OLYMPIA – Senators heard testimony Wednesday on a bill that would extend temporary taxes on hotel stays, restaurants and car rentals to help fund an expansion of the Washington State Convention Center and several other economic development projects.
Revenue from the taxes, first created in 1995, has been paying off the construction of the Kingdome, Safeco Field and Qwest Field. The debt on Safeco Field – where the Seattle Mariners play – is expected to be paid within the year.
The bill, approved 55-42 in the House earlier this month, extends the 0.5 percent restaurant tax until 2015. It extends indefinitely a 2 percent car rental tax to raise revenue for revitalization projects in Seattle’s Pioneer Square-International District and the convention center expansion.
The expansion would create several thousand new jobs – much-needed employment growth as the state struggles economically, King County Executive Dow Constantine said before a packed committee room Wednesday.
“This bill is about rebuilding confidence in our local industries and reinvesting in our state’s economy,” he said.
Constantine estimated that the projects would attract an additional 130,000 people per year to Seattle and King County, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars more in tax revenues. That money could go toward arts and cultural programs, as well as the construction of housing for hospitality and service workers, supporters have said.
However, a recent survey of 405 Seattle voters by independent pollster Stuart Elway showed that 57 percent were against continuing the taxes as proposed in the bill.
Opponents have said that lawmakers should keep their promise of ending the taxes once the stadiums are debt-free.
The Kingdome and Qwest Field – the former and current homes of the Seattle Seahawks – have not been paid off, King County spokesman Sung Yang said.
“When elected officials promise something, they should keep their promise,” Doris Cassan of Dollar Rent A Car told senators Wednesday.
Representatives from several other car rental companies testified against the bill, saying tourists aren’t the only ones who rent cars. Low-income people and local residents whose cars are being repaired also are customers, as well as state agencies and school districts, they said.