Nation/World


House Approves Seahawks Stadium Bill All 10 Spokane-Area Legislator Vote Against Measure That Now Goes To Senate, Then Voters

Washington voters are one step closer to having a say on whether or not to build a new football stadium in Seattle.

The House voted 56-41 Friday night to approve spending $425 million on the stadium for the Seahawks.

The money also buys a new exhibition center for home shows, boat shows and other events now held at the Kingdome, which would be demolished.

The new stadium would be built next door to the $414 million Mariners baseball stadium now under construction.

The measure now goes to the Senate for consideration, possibly as soon as today. The Senate is expected to approve the bill, which would move it along to the voters for consideration in a special election in June.

Paul Allen, the Mercer Island billionaire, has an option to buy the team that expires July 1. Allen said he would not buy the team unless he gets a new stadium.

He’s putting up $100 million toward the cost of the stadium, including $50 million from the sale of permanent seat licenses at the stadium.

The rest of the money comes from tax hikes on tickets and parking at the stadium, state sales tax credits and exemptions on taxes paid in King County, and deferrals and creation of new lottery games.

Rep. Steve Van Luven, R-Bellevue, prime sponsor of the bill, said the stadium will bring money into the state and joy to kids for generations.

Other lawmakers who said they plan to vote against the measure at the ballot said they voted for it Friday just to give the people a chance to have a final say on the matter.

“I’ve been against it from day one,” said Rep. Scott Smith, R-Graham, “but the issue before us today is should this issue go to the people. This is clearly an issue the voters want to vote on.”

All 10 Spokane-area legislators voted against the bill.

As lobbyists for Allen watched from the House gallery, members debated for more than four hours and voted down scores of amendments to the bill that would have sweetened the deal for taxpayers.

Some amendments would have forced Allen to divert some of the advertising revenue from the stadium to pay off the debt sooner. Others would have forced him to pay a fair market rent for the facility, which will be publicly owned.

Other amendments would have limited campaign spending, so Allen would not have a crushing financial advantage if the measure goes to the ballot in a month and a half.

It, too, was defeated. So was an amendment to make more seats available at the stadium at an affordable price.

Many of the amendments were defeated before they were even offered, killed by lawmakers’ decision to build the stadium with $300 million in tax-exempt, general obligation bonds.

By going the tax-exempt route, the project must be publicly funded at 90 percent, according to federal law. So every effort to get Allen to pay more or retire the debt service sooner was turned away as a deal-breaker.

Allen did agree to cover the estimated $3.4 million cost of the special election, spend $1 million a year promoting the lottery games and contribute $10 million to state funds for schools and community athletic facilities.

Allen also agreed to drop a tax on logo-bearing sporting goods in the face of powerful opposition from merchandisers, teams and leagues.

But not every lawmaker was swayed. For every dollar the taxpayer puts in, Paul Allen will put in 9 cents, said Rep. Tim Sheldon, D-Hoodsport.

“I am against this kind of welfare,” said Rep. Duane Sommers, R-Spokane.

Allen is in a position to get his investment back from stadium revenues. Taxpayers, meanwhile, will have to wait more than 20 years to pay off the debt.

Taxpayers are on the hook for the debt no matter what happens. If revenues fall short from the financing package, lawmakers could pass additional tax credits or increases to put more into the stadium.

That means the financing package voters will decide in June could change down the road.

Future borrowing against the general fund to pay off the bonds would also be allowed. An amendment to prevent it was narrowly defeated by three votes.

Rep. Brian Thomas, R-Renton, chairman of the House Finance Committee, said few lawmakers seriously questioned the financing package. They just wanted to push the bill on to voters so they could have their say.

So many different finance packages and amendments were floated in the process of putting the deal together some members gave up keeping track, Thomas said.

“It has changed so many times I think everyone out here is numb. I raise all these issues with them and all I get is ‘Duh,”’ he said. “All they are thinking is ‘Are we going to save football?’ Or they figure someone smarter than them has figured it out. Don’t worry.”

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHO GETS WHAT Football Northwest, Paul Allen’s company: Expedited permit and environmental reviews; all revenues from sale of seat licenses; naming rights; advertising revenues; license and concession agreements at the stadium; subleasing agreements; luxury suite licenses; parking fees. The public: Local owner for Seahawks keeps the team in Seattle; $300 million cap on public cost; guarantee that Paul Allen’s company will eat any cost overruns of the project; requirement that Allen pays $100 million toward the $425 cost of the project; Allen pays the cost of special, statewide election on the stadium deal in June; Allen pays at least $1 million a year to promote lotteries raising money for the stadium.

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

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHO GETS WHAT Football Northwest, Paul Allen’s company: Expedited permit and environmental reviews; all revenues from sale of seat licenses; naming rights; advertising revenues; license and concession agreements at the stadium; subleasing agreements; luxury suite licenses; parking fees. The public: Local owner for Seahawks keeps the team in Seattle; $300 million cap on public cost; guarantee that Paul Allen’s company will eat any cost overruns of the project; requirement that Allen pays $100 million toward the $425 cost of the project; Allen pays the cost of special, statewide election on the stadium deal in June; Allen pays at least $1 million a year to promote lotteries raising money for the stadium.

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


 

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