Councilmember Licata left office on January 1, 2016.
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Urban Politics #210: The Sonics & Your Tax Dollars

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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.



The Sonics & Your Tax Dollars – State Legislators Need to Hear from Citizens

The State Legislature is currently considering two bills, House Bill 3233 and Senate Bill 6849, which will open the door for the Sonics to receive over $240 million in public subsidies.

These bills do not mention the Sonics in their titles, although their attorneys helped craft them. The titles simply state that local taxes will be extended to fund arts and cultural institutions and programs, tourism promotion and publicly owned sports and entertainment facilities. They also do not require a public vote to extend and divert taxes currently being collected for the baseball and football stadiums. Public votes were taken regarding the public funding of the baseball and football stadiums.

Many legislators are under the belief that these bills will help the City by allowing these funds to pay off the current debt on the Key Arena facility if the Sonics remain there. Seattle does need to determine how to operate the Key Arena in the black. When the Sonic’s lease expires in 2010, the city will have a remaining debt of $24 million left over from the 1995 remodel of the Key Arena for the Sonics.

If the Sonics chose not to return to the Arena, according to our best projections, we will have a net loss of $16 million for 4 years, after which that facility should be operating in the black. The Sonic’s proposal is to solve this remaining city debt by taking on a general public debt of $240 million or more.

If House Bill 3233, or its companion Senate Bill 6849, do not pass, legislators should consider using the same revenue streams identified in those bills to promote tourism in this region through the support of multiple cultural, entertainment and heritage facilities. And in that process the remaining city debt on the Key Arena could be folded in at a far lower cost to the general public than issuing bonds for over $240 million.

An Economic Impact Study of Arts and Cultural Organizations in King County:2003, conducted by GMA Research said: “In 2003 $835 million in business activity was generated in King County by the spending of these patrons and cultural organizations. In addition some 23,600 jobs and $383 million in labor income was generated due to these activities.” If either of the above bills pass, one organization, the Sonics, will be in a position to receive over $240 million in tax dollars, which will consume over 80% of the tax revenue stream. If the bills do not pass, then new legislation could distribute this revenue stream in a manner that would fund many more organizations in King County at a fraction of the cost.

Sonics owner Howard Shultz has said that these bills must pass this session, which ends March 9th; his lobbyists have been meeting with legislators one on one. If the Sonics owners do not receive this subsidy, Mr. Shultz has said that the team may be sold or moved out of Seattle.

The general public has not been swayed by this apparent threat. Three polls have shown that the citizens do not want to subsidize another professional sports team.

1) A poll of King County voters identifying themselves as “independents” the first week of February showed that only 7% of them support the Sonics receiving a public subsidy in order to keep them here.

2) A KING TV poll taken the last week in January showed that 65% of Seattle residents do not support using tax dollars to keep professional basketball in town.

3) An October 2005 poll of Seattle voters by Hebert Research Company showed that 79% were opposed to using tax dollars to keep the Sonics in Seattle.

The Metropolitan Democratic Club (MDC), at its regular meeting of February 8th, passed a motion stating that it “Opposes any legislation going forward regarding Key Arena before the Seattle City Council takes action on this issue in 2006.” The City Council currently is studying financing options for the Key Arena and will consider these alternatives in April. At MDC’s next meeting their Chair, former State Representative Pete Francis, will be considering another motion to “Oppose the Sonic’s proposal that taxpayers pay for another Key Arena remodel.”

State Legislators have heard little from their constituents or Legislative District Organizations on this issue. If you want to influence this decision making process, you can contact your state legislator and the sponsors of the Sonic’s legislation.

** SPECIAL NOTE – The following information is from 2006 and may be outdated, for information on how to reach your currnet WA State Legislators please check here: 

SPONSORS OF House Bill 3233 and Senate Bill 6849,

Representative Jim McIntire
206- 368-4489

Representative Phyllis Kenney

Representative Marilyn Chase
(206) 366-2604

Senator Margarita Prentice

Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles
206- 281-6854


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