Friday, February 27, 2009

Mayor Nickels, what is the plan now?

An open letter to City of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels:
Mr. Nickels,
Why did the city support Ross Hunter's HB 2250 for the convention center? David Foster, your lobbyist, was identified in today's legislative meeting in support of the project but declined to testify.
Washington State Legislative bill cutoff has passed and I do not see a bill in direct support of Seattle Center, and yet the convention center is getting a go-ahead to figure out what they are going to do and then come back in a year with an actual plan. I understand that they want to secure the county air space (space above the county land), but what they have effectively done is to have taken the 2% sales tax matching portion back to the state right now (understandable), but then they claim its use through at least through 2030. On some level the city, you, have to agree to this as the local municipality.

If this is not the mechanism for the city to retain state funding authority for Seattle Center, and possibly KeyArena, then what is?

What's the plan now that you have agreed through city support of the convention center?

Thank you for your time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Stadium Bill, HB 2252, Sponsored by State Representative Hunter

Washington State Representative Ross Hunter's has posted on his Bills Sponsored page House Bill 2252 that pays for, in part, Acquiring, constructing, maintaining, or operating public
12 sports stadium facilities
This is the county-wide sales tax on hotels, restaurant, and car rentals that the University of Washington's Husky Stadium. This may also be the source of revenue to pay 1/4 the cost of remodeling KeyArena. It was my understanding from proposals made to the legislature last year that the City of Seattle was requesting 1% of the funds generated from a 7% hotel tax that is collected just in the city that is slated for the Washington State Convention & Trade Center's expansion. It may eventually become the source, but in its current form the bill that pays for the convention center, House Bill 2250, makes no mention of Seattle Center or KeyArena. For that matter, House Bill 2252 doesn't directly mention Seattle Center or KeyArena either.

I expect one of these bills to change in order to satisfy the settlement agreement between the City of Seattle and Clay Bennett. Bennett is on the hook for 30 million dollars if the state and city approve a revenue source for the arena remodel and a team can not be located by 8/17/2013 to play in it. Finding a team doesn't look like too much a problem in the current state of the economy, but there is not good reason to overlook a 30 million dollar technicality.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hunter, Chopp, Closer to KeyArena Solution

As noted in a prior story, on February 12th story No buzz about NBA returning to Seattle AP Reporter Tim Booth had unknowingly passes along the missing piece in the arena puzzle to KeyArena rebuild hopefuls like me.
The reporter, Tim Booth, summarized Washington State House Finance Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Madina, statements thusly, "he was working with House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, on a plan for stadium funding that everybody can live with, but wasn't willing to disclose any details."

In the past 3 years Frank Chopp has been in to opposition to stadium and arena solutions that involved the state, even when the revenue did not come from the state's general fund. Speaker Chopp and others were so dissatisfied with the relationship between state-wide priorities and the local community needs of anything in King County (and Seattle) that a state task force was formed to construct a solution.
Joint Task Force Local Financing Options for King County had been formed, with Ross Hunter as a co-chair, and Washington State senator Ed Murray as a member. The task force was presented with a variety of proposals to use the county-wide hotel/care rental/ restaurant tax, as well as the Seattle only hotel tax. Some of these locally collected taxes have state sales tax credits contributing to their funds.

Unfortunately the task force did not produce a report of recommendations of what the locally collected funds should be spent on, with Mr Hunter commenting to a Tacoma News Tribune writer that there isn't a natural jurisdiction for this situation.

As Mr Hunter stated back in December in the Tacoma News tribune, his personal preference is that the state sales tax component goes back to the state. Mr. Hunter was quoted in Friday's web edition of the Seattle PI as reiterated that same preference for returning the state's portion back to the state.

Here are some key quotes, with my commentary interspersed:

"I think I've got something that will work here," said Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina and chairman of the House Finance committee. "I am very close to releasing a plan."

Hunter would not offer specifics, saying he is awaiting approval from House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.

He said his plan would not include a penny of state money but would be financed entirely by money raised in the city.

To a great extent this was the idea all along, what I think is useful is that he is being quoted in public explicitly stating the position before the inevitable argument is made by sports haters. How he constructs this is still largely unknown.

Hunter said he has no problem allowing the city to impose its own taxes but feels no pressure to enable Seattle to cash in on the bonus [from Clay Benett].

"I would go out of my way to figure out a way to take $30 million from those guys in Oklahoma City. I would go out of my way to do that just for the fun of it, just for the sport," Hunter said. But "the fact that Seattle has negotiated a deal that (is meant to) force me to act is not attractive to me."

Mr. Bennett named Mr. Hunter and Mr. Chopp as the people that stopped Bennett's quest for a free 500 million dollar stadium to be built in Renton Washington.

Seattle had asked lawmakers to allow the city to tap a local hotel and motel tax surcharge that is used to pay off previous work at the Seattle Convention Center. That tax source is raking in money more quickly than previously projected. But the idea of extending it to KeyArena does not have traction in Olympia, Hunter said.

It appears that Mr. Hunter will take back the state's sales tax component, while Ed Murray is proposing that the convention center proposal move forward.

"There is no appetite down here for fixing KeyArena with state dollars," he [Hunter] said.

Hunter said his plan would not rely on admission taxes, which are better used for facility maintenance. He hinted it might include money for affordable housing -- a pet concern for Chopp.

Despite its surplus, the convention center tax is not an option for KeyArena because it is partly funded through a state sales tax credit, Hunter said.

"I want the state's money back," Hunter said.

The credit costs the state about $10 million a year, he said. Without that portion of the convention center revenue stream, the taxes do not raise enough to overhaul KeyArena.

There you go, 10 million dollars, the one percent the City of Seattle was hoping to use is sort of being identified as the state's portion the convention center fund. Mr. Hunter has doubts about the convention center's proposal, and has sliced off 10 million dollars from that same fund.

Here is state's position, or at least Hunter's, as it relates to the City of Seattle, and the settlement between the city and Clay Bennett.

But he has no problem "getting out of the way" of local governments that want to make their own tax decisions, he said.

Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis believes a pair of motivations will encourage lawmakers to help the city, despite the Legislature's previous rejections of KeyArena tax proposals. One incentive is the $30 million payoff. The other is that the future of Seattle Center is to some degree tied to the health of KeyArena.

"Seattle Center is a more sympathetic issue than NBA basketball," Ceis said.

Still, the state faces a biennial shortfall of $6 billion or more, and lawmakers are facing cries for help from every corner.

"This is not an easy proposal for this legislative session," Ceis said.

Hunter said he would not be "embarrassed" into granting the city authority so it can chase the bonus. That provision was intended to put political pressure on the Legislature, Hunter said.

"You know, children do stuff like this," he said.

"So I feel no compulsion to act on this simply because Seattle has negotiated a deal without consulting with me beforehand. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn't, I'm sorry."

"I might have agreed to it ahead of time if they asked me but they didn't," Hunter said. "I just don't like that whole transaction."

This is the environment the lowly citizen (me) toils in while attempting to encourage the right people to do the right thing.

So, there is not going to be a specific KeyArena solution prescribed by the state, and absolutely not with any state funds. This is a broader problem requiring a broader solution that takes the state out of the role of deciding local issues where the state does not have a direct financial interest.

Hunter is separately working on broader legislation to reform financing of major facilities, he said.

Qwest Field, Safeco Field and the Convention Center were all paid for through a tax source deliberately set to raise more money than was needed -- to ensure better bond ratings, he said.

But that results in surplus funds that are inevitably raided by "rapacious" budget writers, Hunter said. Next thing you know, governments or programs are relying on that extra money for tangential needs.

Hunter is also keeping the details of that plan quiet until he can get Chopp's approval.

There you have it, the state government trying to get out of the way, out of participating in any way in stadiums and arenas.
This morning Brian Robinson at stating his feeling of hope.

Have a great day,
Mr Baker

(17% recycled content from prior stories)

Thursday, February 12, 2009 Unknowingly gives fans hope

In the February 12th story No buzz about NBA returning to Seattle AP Reporter Tim Booth unknowingly passes along the missing piece in the arena puzzle to KeyArena rebuild hopefuls like me.
Booth says, "[Washington State] House Finance Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Madina, said Thursday, he was working with House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, on a plan for stadium funding that everetbody can live with, but wasn't willing to disclose any details."

Mr. Booth, that is the buzz. At no point in the past 3 years could you find the name Frank Chopp in connection with a stadium unless it was in reference to opposition. I had heard rumors that somebody had something drafted, but none of it had a connection to Hunter actually working on anything, and nobody has mentioned that Mr. Hunter was working with Mr. Chopp, until your report.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;

Have a great day,
Mr Baker
Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Washington State Senator Ed Murray Needs a KeyArena Bill

The Washington State Convention Center made a move for its slice of the non-general fund revenue pie that proponents of the KeyArena remodel are also interested in utilizing. On February 5th Washington State Senator Ed Murray sponsored bill 5875 AN ACT Relating to the convention place station expansion of the state convention and trade center. This proposal is intended to allow the the Washington State Convention & Trade Center to spend 766 million dollars to expand its facility by building a second building across the street from the current location in downtown Seattle, essentially doubling its capacity.

The revenue to support this big build comes from an existing 7% sales tax added on top of the existing state sales tax on hotels just in Seattle. The hotels must have 60 or more rooms, so, larger downtown hotels are effected. This tax is currently paying off the first big building. the debt against the original facility. Senator Ed Murray was quoted during the 5pm KING News broadcast tonight as saying the convention center currently turned away 1.7 billion dollars in business over the past 4 years, motivating the convention center to request the expantion.

This revenue is not part of the state's general fund, so taking for spreading around the rest of the state is to be avoided. This actually happened last year to plug some state budget holes and that made the Seattle hoteliers very angry. It is very likely that if the fund were to be taken again that the hoteliers would take legal action. It may not be popular to promote this project, but the alternative use for this fund may be legally problematic. But as Senator Murray was quoted on television tonight he said the expantion would employ 300 contruction workers, and 3,500 employees once it is built.

What is important about this bill is that there has been an agreement of some kind between the convention center folks and the City of Seattle to share that 7% sales tax when it becomes available, 6% for the convention center and 1% for Seattle Center. The city is planning on requesting that last 1% to fund the remodel of Seattle Center's KeyArena (that is one word, KeyArena).

Senator Murray said tonight on KING 5 News that nobody has approched him about a Seattle Center KeyArena bill. I had sent Mr. Murray an email on February 5th concerning both the his convention center bill, and requesting that he sponsor or supports a similar bill for KeyArena. I also sent a similar email to one of the bill co-sponsors Senator Ken Jacobsen who is my representitive, as well as an email to Representitive Ross Hunter. Murray and Hunter both served on a task force that was supposed to recommend projects using this local funding source. The convention center and Seattle Center presentations were made back to back to Mr. Hunter and Mr. Murray's task force on December 2nd, 2008. If Ed Murray has the ability to write a bill for the convention center then what, other than personal desire, is stopping him from writing a bill for Seattle Center.
Who has to contact Ed Murray in order for him to write another bill that is almost the same bill as he had written for the convention center. Is this supposed to be the city asking, another legislator?

Brian Robinson at Sonics Central has mentioned that there is a bill that has been drafted and had a fed revisions. Does Rd Murray know about this, or is what he said what he did to force that bill out?

Have a great day,
Mr Baker
Sent from my iPhone