It’s now up to voters to decide whether to spend $300 million in public money to build a new football stadium in Seattle for the Seahawks.
The Senate kicked the issue to the ballot with a 28-21 vote last night in less than 10 minutes with no debate. The measure will be on ballots statewide by June 20.
In one of only two brief speeches before the vote, Sen. Alex Deccio, R-Yakima, prime sponsor of the bill, told lawmakers their vote was not to approve the funding proposal. Instead he encouraged lawmakers to think of it as just a way to send the measure to the voters, so they can decide for themselves whether to approve it and keep the Seahawks in Seattle.
The quick approval in the Senate was a sharp contrast to the more than four-hour debate in the House, where members anguished long and loud over the substance of the bill and whether to spend public money on the project.
The Legislature’s approval caps months of wrangling over the stadium bill.
The proposal, pushed by Mercer Island billionaire Paul Allen, languished in Olympia for months. Then it died in a Senate budget committee; came back to life on the Senate floor; nearly died again in the House, and was finally re-written, resurrected, and adopted in the final days of the legislative session.
Allen spent more than $1 million on his lobbying campaign to get the measure through the Legislature. Now he will go into campaign mode, with no legal limits on the amount he can spend.
Allen is putting up more than $3 million to pay for the special election.
Big-money opposition to the plan melted when lawmakers got rid of a tax on sports memorabilia and clothing with sports logos.
Heavyweights like the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Nike with their foot on the bill walked off the field when the sports tax was scrapped.
The $425 million project includes the $325 million stadium, a $45 million exhibition hall, and parking. The exhibition hall will replace the Kingdome, a 21-year-old stadium that still isn’t paid for.
The Dome will be torn down and the football stadium built on the site, next door to the new $414 million baseball stadium now under construction for the Mariners.
Allen will kick in $100 million toward the cost of the project. That includes $50 million from the sale of so-called personal seat licenses, purchased by fans who want to sit in the same seat at every game.
The rest of the project will be paid for with public money through a complex financing plan. Its major components include $101 million in state sales taxes paid in King County; $40 million in state sales taxes paid on hotel and motel rooms in King County; a tax break on state sales taxes on construction of the stadium, and creation of new lottery games. Ticket taxes and parking taxes at the stadium will also raise $54 million.
The stadium and exhibition facility would be owned by the public, but built and operated by Allen.
He assumes all risk for cost overruns during construction as part of the project.
His company also gets all the revenue from concessions and license agreements at the stadium and money from stadium operations. Advertising revenues and money paid for the right to name the stadium will also go toward stadium maintenance and Allen’s bottom line.
Efforts to require Allen to put more money into the deal were blocked in part by lawmakers decision to pay for the project with $300 million in tax-exempt, state general obligation bonds.
To keep the tax exemption, the deal has to be financed primarily by the public. The tax exemption keeps the overall cost of the project down by reducing borrowing costs.
Republicans Bob McCaslin, and Jim West of Spokane, and Bob Morton of Orient voted yes. Republican Eugene Prince of Thornton and Democrat Lisa Brown of Spokane voted no.