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Seattle Convention Center and the arts: How a dead bill becomes undead

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on April 7, 2011 at 10:00 am with 8 Comments »
April 7, 2011 5:03 pm

We often write about deadlines in the Washington State Legislature. The self-imposed cutoffs are created to narrow down the number of issues as the session progresses and help the Legislature adjourn on time.

In the final weeks of session, only budgets, bills needed to implement those budgets and bills that have passed both house but in different forms (so-called bills in dispute) are alive.

But we all know that when they say a bill is “dead” we should always add “unless it’s not.”

Take House Bill 1997 as a case study. The bill would keep in place a handful of taxes that were created in 1995 to build Safeco Field. Under the original bill, all taxes are to expire the moment the stadium bonds are paid off and that will happen sometime this summer.

A coalition of arts backers, low-income housing advocates, International District residents and Seattle Convention Center supporters – all under the leadership of King County Executive Dow Constantine – have pushed HB 1997 to use the taxes collected in King County for new projects.

King County Executive Dow Constantine

These are pretty powerful interests in Seattle – a lot of wealthy people are arts patrons and both the business community and labor are behind the convention center expansion. Yet there is push back from others who say the bill breaks a promise to taxpayers that the taxes would expire with the stadium bonds. And then there’s the whole thing about convention centers overstating their economic worth.

The bill passed the House 55-42 on March 4 and appeared to have cleared the Senate Ways and Means Committee last Friday just ahead of a cutoff for action.

But then another oddity of the Legislature kicked in. To clear a Senate committee a bill doesn’t just have to get a majority vote, it also must have the signatures of a majority of committee members on the sign-out sheet. As reported over the weekend by Manuel Valdes of the Associated Press, two Democratic committee members left without signing and the deadline for action came and went.

Refusing to sign were Sens. Brian Hatfield of Raymond and Rodney Tom of Medina. Hatfield said he was upset that a biomass bill important to his district was not moving. Tom, who has expressed doubt about the convention center expansion in the past has so far not expressed his reasons for helping kill HB 1997.

Whatever the reasons, the bill died.

Unless it didn’t.

“It’s a long legislative session. We have a ways to go, and we’ll continue to work with legislators to see the adoption of this bill,” King County government relations director Sung Yang told Valdes. “Nothing is dead until the session is over.”

Now comes another twist in the whole bill cutoff story. If a bill is “Necessary To Implement the Budget,” affectionately known as NTIB bills, it is not covered by cutoffs and deadlines. Nothing in HB 1997 has anything to do with the state budget. The state taxes involved automatically return to the state when the bonds are paid off. The remaining taxes and all of the projects are purely local.

At least the bill wasn’t NTIB until the House Ways and Means Committee amended its budget bill Wednesday and this paragraph was in the midst of a larger amendment (and thanks to Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center for catching it) :

On page 16, after line 20, insert the following:

“(16) $100,000 of the affordable housing for all account–state appropriation is provided solely for implementation of Substitute House Bill No. 1997 (Providing economic development by funding tourism promotion, workforce housing, art and heritage programs, and community development). If the bill is not enacted by June 30, 2011, the amount provided in this subsection shall lapse.”

Almost by miracle, House Bill 1997 arose from the dead and is once again walking among the living.


Leave a comment Comments → 8
  1. taxedenoughintacoma says:

    Again King county telling Olympia what is best for all of us. I thought they were busy trying to figure out how to pay for cost overruns when the DOT screws them on the 520 bridge and “the tunnel”.

    Two mega funded DOY projects that will fail and King County wants you to pay for it all.

    Just say NO!!

  2. shadow99 says:

    “Hatfield said he was upset that a biomass bill important to his district was not moving.”

    What a shock. This is a classic ‘scratch my back, I scratch yours’ scenerio. The only reason he isn’t signing on is because his bill isn’t making any progress? Typical government backroom handshakes. The plan for a convention center expansion is a joke. They are already having a hard time filling it as is. As for money for art, I agree that art is important. But is it that important when our state is bleeding red in the budget? Yet again, this just goes to show how politicians are out for themselves and themselves only.

  3. tacomajoe says:

    As it stands, for every 100 dollars spent on a hotel room in Seattle, the tourist paying for it has to fork over an extra 15 bucks in taxes, to pay off the stadium debts. That 15 bucks is money that can’t be spent on a cab ride, as a gratuity for a server after a meal, on a T-shirt, a latte, etc. The powers that be frame these tourist taxes as taxes that benefit the local population but don’t impact residents financially, and that is a myth.

    Just another case of socializing the cost, privatizing the profit.

  4. oldcynic says:

    This is standard practice for our politicians – NEVER LET A TAX DIE – If the wealthy folks want art, let the wealthy folks pay for it. I don’t want to have to pay for something that I don’t want and probably can’t afford to go see. Politicians and snakes – throw them in the grass and you can’t tell them apart, except that snakes don’t lie about their intentions.

  5. I love all kinds of zombies. Even Zombie Bills.

  6. flamingbanjo says:

    A few points here: One, the lodging tax is not going away; Even if this bill does not pass it will remain in place. Two, this is not a new tax, so it does not impact the budget crisis in Olympia at all — it neither adds a new tax burden nor requires additional spending. Third, these taxes are collected in King County, so Tacoma taxpayers won’t be paying a dime of this unless they visit King County and stay in a hotel or rent a car. Fourth, the lodging tax is widely supported by the hotel industry because they understand the connection between encouraging tourism through culture/heritage programs and their own bottom line. In fact, this bill enjoys a broad base of support from restaurant and hotel associations, construction unions, labor, the arts community, and low-income housing advocates.

    Arts and culture are a huge part of what makes a city a tourist destination. If you had a choice between visiting Paris, France and Butte, Montana, would you choose Butte because the hotel room is a dollar cheaper?

  7. I grew up partly in a small town in California with leadership like the Chopps of this world. Now fifty years on it is like visiting a battleground. No art, no destination, nothing. Just fast food chains and cookie cutter houses. Working poverty abounds. It is the arts which give a city it’s life. It’s why community leaders, the real ones, fight so hard to foster art.

    There is no tax burden from the arts, only pluses. Ask ask any restaurant owner or shop which is around the corner from a good theater.

    Fund the arts, or watch cities die. Art IS the source of a great deal of revenue.

  8. Finish the rent or own debate. Rent to own homes serve an important purpose in today’s gloomy economy: They give individuals the chance to decide if they’d be happier as tenants or homeowners.

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