Investing in our region

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been hearing a lot from constituents regarding how the County plans to spend money to finance maintenance and capital improvements at Safeco Field. The proposal (Motion 2018-0266) comes from King County Executive Dow Constantine and describes the distribution of the County’s hotel/motel lodging tax revenues beginning in 2021. Many people are frustrated that not enough of the money is going to alleviate our housing crisis and support those who are addicted to opioids.

I too am saddened and frustrated to see so many of our neighbors without a roof over their heads or who are struggling with addiction. Every day I walk or take the bus to and from work, I see people living on the streets desperately trying to survive which breaks my heart.

Since arriving at the King County Council, I have been working continuously on policies to secure investments aimed at getting people into stable and affordable housing, especially families with children. Our work is far from over.

The state has established strict guidelines on how the County can distribute revenue raised by the hotel/motel lodging tax. Beginning in 2021, after the bonds used to pay for construction of CenturyLink are paid, King County is obligated by state law to use a minimum of 37.5 percent of the hotel/motel tax revenue for the arts and cultural programs, a minimum of 37.5 percent for affordable housing or services for homeless youth, and whatever remains for the promotion of tourism, which specifically includes professional sports facilities.

In response, the executive’s proposal directs the 37.5 percent for affordable housing to the Department of Community and Human Services to support transit-oriented housing development or services for homeless youth. New funding would assist our continued efforts to get people off the streets into stable housing.

The other 37.5 percent of lodging tax revenue – roughly $13.5 million annually and expected to rise over time – would be distributed as mandated by state statute to 4Culture to support art, cultural and heritage facilities, as well as the performing arts. 4Culture is the cultural funding agency for King County.

The remaining 25 percent would be allocated to programs and facilities that attract visitors to the region. Of this 25 percent included in the Executive’s proposal, 60 percent would be allocated to Safeco Field and the ShoWare Center in Kent for capital improvements and maintenance. Contrary to some news reports that you may have read, this money would not be able to be used to build a new brew pub for the Seattle Mariners; rather, the money would be used by the Mariners for stadium maintenance and repairs, such as for plumbing, electrical upgrades, HVAC systems improvements, and maintenance of the retractable roof. Keep in mind that Safeco Field is publically owned and we do bear some responsibility for its upkeep.

In fact, I consider funding for Safeco Field to be a significant investment when it comes to attracting visitors to the region. Of the 3 million fans that come to Safeco Field each year, approximately 55 percent come from outside King County. They stay in our hotels, dine in our restaurants, shop in our stores and keep our city and region vibrant. In addition, the Mariners provide a lot of jobs to our region, employing more than 2,000 full- and part-time workers. They also excel in hiring individuals with special needs, and their food vendor, Centerplate, fills open positions on game days with workers from Seattle’s Millionair Club – a non-profit that specializes in helping people who are experiencing homelessness or other barriers to employment become job ready.

For all of these reasons, I support the executive’s proposal to allocate a portion of the lodging tax revenue to Safeco Field for capital maintenance and improvements. And, importantly, I am most pleased that a large portion of these funds would be going to programs aimed at ending homelessness. All told, the funds would work in concert together by providing more public housing, increasing access to the arts, and drawing more people to our region, keeping it as one of the top tourist destinations in the United States.

However, be assured, the Executive’s proposal likely will be amended as a result of scrutiny and deliberation on the part of the Council and input provided by the public.

A public hearing on the motion has yet to be scheduled. Once one is, there will be an opportunity for public testimony. Click here to see upcoming agendas for the council’s Committee of the Whole.

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