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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 | 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.


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