KeyArena, Tacoma Dome tax break pitched by former Port commissioner

SEATTLE - A former Port of Seattle commissioner and Tacoma city councilman are working together to pitch a tax break for KeyArena and the Tacoma Dome.

State Reps. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle, and Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, co-sponsored House Bill 1114 in January, seeking an exemption for the leasehold excise tax at KeyArena, Seattle Center and the Tacoma Dome.

Tarleton served on the port commission from 2007-2012 before stepping down to run for the state House. Fey left his council seat in Tacoma to run for the legislative seat in 2012.

Fey told KING5 the bill is about "a matter of fairness and equity,” and that it was his understanding other stadiums like CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field have the exemption. 

It's "not a budget buster,” he said, estimating it might only save the cities about $100,000. "All we're asking for is a level playing field."

Tarleton has been a frequent critic on Twitter of Chris Hansen's bid to build a sports arena in the SoDo neighborhood.  She did not respond to a request for comment on the issue. KeyArena is currently undergoing a review about a potential massive renovation.

HB 1114 did not get out of committee in Olympia.  The chair of the House finance committee, Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, said her "priorities are financing McCleary” -- referencing the ongoing discussions over education funding.

"(We need to) fund education, mental health, and homelessness," she said.

The bill was discussed at a committee hearing in January.  At the time, Tom Israel, director of finance and administration for Seattle Center, argued that the center didn't have to pay the tax for years. He said it "erodes the profitability of these venues," and hobbles the center from a "fairness perspective" and "business perspective."

That led to questions from state Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, who questioned whether the city had given any thought of Hansen's bid, telling Israel, "The City put the brakes on that, but now they're coming to the state and wanting a tax exemption."

Beverly Crichfield, a spokesperson for the Washington state Department of Revenue, painted a different picture than the one painted by Israel. She said there had been no recent change in policy, and the current leasehold excise tax was established in 1976, but first passed in 1970.

"The legislature ultimately establishes those exemptions," Crichfield added. "If the business doesn’t meet the criteria for those exemptions, the public entity must collect the leasehold excise tax from the business. The private occupant of publicly owned property pays the leasehold excise tax lieu of the property tax they would pay if they owned the property."

So, is the bill dead?  Lytton said the bill is "not going to be revived," but said she was willing to revisit it next year.

Fey was more optimistic.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's alive," he said.

State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, also held hearings in his committee this session on the arena issue and passed a non-binding bill declaring the state's support for a new arena and NBA team in Seattle.

Copyright 2017 KING


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