill 1997 by Des Moines Democrat Tina Orwall would divide up the half-cent food and bar tax and two chunks of car rental taxes, both collected only in King County. The money would go to 4Culture ( a King County public development authority that funds various arts, culture and heritage institutions) to low-income housing and to a new fund to pay for tourism-related projects in the Pioneer Square and International District neighborhoods near the baseball and football stadiums.

Russ Carmack photo, 2004

Finally, some of the money _ actually quite a bit – would help pay for an expansion of the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle.

Here’s a PDF of HB 1997.

4Culture currently gets money from the hotel-motel tax passed to build the old Kingdome. but it’s share of that money ends in 2012 when it shifts over finish paying off the Kingdome debt and then to bonds used to build Qwest Field. Orwall says 4Culture would get $3 million a year, well below the $9 million it gets now.

The car rental taxes would remain long term but the food and bar tax would expire in 2015. That keeps up a deal made with the restaurant industry when the Safeco Field legislation first passed in 1995. The state Restaurant Association agreed to the tax but only for the baseball stadium and for no more than 20 years. While the current law says it expires with the bonds, the association has agreed to let a new bill keep it in place until 2015.

Her press release asserts that the bill has the support of business, labor and the restaurant industry. It is being touted as a tourism-promotion and jobs bill with even the low-income housing to be dedicated to people working in the tourism industry.

It appears the bill also makes some provision for future improvements at Safeco once the bonds are paid off. Both the Mariners and the public facilities district have been pushing for that. First, it continues to devote an existing ticket tax to improvements. But rather than the current law which says the money can go toward “unanticipated capital costs on the baseball stadium, excluding any cost overruns on initial construction.” to “fund repair, reequipping and capital improvements of the baseball stadium.”

The bill also appears to create a new tax on parking at the Safeco Field garage and devotes revenue from that tax to the same functions. But no general tax money would stay with Safeco Field under the bill.

I keep say “appears” because there is little in state revenue law as complicated as the way the sports stadiums are funded, with tax sources moving from one project to another over the years that bonds are being repaid.

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