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Originally published Monday, March 14, 2011 at 3:51 PM

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Guest columnist

Extend visitor taxes to support convention center

The Washington State Convention Center needs to be expanded to generate more jobs and economic activity in King County. Guest columnists Anthony Anton, Phil Bussey and Howard Cohen argue that taxes set to expire should be extended for the convention center and arts, culture and tourism programs

Special to The Times

CREATING jobs is the surest way out of this recession.

Investing in our ability to compete is how we build prosperity for the people of Washington state. And we expect our elected leaders to step up and use the various tools at their disposal to create jobs.

That's why the local business community and the restaurant and hotel industry support a proposal now before the state Legislature to redirect a set of visitor taxes to fund expansion of the Washington State Convention Center, support arts and culture programs and promote tourism.

The revenues to support these activities come from continuing a set of existing visitor taxes in King County. These are taxes on tourism that are largely paid by tourists, and whose revenues are used to promote tourism and to create facilities that attract more visitors.

We supported the original enactment of these taxes when what is now Safeco Field was first proposed, because of the promise that the revenues would be reinvested to create jobs and economic development by attracting even greater numbers of visitors. House Bill 1997 honors that promise.

The Convention Center expansion will draw 130,000 additional visitors to King County every year. Direct spending from these visitors is estimated to be a quarter billion dollars each year. The project itself will create 4,500 temporary construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs.

The expansion is needed because the facility is small, and currently ranks 68th in size in North America. But demand is strong. It has the highest utilization and generates more revenue per square foot than any other.

HB1997 will support arts and culture, activities that are also proven economic producers, generating $1.75 billion in business activity in our state's economy in 2009 and supporting nearly 30,000 jobs in King County alone. Funding for arts and culture is due to expire in 2012.

Of the taxes this proposal relies upon, it is important to note that extra sales tax paid by bar and restaurant patrons in King County to fund Safeco Field construction will end in 2015 under HB 1997. The certainty of this expiration is very important to restaurant owners, most of whom are small businesses.

Hotel/motel and car rental taxes are largely paid by tourists. We support this effort to draw more of those visitors to Washington state, to create prosperity for the people who live here.

Anthony Anton is the president and CEO of the Washington Restaurant Association; Phil Bussey is the President and CEO of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce; Howard Cohen is the president of the Seattle Hotel Association.

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