Gov. Mike Lowry on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for a funding plan that could keep the Mariners pro baseball team in Seattle by building a state-of-the-art ballpark.
But don’t chalk it up as a home run yet: A skeptical King County Council still must vote to put the one-tenth of a cent sales tax increase on the ballot, and county voters must go along.
Lowry signed legislation authorizing the vote that could pave the way for financing a $278 million ballpark, calling it “an important quality-of-life issue.”
The governor also approved a 4 percent average tuition increase for state colleges during each of the next two school years, modest property tax relief for senior citizens, and permission for youth organizations and charities to sell raffle tickets of up to $25 apiece.
Lowry again broadly hinted that he won’t sign the full tax-cut package sent to his desk by the Legislature. He said massive federal budget cuts will deeply affect the states and that the federal and state economies are fairly sluggish.
He said he will act on the tax package and the $17.6 billion state budget on Friday.
Highlights from Lowry’s bill-signing ceremonies:
Mariners - Lowry urged fans, government officials, business and King County voters to rally behind the financing plan for the new ballpark. The Mariners have flatly stated that they will leave Seattle rather than stay in their unprofitable current venue, the Kingdome.
Lowry said the Mariners are an important part of the Northwest lifestyle and remain one of the few professional sports team that keeps ticket prices affordable for the average family.
The measure, SB6049, could generate enough money to pay the bond-debt on the new stadium, which has an estimated price tag of nearly $300 million. The Mariners have agreed to put up more than $40 million.
The proceeds also would finance repairs on the Kingdome.
Lowry said he would have preferred an increase in the hotel-motel tax, but supports the small sales tax boost.
Tuition - The tuition measure, SB5325, boosts tuition an average of 4 percent per year. Lowry called tuition a major bargain, but said he remains concerned that some middle-income families are being priced out of the market. He mildly chastised the Legislature for not approving more student financial aid, but complimented the higher education budget overall.
Lowry said he will soon appoint a task force to explore ways to improve access to higher education and how to pay for it.He raised the possibility of basing tuition on the ability to pay, but didn’t elaborate. He noted that he makes $90,000 a year and will pay the same for his daughter’s Western Washington University tuition - $2,440 a year - as somebody earning much less.”Mary and Mike Lowry ought to be paying higher tuition,” he said.
Taxes - Lowry signed a measure that raises the income ceiling for property tax breaks for seniors and disabled people. The old ceiling was household income of $26,000 a year. SB5001 bumps that to $28,000.
The governor also signed SB5555, which reduces massage therapy taxes by $1.3 million.
Lowry also announced he would sign, in Seattle today, a $687,000 tax break for the film industry. The measure, HB1913, will give a sales tax exemption on equipment used by film and video companies.
Raffles - The governor signed SB5269, which allows charitable groups to sell raffle tickets of up to $25, up from the current maximum of $5. Some organizations had asked for a $100 limit, but lawmakers balked.
Levies - School districts that remain over the 20 percent limit for special levies will be given two more years to collect at the higher rate before reducing their levydependency. The bill is SB5529.