October 15, 1995 in Nation/World

Lawmakers Approve New M’S Stadium $320 Million Plan Comes In Year When Social Programs Face Budget Ax

Lynda V. Mapes The Associated Press Contributed To Staff writer
 

State lawmakers clinched a deal Saturday to build a $320 million baseball stadium to keep the Seattle Mariners in town.

Team owners have said they will put the M’s up for sale if a financing package for a new stadium isn’t guaranteed by Oct. 30.

“It’s been a gruesome process … but this is a responsible package and it saves baseball for the state of Washington,” said Senate Majority Leader Marcus Gaspard, D-Puyallup.

While lawmakers have done their part, the stadium deal still must be cemented with a vote by the King County Council on three tax increases.

The plan ironed out Saturday calls for dividing the cost of the stadium, with the state paying $107 million, King County paying $168 million, and the Mariners contributing $45 million.

The state share would come in the form of tax credits roughly equal to the sales tax revenue generated by the Mariners every year for 20 years.

As many as four new sports lottery games would also be created. And the sale of special stadium vanity plates would raise a small share of the cost.

Lawmakers gave King County the authority to raise local taxes on rental cars, bars and restaurants, and tickets to events in the new stadium to raise the county’s share of construction costs.

Now, just one month after King County voters turned down a tax increase to build the stadium, the council will vote on three tax hikes. None needs voter approval.

And just five months after state lawmakers cut the budget under the banner of fiscal austerity, they ponied up $59 million in tax credits and cranked up new lottery games expected to raise about $3 million a year to help pay for the new stadium.

The new sports lotteries are expected to reduce cash raised by existing lottery games. That’ll cut into lottery money used to pump up the state’s general fund.

Regardless, lawmakers said the stadium measure was the best deal they could manage for taxpayers.

“The state tax credit is the amount of taxes that we lose if the Mariners leave town,” said Sen. Eugene Prince, R-Thornton. “It does not jeopardize any state program, and it doesn’t touch the state reserve fund.”

Some lawmakers were frustrated to see their colleagues rally around baseball when social and education programs always seem to go begging. They said they couldn’t possibly vote for the stadium when they turned down more important needs last session for lack of money.

Sen. James West, R-Spokane, remembered turning down a request for $17 million to expand the Riverpoint Higher Education park. Only pre-design money was available.

“It would be hypocritical for me to vote for this now,” West said. “What am I supposed to say, ‘We found all this dough and I forgot you needed it?”’

Still, the Mariners’ ultimatum won out.

“It was the Oct. 30 deadline that generated the urgency and brought people together,” said Sen. Nita Rinehart, D-Seattle, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “But I don’t think the K-12 schools can threaten to pack up and leave anytime soon.”

The Legislature’s ability to put together the spending plan in just three days shows “when there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Rep. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

“But when will children and families be as big a priority as a stadium?” she asked. “We’ve stood up for baseball, which is as American as apple pie. But next time, let’s stand up for moms. And kids.”

The original stadium deal was negotiated by Gov. Mike Lowry and the heads of all four legislative caucuses last week. But their proposal didn’t fly.

House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, heaved a sigh of relief when the bill passed.

He and Sen. Alex Deccio, R-Yakima, noted both the bipartisan support for the plan and the backing from lawmakers outside the Seattle area.

“There was no Cascade Curtain,” the speaker said, referring to the imaginary line at the Cascades that supposedly creates two alienated states.

“Without Eastern Washington, this would never have passed,” said Deccio, noting the five votes from Eastern Washington Republican senators. “They said Eastern Washington would kill the Mariners and it didn’t happen.”

Opponents called the bill a corporate giveaway, expansion of gambling, and an example of misplaced priorities.

The final agreement was hashed out over three days of negotiations in a special session called by Lowry.

Now it’s up to the King County Council to pull the deal off. If the council doesn’t adopt the tax increases, the stadium package falls through.

Council members were disappointed the deal does not include money for improvements to the Kingdome requested by the Seattle Seahawks, or to pay off more than $70 million in debt for repairs to the Kingdome roof.

The first version of the stadium bill passed by the House late Friday was worked out as the Mariners game blasted on TV sets in every office at the statehouse.

Bond lawyers then trashed the bill Saturday morning, saying it didn’t raise enough money to safely cover the debt piled up to build the stadium.

“People are thinking more about Randy Johnson’s earned-run average than the long-term consequences of this financing plan,” groused King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer. “But we are going to be paying for this stadium long after Randy Johnson is pitching.”

Even some of the Legislature’s most tight fisted fiscal conservatives voted for the bill with alacrity, saying they believe baseball is good for the state’s spirit and quality of life.

Rep. Todd Mielke, R-Spokane, head of the House Republican Caucus, described going to a pizza parlor in Spokane recently and watching hundreds of fans cheer the Mariners on TV.

“I don’t really buy the argument that baseball is of statewide economic benefit. But anything that brings that many people together and creates that kind of joy is a good thing for the state.”

Senators West and Bob Morton, R-Orient voted against the bill. Senator Prince voted for it. Senators Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane, and John Moyer, R-Spokane, were excused.

Both Spokane Democrats voted against the bill. Every GOP member of the Spokanearea delegation voted for it.

The Senate approved the measure, 25 to 16, and the House followed suit, 66-24, a few minutes later.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: OVERHEARD IN OLYMPIA Overheard in the Mariners stadium debate: “This is very frankly something that a lot of people thought would never happen. There were days I wasn’t sure. I am extremely pleased.” House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee. .. There still is much work to be done by Oct. 30.” John Ellis, chairman and CEO of the Mariners.”I feel great. They did what they needed to do and I’m very proud of them.” Gov. Mike Lowry. “Without Eastern Washington, this would never have passed.” Sen. Alex Deccio, R-Yakima. “I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade … but there are others who are fighting for survival as well, children and families.” Rep. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. “It has been a gruesome process. … (but) it is a sound proposal to save baseball.” Senate Majority Leader Marcus Gaspard, D-Puyallup. “People are sleeping on the streets right now right next to the stadium. I hope people become as passionate for schoolchildren as we are for the Mariners.” Rep. Velma Veloria, D-Seattle. Associated Press

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This sidebar appeared with the story: OVERHEARD IN OLYMPIA Overheard in the Mariners stadium debate: “This is very frankly something that a lot of people thought would never happen. There were days I wasn’t sure. I am extremely pleased.” House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee. .. There still is much work to be done by Oct. 30.” John Ellis, chairman and CEO of the Mariners.”I feel great. They did what they needed to do and I’m very proud of them.” Gov. Mike Lowry. “Without Eastern Washington, this would never have passed.” Sen. Alex Deccio, R-Yakima. “I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade … but there are others who are fighting for survival as well, children and families.” Rep. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. “It has been a gruesome process. … (but) it is a sound proposal to save baseball.” Senate Majority Leader Marcus Gaspard, D-Puyallup. “People are sleeping on the streets right now right next to the stadium. I hope people become as passionate for schoolchildren as we are for the Mariners.” Rep. Velma Veloria, D-Seattle. Associated Press

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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