A last-minute lobbying effort from the governor wasn’t enough to keep a plan to build a new football stadium in Seattle from missing another deadline Friday.
With House lawmakers needing to pass the plan by Friday in time for a June 17 election, Gov. Gary Locke and his top lobbyist, Marty Brown, paraded around the chamber for several minutes Friday afternoon, looking for votes.
Despite Locke’s rare appearance, lawmakers and proponents of the plan appeared to be heading in different directions. Short of votes for the only plan they say they will support, lobbyists for prospective Seahawks owner Paul Allen are running out of time. Allen’s option to purchase the team expires on July 1.
“I think we’ve still got more time,” said Bud Coffey, Allen’s chief lobbyist.
Election officials say they need 60 days to prepare ballots for a vote. Originally, Allen hoped an election could be held by June 3, but two other deadlines for legislative action have come and gone.
Locke’s plan would commit $325 million in state money to help pay for the $425 million stadium through taxes on stadium admission, parking and logo-bearing apparel. The package, already approved by the Senate, would also include six new lottery games and sales tax deferral on stadium construction.
Locke will meet with House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-Wenatchee, on Saturday to discuss the issue.
The plan, which Coffey says doesn’t have the needed 50 votes in the House, is still alive, although one stadium supporter said he will ignore it for now.
“We don’t care about the Senate version,” said Rep. Steve Van Luven, a Bellevue Republican who has led efforts to build a new stadium in the House. “The Senate bill is moot.”
Van Luven has a new plan that he says will get 50 votes, if party leadership allows him to propose it. He says it is the eighth alternative he has proposed since SB5999 passed in the Senate. Football Northwest, Allen’s lobbying group, objected to the others, which would have asked for more money from the billionaire.
“Everything I’ve presented to them, they haven’t liked,” Van Luven said. “Olympia is made up of compromise and they don’t know how to do that.”
Any bill different from SB5999 would also have to be approved by the Senate before heading to the governor’s desk. It is unlikely such legislation would be embraced by Football Northwest.
“If it does put a bigger hit on us, the answer again would be no,” Coffey said. “They can go with a different plan if they want to. The only plan we’re going to go with is the governor’s plan.”
Some argue a different plan could give the Legislature some leverage.
“We could throw something out there and (Allen) could take it or leave it,” said Rep. Duane Sommers, a Spokane Republican. “That’s what he is doing to us.”
With most bills not related to the budget facing a 5 p.m. deadline for passage, Ballard opted to conduct votes on other bills. A lengthy stadium debate would have come at the expense of other legislation.
“(Ballard) has a full agenda and football is not on it,” Van Luven said. “I don’t blame him. We’ve got some real problems.”
Ballard said he won’t allow a vote unless there are enough votes to pass it.
“(Stadium supporters) think there’s some kind of plot to block a vote on it,” Ballard said. “The problem is they don’t have the votes. If they have the votes we will give them a chance to vote on it.”
Ballard is also getting frustrated with the pressure being applied to pass the bill. On the floor Friday afternoon, he said legislative aides have been receiving abusive phone calls from people wanting a stadium vote before 5 p.m. He encouraged members to tell their aides to hang up on such calls.
“Unfortunately, people don’t seem to understand we have an agenda here such as the budget,” Ballard said.
Rep. Tim Sheldon, a Hoodsport Democrat who opposes putting the stadium on the ballot, was ready anyway. He distributed nine amendments to House members, which would have largely gutted the bill.
“I don’t think you can just say, ‘Let the people decide,”’ Sheldon said. “There’s a tremendous amount of money that can be spent on a public relations campaign to win the election.”
Though four of five Eastern Washington senators voted in favor of putting the stadium on the ballot, area House members haven’t budged from their opposing stance. Many aren’t as concerned about the financing proposals as they are about the notion of tearing down the Kingdome for a new facility.
Others simply don’t know how a stadium in Seattle would benefit Spokane.
“It doesn’t benefit us in Spokane. It is a detriment,” Sommers said. “However we pay for it, it’s investment in someone else’s town.”