Sponsor announces KeyArena bill "really dead"
A bill to help pay for an expansion of KeyArena was declared "dead" by its chief sponsor Wednesday, but a top aide to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels vowed to keeping trying to revive the proposal.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A bill to help pay for an expansion of KeyArena was declared "dead" by its chief sponsor Wednesday, but a top aide to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels vowed to keep trying to revive the proposal in the waning days of the legislative session.
The proposal, Substitute Senate Bill 6116, passed the Senate Ways & Means committee over the weekend and had appeared poised for a vote of the full Senate Wednesday evening.
But when majority Democrats talked about the bill in caucus, too many objections surfaced, according to Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the bill's prime sponsor.
"The bill is dead for the session. Really dead," Murray said.
Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said the city won't give up. "At this point in the session, nothing is dead," Ceis said.
The proposal wasn't just about KeyArena. It would have allowed King County to fund a smorgasbord of projects by tapping locally generated hotel, car-rental and restaurant taxes currently dedicated to paying off Safeco Field, Qwest Field and the demolished Kingdome.
Once the debt on those buildings is paid off, King County would get to shift the money to other projects under the proposal. That included the KeyArena expansion, future maintenance at Safeco Field, affordable housing around transit stations, subsidies for arts groups and potentially a controversial remodel of Husky Stadium.
Nickels' office hoped the big list of beneficiaries would help persuade lawmakers to approve the plan. (The bill was even tweaked to allow Yakima County to keep a portion of the state sales tax collected there to spruce up its fairgrounds.)
But that may have backfired, giving various legislators different reasons to dislike the bill.
Murray said the objections among Senate Democrats varied. Some opposed the KeyArena plan, but others didn't like the affordable-housing element, the arts funding or giving King County control over the taxes. Meanwhile, a plane trailing a banner reading "No Husky Stadium bailout tax!" circled the Capitol Wednesday afternoon.
If the KeyArena funding isn't revived, Seattle stands to lose out on a potential $30 million payment from the owners of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics.
That payment was agreed to last year by team owner Clay Bennett as part of the legal settlement allowing him to break the KeyArena lease and move the team.
But Bennett is only on the hook for the money if the Washington Legislature approves KeyArena funding by the end of the 2009 legislative session and then Seattle fails to get a replacement NBA team within five years.
"I just can't believe the Legislature would leave $30 million in Clay Bennett's pocket," Ceis said.
The bill's failure also could doom Seattle's best shot at landing a replacement NBA team in the near future.
A group of private investors led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has pledged to pay half the cost of the $300 million KeyArena expansion and buy a new NBA team if the public covers the other half of the arena cost.
But lawmakers have rejected four previous proposals to dedicate tax money to a new or renovated NBA arena.
As of Wednesday, it appears unlikely that either the prospect of revenge on Bennett's wallet -- or the uncertain prospect of a new NBA team for Seattle -- would be enough of a motivation to change lawmakers' minds.
Seattle Times Olympia Bureau Reporter Andrew Garber contributed to this report.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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