Saturday, January 23, 2010

Where does the rest of the money go? ...and the remainder of the revenues must be deposited in the affordable housing account

Thursday, January 28th, 2010, 8 am, in the Washington State House Finance Committee HB 2912 is scheduled for public hearing. The current bill title, Modifying local excise taxes in counties that have pledged lodging tax revenues for the payment of bonds prior to June 26, 1975., doesn't really say what is gong on with this bill.

What do the taxes fund now?
Safeco Field, the forgotten rubble that was the King Dome, bits of Qwest Field.

Where do the taxes come from?
You, you dope. Well, mostly King County wide hotel tax, parking taxes at Safeco Field, with a little bit of car rental taxes mixed in.

Why now?
These taxes could start to expire and close at the end of this year or possible during the next legislative session next year. An existing tax can be redirected by majority vote of both legislative houses. If they were to allow those taxes to close then you are looking at the possibility of a 60% majority needed for a new tax. Even if that 60% is knocked back down to 50% (+1), the chances of creating a new tax anytime soon is very unlikely.

There is an oddity in that Safeco Field will not need the taxes it is using right now when the bonds are paid off, but in about 5 years the stadium will turn 20 (I know, feels like yesterday) and the lease with the Mariners will end. I distinctly remember Joe Zarelli saying something about a year ago about not having the Mariners in a "Sonics" type situation in a couple of years. The public has an investment and we need to maintain it.

So, aren't there more important things we should be spending this non-general fund money on between now and the end of the Mariner's lease?
Well, yes, but let's not forget that there are businesses that carry this tax on top of there prices that could put them at a competitive disadvantage, so, there should be a little secondary benefit somewhere along the way.
First let's look at a significant want, and a real need:
On and after the date the debt on the stadium is retired, and through December 31, 2015, one-half of the revenues under this section in a county of one million five hundred thousand or more must be deposited in the arts and cultural account under (d)(i) of this subsection, and the remainder of the revenues must be deposited in the affordable housing account under (d)(ii) of this subsection.
Arts and Cultural accounts are, as you may have guessed, not getting much from the state, county, or city, general funds. Maybe they shouldn't, and maybe this makes more sense as art of a longer term solution.

The affordable housing part is a obvious need. Seattle voters approved an "affordable housing" levy last Fall. Trying to get the rest of King County to step up to that right now is a near impossible task. So, specifically, here is the what is meant by affordable housing.
(ii) At least thirty-seven and one-half percent of the revenues shall be deposited in an affordable housing account for the purposes of distributions to nonprofit organizations or public housing authorities for affordable workforce housing near or at transit stations. For the purposes of this section, "affordable workforce housing" means housing for a single person, family, or unrelated persons living together whose income is at or below one hundred twenty percent of the median income, adjusted for household size, for the county where the housing is located.
(iii) The balance of the revenues must be deposited in a special purposes account under section 8 of this act.
Affordable housing, you can't be serious. . . unless you're Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp.

In addition, LaBorde said, TCC may take advantage of the fact that House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43) has expressed support for allowing local governments to use their hotel/motel taxes for housing. King County’s hotel/motel tax is currently paying off bonds on Seattle’s downtown stadiums; that money will become available for other purposes in 2016. LaBorde suggested that TCC might support spending some of that money on affordable housing near transit stations—one of the major goals of last year’s transit-oriented communities bill, which would have increased density around light rail stops.
Erica C. Barnett,
at, Things Don’t Look Good for Transit Next Year, 12/04/2009.

Section 8 of the bill is a laundry list of things, such as the eventual repairs to Safeco Field:
NEW SECTION. Sec. 8. A new section is added to chapter 67.28 RCW to read as follows:
(1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, money deposited in a special purposes account under this section may be used only for one or more of the following purposes within the county:
(a) Funding nonprofit organizations providing public health services;
(b) Funding nonprofit organizations providing human service programs;
(c) Funding tourism promotion as defined in RCW 67.28.080;
(d) Funding youth or amateur sports activities or facilities; (e) Funding regional centers; (f) Funding performing arts centers;
(g) Maintaining or improving publicly owned stadiums or arenas as long as improvements can be made without economic harm to existing tenants of those stadiums or arenas; or
(h) Funding community preservation and development authorities created in chapter 43.167 RCW.
(2) Beginning in calendar year 2013, funding must be provided annually in an amount necessary to maintain a stadium constructed by a public facilities district under the authority of RCW 36.100.035.

This legislation lived and died last session as HB 2252, and SB 6116. This time around it has a heavy "affordable housing" element that should provide broader support.
The bill ten sponsors appear to provide a united front, Sponsors: Representatives Quall, Carlyle, O'Brien, Ericks, Dunshee, Sullivan, Blake, Jacks, Hunter, Maxwell

Many hands make light work.

Best of luck to you Ross Hunter.

Have a great day,
Mike Baker

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