Urban Politics #190: Biodefense Facility

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



  • Biodefense Facility
  • Funding For The Arts And Heritage
  • Hotel-Motel Tax
  • Special Stadium Sales Tax
  • Admissions Tax
  • Council Seeks Ethics And Elections Committee Candidates


Biodefense Facility

Seattleites have gotten wind of an effort of the University of Washington to obtain $25 million in funding from the National Institute for Health (NIH) to support the construction of a new Regional Bio-containment Laboratory (RBL) to be used for biomedical research and research training.

See here: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/207526_bioterror12.html  and  http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2002148530_biolab12m.html

The UW says that this will be one of 8 regional centers in the country. Concerns have been raised by the UW Faculty and members of the public about issues such as community notification, security, probability and consequence of incidents, and the need for enhanced environmental review and monitoring.

I support the federal government’s efforts to research how biological weapons agents might be used against the public because of the renewed terrorist threats since 9/11 and the Iraq War.

As the Chair of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee I must be able to tell my constituents what level of exposure, if any, UW’s Regional Bio Lab will present to the public’s health should there be a release of biological agents. This is particularly important since the proposed location for the facility is immediately adjacent to the main E-W pedestrian pathway through South Campus, is surrounded by three open public through roads and lies close to a heavily used public waterway.

To that end, I have request a copy of their application to NIH in order to assess the potential liability to the public’s safety. Further, I will be reviewing the city’s land use code designations to determine whether the code adequately addresses the issues inherent in siting these facilities. As part of this effort I hope to convene a panel presentation of experts in the field of best practices for bio-safety for a public forum.

If you’d like to read more about this issue, link to the Sunshine Project, an international non-governmental organization working on biological weapons issues. http://www.sunshine-project.org/


Funding For The Arts And Heritage

In Seattle and King County, public funding for the arts comes from two key sources: the admissions tax in the City of Seattle, and the hotel-motel tax in King County. These funding sources are important because they offer sustained, long-term support for the arts that ensures stability and long-term viability of the arts in our community.

A GMA Research Corporation study released in November 2004 found the arts and heritage had an $844 million positive economic impact in King County in 2003, an amount far in excess of the amount invested.

In Seattle, 15% of the admissions tax collected in 2005 will go toward the arts, 20% in 2006. For King County, a portion of the hotel-motel tax goes toward “art museums, cultural museums, heritage museums, the arts, and the performing arts” countywide.

County money from the hotel-motel tax will sharply fall beginning in 2012, due to its use in paying off the bonds for Qwest Field and the former Kingdome. The City’s access to admissions tax revenue has also declined in recent years due to stadium funding methods.

To address this situation, I proposed a resolution (co-sponsored by Councilmembers Compton, Conlin, Godden and Rasmussen). The resolution calls on the state legislature to include increased funding for the arts (and heritage programs) in any revision of the King County hotel-motel tax beyond 2020, and for the City and King County to work with cultural and sports organization on any attempt to renew the special stadium sales tax once the bonds are paid off.

The resolution passed by an 8-0 vote on January 10.

Recent newspaper articles have raised the possibility that the Seattle Sonics may seek revisions to these or other taxes to fund renovations to Key Arena; they say they are losing money from the current agreement with the City of Seattle. The City also has an ongoing funding crisis at the Seattle Center.

Background on the taxes involved is listed below.


Hotel-Motel Tax

The hotel-motel tax is a 2% County tax on lodgings within the County. From 2001 to 2003, the tax has raised between $12.7 and $13.9 million annually. The first $5.3 million collected is reserved for retiring the Kingdome debt. Under state law, the rest is divided as follows:

– From 1992 to the end of 2000, 75% to arts, culture and heritage, 25% to stadium purposes, open space acquisition, youth sports, and tourism;

– From 2001 to the end of 2012, 70% for arts, culture and heritage, 30% to stadium purposes, open space acquisition, youth sports, and tourism;

– In addition, from 2001 to 2012, at least 40% of the 70% reserved for arts, culture and heritage is to be deposited in an account to establish an endowment;

– From 2013 to 2014, the entire proceeds are reserved for retiring the Kingdome debt.

– From 2015-2020, pay for Qwest Field construction bonds

The hotel-motel tax does not have a specified use after 2020.


Special Stadium Sales Tax

In 1995, the State Legislature authorized King County to pass, “a special stadium sales and use tax” in King County on food and beverages in restaurants, taverns and bars of five-tenths of one percent (0.5%). The King County Council adopted this and other provision in a funding plan the ballpark that was later to be named Safeco Field. The tax went into effect January 1, 1996, and from 2001 to 2003 raised between $15.1 to $15.6 million annually.

According to King County, the bonds issued for construction of Safeco Field are currently scheduled to be paid off in 2012, at which time the special stadium sales tax would expire.


Admissions Tax

The City of Seattle levies an admissions tax of 5% (with some exemptions). The City will dedicate 15% of admissions tax revenue to the arts in 2005, and 20% in 2006 (other than receipts generated by men’s professional basketball games).

The funding package for Safeco Field included a 5% admissions tax on tickets at the ballpark, which eliminated the City of Seattle’s admission tax for baseball games at the Kingdome. According to the 1998 EIS for the football stadium, this resulted in a $2.2 million loss in admissions tax revenue to the City of Seattle.

This tax will expire when the Safeco Field bonds are paid off.

The funding package for Qwest field included an admissions tax on events at the stadium and exhibition center of up to 10%, which eliminated the City’s tax, estimated by the 1998 EIS as a further $1.1 million impact on the City for non-baseball Kingdome events.

After the bonds for construction of Qwest Field are paid off, the football stadium admission tax will be used to fund stadium repairs and capital improvements.


Council Seeks Ethics And Elections Committee Candidates

The City Council is seeking candidates to serve on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Committee (SEEC). The Council has two upcoming appointments to make to the seven-person panel.

The SEEC interprets, administers and enforces the city’s elections code, code of ethics, and whistleblower protection code. They also publish the election pamphlet, and enforce limitations on campaign contributions, consider complaints, and authorize investigations.

The Council is particularly interested in increasing diversity on the commission, so women, persons with disabilities, sexual minorities, and persons of color are encouraged to apply.

Keep in touch…


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