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Sunday, June 1, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Referendum 48 -- Pro / Con -- We Would Be Making A Terrible Mistake

Special To The Times

OF all the controversy surrounding the stadium election on June 17, one issue is crystal clear. Referendum 48 violates our state Constitution in several ways.

Referendum 48 uses public money for private purposes. It violates the provision that all counties will be taxed equally and it creates a special election to directly benefit one person.

The upcoming Referendum 48 election is the result of the most powerful lobbying effort I have ever observed during my four terms in the state Legislature. Paul Allen spent $1.7 million for political donations, pollsters, lobbyists, public relations and TV ads to convince the Legislature to put this referendum before the voters.

By employing telemarketing firms to solicit fan support, Allen was able to pressure legislators when their votes were needed. He even paid for buses to transport fans to testify at committee hearings.

Now it's your turn to vote. We've all seen the full-page newspaper ads and the TV commercials touting the new sports palace that our state can't possibly do without.

But what does this unprecedented referendum really mean in the context of our state Constitution? If we pass Referendum 46, we are making a terrible mistake.

According to Article VIII, section 5, "The credit of the state shall not, in any manner be given or loaned to, or in aid of, any individual, association, company or corporation."

Granted, the state gives some tax breaks to businesses and

individuals. The Legislature recently forgave sale taxes on new machinery for manufacturers. Low-income senior citizens receive a property tax break.

These tax subsidies, however, were given across the board to all manufacturers and to all low-income seniors. In this case, one individual - Paul Allen - would receive huge tax subsidies in return for purchasing a professional football team. This deal is Robin Hood in reverse.

Referendum 48 contains more special privileges. Section 215 dictates that the entire financing package is not available to anyone who has not been a resident of the state of Washington ". . . continuously since at least January 1, 1993." This unconstitutional selection of who benefits from the state's financial resources should be rejected.

Both the Mariners' legislation and Referendum 48 create front organizations, called Public Facilities Districts and Public Stadium Authorities respectively, to funnel millions of public dollars to private use. These hand-picked boards merely disguise the unconstitutional financial arrangements. The important decisions of these boards cannot be made without the great influence of the team owners.

Our state Constitution states that all counties shall be taxed equally. No county is given an exemption from its proportionate share of state taxes. However, Referendum 48 allows the King County Council to raise $176 million in new taxes, deduct this amount from sales taxes collected in King County, and transfer the funds to the Public Stadium Authority for stadium bond repayment. This complex funding formula forces residents of 38 smaller counties to pay more sales tax to the state than highly populated King County. Smaller counties shouldn't have to contribute more toward schools, health care, courts and prisons than King County.

Perhaps the most-compelling constitutional argument to vote against Referendum 48 is the fact that it is on the ballot at all. Our ballot box has been rented by Allen for this general election. He will pay the state and counties $4.2 million for the costs of the election.

You and I have to gather hundreds of thousands of signatures to qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot. How can one individual manipulate our election process and underwrite an election that he will benefit from financially if the measure passes? This is a dangerous special privilege granted to one individual with virtually unlimited financial clout. Shouldn't we set some election standards and procedures that money just can't buy?

The citizens are being told that this one-issue general election is so special that it can't wait until November. Like Donald Trump says, everything is driven by the deal. In this case, it's Allen's purported option to buy the Seahawks, which supposedly expires on July 1. In a twist on the wealthy-team owner-leaves-town scenario, Allen swears he won't buy the team if his stadium referendum fails. So the deal dictates the date of the election.

Your school levies and bond issues require a 60 percent super-majority for passage. This $300 million bond issue (plus another $300 million in bond charges and interest) requires only a 50 percent majority. It's ironic that it is easier to fund a professional football stadium than it is to build a new grade school.

Be wary when expensive television ads and slick mailings tell you that someone else will pay for the new football stadium. Question why the ballot title for Referendum 48 never mentions issuing $300 million in state general obligation bonds. Be especially cognizant of the constitutional violations of this slick piece of work: using public money for private purposes, allowing unequal taxation of counties, and creating a special election to directly benefit one individual.

Vote No on Referendum 48. Our Washington State Constitution is too valuable a document to be twisted and exploited for professional sports.

Tim Sheldon of Potlach represents the 35th District in the state House of Representatives, where he serves on the Trade and Economic Development Committee.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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