Billionaire Paul Allen is close to dropping his bid to buy the Seattle Seahawks because the conservative state House refuses to vote on a proposal to finance a new stadium, a top aide warned Monday.
Bob Whitsitt, president of Allen’s Football Northwest organization, said repeated efforts by Rep. Steve Van Luven and others to replace a proposed retail tax on licensed logo-bearing sporting goods with more of Allen’s money have put the future of the football team in jeopardy.
“He seems to have more proposals than Baskin Robbins has flavors,” Whitsitt said of the Bellevue Republican’s well-publicized endeavors. “And the flavor today is Rocky Road because we’re very close to this not happening.”
Both sides took a few verbal jabs Monday with time running short for Allen to keep his promise of taking the stadium-financing issue to Washington voters before his option to buy the team expires July 1. Elections officials say they need about two months to set up the special election that Allen wants to schedule June 17.
Allen, a Microsoft co-founder, maintains that the sports tax is the fairest way to pay for a modern stadium, which he believes is a pre-requisite for turning the losing team into a success.
Other elements of the $425 million stadium plan include special lottery games, taxes on stadium admissions and parking, a sales tax credit and personal money from Allen.
The sports tax, which would produce an estimated $98 million in revenue, was included in a bill that was passed by the Senate earlier this month.
But at least 60 of the House’s 98 members, including some key leaders, oppose that tax. The measure needs 50 votes to win House approval.
“If they want the Senate bill, it’s dead, finished, over,” House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, said in an interview. “We need to get some discussions going on something else.
“A retail tax is not going to happen, but if we can come up with something else that can get 50 votes, we’ll act on it.”
Van Luven, whose district includes the Seahawks’ Kirkland headquarters, is soliciting support for a bill replacing the sports tax with another $53 million from Allen, who has pledged to come up with $100 million in personal funds and from the sale of “personal seat licenses.”
Van Luven also wants Allen to share 20 percent of the stadium’s non-football revenues, such as profits from the annual boat show.
“I’ve been at it for a couple of hours and I’ve got 20 signatures. I don’t think they (Football Northwest) got that in two months,” Van Luven said.
Whitsitt said Van Luven’s proposal won’t work because boosting the private share of the project would cause it to lose eligibility for tax-exempt public bonds. That could add millions to the cost of the project, he said.
Whitsitt also took exception to lawmakers’ claims that Football Northwest refuses to negotiate. He noted that Allen has agreed to a number of requests, including:
Capping the public’s investment at $325 million.
Providing 10 percent of the stadium’s seats at an “affordable” price.
Dropping a proposed tax on rental cars.
Paying $1 million a year to promote special lottery games designed to raise money for the stadium.
Reducing the sports tax from 10 percent to 2.5 percent.
But key lawmakers still aren’t buying it.
“Their movement has been very slight,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Tom Huff, a Gig Harbor Republican and one of the leading opponents of the sports tax. “The fact remains they haven’t moved on the logo tax. They’ve been playing games with it.”
Some lawmakers also have questioned why Allen doesn’t pay for the stadium himself, especially since the value of his Microsoft stock skyrocketed by nearly $1 billion following a terrific earnings report last week.
“Paul could afford it last fall, just like he could now,” Whitsitt said. “How much money Paul Allen has has never been an issue. It’s been about a partnership from day one - a fair partnership.”
Whitsitt also sought to quash rumors that current Seahawks owner Ken Behring will give Allen an extension on his $20 million option to buy the team.
“The deadline is July 1. That will not change,” said Whitsitt, who added that he talked to Behring over the weekend.
Behring tried to move the team to California last year, and many Seahawks supporters believe he’ll try again if Allen drops his bid to buy the team.
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