Eastern Washington opposition to spending state tax dollars on a new stadium for the Seattle Mariners is solid as the crack of Ken Griffey’s bat.
The idea is a stone cold non-starter, interviews with Spokane-area legislators show.
Twelve of the 15 lawmakers interviewed Tuesday said they are opposed to using state money or raising state taxes to pay for a new stadium. The other three could not be reached.
Gov. Mike Lowry and legislative leaders working in Olympia said Tuesday they’d hatched a plan to finance a new stadium.
But any plan that involves state money is a no-win issue for East Side lawmakers, many said.
“It’s a lose-lose proposition fed by emotion and hysteria,” said Rep. Todd Mielke, R-Spokane, chairman of the House Republican caucus.
“If we don’t do it, the pro-baseball people are mad. If we do, as soon as the emotion settles down, people will say we sold out,” said Sen. Eugene Prince, R-Thornton.
“The choice is be a heel today, and a hero tomorrow, or a hero today and a heel tomorrow,” Prince continued. “I am not dreaming: A month ago there was no support for this. And you know emotional support does not last.”
The solid opposition east of the mountains puts lawmakers in a pickle as they huddle to craft a proposal to pay for the $300 million stadium with retractable roof demanded by team owners.
Owners say they will contribute $45 million to the cost, and demanded a promise by Oct. 30 from the state and King County to put up the rest. Otherwise, they vow to put the team up for sale.
Various schemes are in the works, from tapping the state’s more than $600 million reserve fund, to starting a new sports lottery, marketing special license plates, or giving King County permission to raise taxes on restaurants, rental cars, and motel rooms.
Lawmakers also proposed forgiving all sales taxes on construction of a new stadium, and putting all environmental and permit reviews for the project on a fast track.
Details of the plan crafted Tuesday were under wraps, but the plan will be taken to the four legislative caucuses today to determine whether Lowry calls a special session to begin Thursday morning.
Even the M’s success has not warmed East Side lawmakers’ hearts enough to carry the team on their shoulders all the way to the bank.
“I doubt they will come up with a package many, if any, in Eastern Washington can support, including myself,” said Rep. Dennis Dellwo, D-Spokane.
“We need to change this idea that the state has an unlimited amount of money to spend,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Colville. “One way to do that is to set priorities. It would be awfully hard for me to explain not being able to come up with the money for schools or prisons, but yet having the money for a stadium.”
Many questioned whether the Mariners even need a new stadium.
“I love the Mariners and they’ve done a marvelous job. But they did it right there in that stadium so it can’t be all that bad,” said Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient.
“What’s wrong with the Kingdome?” asked Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane. “I was watching the game the other night and there were tens of thousands of fans in there who looked like they were having a good time to me.
“Want to attract more fans? How about a winning record?”
The state has more important things to spend money on, many lawmakers said.
“To spend Washington state tax dollars, when we are supposed to be building schools and taking care of little kids, no. I can’t do that,” said Sen. John Moyer, R-Spokane.
It would be hypocritical to help the Mariners and not other businesses too, lawmakers said.
“I want to know what we are doing for all the little mom and pop stores,” Mielke said. “Any Mariners proposal will have a difficult time unless there’s a larger agenda. I don’t see the votes there.”
Added Prince: “Everybody wants something. If we do this for them, we’ll have a whole bunch of groups breaking down the door and you can’t blame them.”
Many also resented the Mariners’ promise to leave if they don’t get a new stadium.
“Sometimes a child doesn’t like to hear no, but you still have to say no, and when they grow up they will respect you for saying it,” said Rep. Steve Fuhrman, R-Kettle Falls.
Sen. James West, R-Spokane, sees an uphill fight for a stadium, but he thinks some kind of deal will fly.
“Once legislative leadership started grappling with the details, they had already subconsciously agreed,” he said. “It’s an old real estate trick. Get them talking about how they’ll repaint the porch and they’ve already bought the house.
“If the governor wants to show leadership on this and put a proposal together, I’m sure there will be others willing to jump in the boat and go over the falls with him. By the time these people wake up they will have already been had.”
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.