Team Pitches Council For Yes Vote On Stadium Deal -- Officials Express Optimism That Financing Could Be Worked Out
Owners of the Seattle Mariners say King County should vote to impose the new taxes authorized by the Legislature for an outdoor baseball stadium because there would be time to correct the problem if tax revenues run short.
Lobbying yesterday by John Ellis, Mariners chairman; Paul Isaki, vice president, and Forrest "Bud" Coffey, a Boeing executive, appeared to make Metropolitan King County Council members more optimistic about working out a deal.
Last night, Councilman Ron Sims said there had been discussion on the council on "a concept" that would both satisfy the Mariners' need for an agreement to build a stadium and council members' desire for financial protections.
The Legislature last weekend agreed to contribute some state money toward a proposed $320 million stadium and to authorize three new tax sources:
-- An increase in the tax on car rentals in King County;
-- A one-half percent tax on taverns and restaurants in the county;
-- And a new sports lottery.
But members of the County Council on Monday complained bitterly that the state hadn't provided enough revenue to build a stadium and had left the county responsible for any shortage.
Yesterday, Mariner officials said they share the council's concerns about the total amount of money available from the new tax sources but added it need not be an immediate worry.
County officials are concerned they would pledge the county's credit on stadium-construction bonds, then would find the taxes collected wouldn't be sufficient to make the payments. They could be left to make up the difference with other revenue and see the county's credit rating decline as a result.
But Isaki said the county would not need to sell bonds right away. For the next year to 18 months, he said, the team and the new Public Facilities District would be choosing a site and designing a stadium. That should cost $36 million to $40 million, which would be paid partly by public money and partly by the Mariners. Bond financing wouldn't be needed.
Over that time, Isaki said, the county could make a judgment about the tax measures. If the taxes weren't enough, he said, they could ask the state for an adjustment. If the estimated stadium costs are too high, either the county or the team could walk away from the deal.
Also, a provision of the state law allows the county executive to quit collecting the taxes after June 1997 if the team hasn't agreed to a 20-year lease to stay in Seattle.
"We are as concerned as the county is," Isaki said, "but the risk for the Mariners is even greater."
Isaki said the team is still adamant about a stadium deal by Oct. 30, meaning the County Council would have to agree to impose the taxes.
After meeting with the Mariner officials yesterday, members of the County Council spent most of the day huddling with their financial staff.
Councilwoman Cynthia Sullivan suggested selling revenue bonds instead of government-obligation bonds. Revenue bonds don't raise as much money but also don't require the county to pledge its full credit as backing.
Councilman Pete von Reichbauer said his budget committee will meet again this afternoon to look for a middle ground.
"We need financial guarantees to protect the taxpayers," said Councilman Larry Phillips. "That is bedrock."
The difference between the county and state analysis comes over two considerations:
The state estimates tax revenues would grow at 4 percent a year, and the county estimates 2 percent annually.
And the state figures 90 percent of tax revenues would be used to pay off the bonds, and the county figures 80 percent.
Gov. Mike Lowry said yesterday he is confident in the state's revenue projections."The Legislature did what it could do. They clearly provided a funding package to build a stadium and keep the Mariners," Lowry said as he signed the state stadium legislation at a ceremony at Lafayette Elementary School in West Seattle.
"If the County Council balks, it would be a big mistake for our growth, big mistake for our economy. If anything, there will be extra money," Lowry said.
Both Lowry and House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, said there was no chance legislators would be called back into session this year to deal with questions raised by the County Council.
"We went backwards and forwards. There's no question that the figures are adequate," Ballard said. "There's no question but that this package will work. We did our job." If any technical problems are discovered, those can be remedied when lawmakers go back to work in January, he said.
King County officials had sought not only help in financing a new baseball park but also revenues to support repairs to the Kingdome roof. In addition, the Seattle Seahawks have said they want $150 million in renovations for the Kingdome or they'll move their franchise.
Ballard said questions about the football team can wait for the regular legislative session. "We'll be there in January. The Seahawks and Kingdome will still be there in January," he said. "We're willing to talk."
Seattle Times staff reporter Craig Smith contributed to this report.
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