The Mariners are getting their $135 million in taxpayer funds despite a notable public outcry and nearly half the King County Council voting against the allocation. The council voted 5-4 to approve the funding at a meeting Monday afternoon.
One councilmember panned the corporate handout as a “heist” and a “fleecing” of the public taxpayer funds.
The Mariners got less than their initial request. King County Executive Dow Constantine initially offered the team $185 million in order to get the private corporation to sign a new lease at Safeco Field. The money — as proposed by Constantine — would come out of the lodging tax. In the process, the arts, affordable housing, and tourism would receive less funding.
Cue public outcry. Did the Mariners even need this money? The public funded the stadium one time, do the Mariners really need a handout again, one $1.5 billion franchise later? Cue the closed-door meetings, the talks of compromise, the numerous amendments.
As of the last county council meeting, the council had agreed to pay the Mariners $135 million out of the lodging tax at the expense of the tourism industry.
“The current compromise still falls short in finding equity for our community in South King County. Funds that we were counting on,” Andrea Reay, president of the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce said at the meeting today. “You take those funds earned right here in our community where we have the second highest grouping of hotels in the state, and you take it away. How is robbing from the poor and giving to the rich part of our equity initiatives?”
Last week, the council passed an amendment that chipped away at the funds given to tourism promotion. With that amendment, annual tourism funding went from roughly $100 million to a measly $8 million.
An amendment that passed unanimously will allow the tourism funds to go toward establishing an international market in South King County. But, there’s still only $8 million available.
Council Member Rod Dembowski touched on how South King County small-business owners will be unfairly impacted by this vote.
“I think they’re being shortchanged, incredibly unfairly so,” Dembowski said. “$8 million scrap thrown at you, while 94-plus percent is given to one entity? That’s not right, that’s not the intent of the legislation, that is not a compromise. It is a heist. It is a fleecing. And it is not good policy.”
There were 13 amendments put before the council today. Most of them, the ones posed by Council Members Dave Upthegrove, Rod Dembowski, and Jeanne Kohl-Welles, outspoken critics of this deal, were shot down.
The council voted predictably. An amendment that would require the Mariners to report their financials to the Public Facilities District, a necessary requirement for giving a private corporation $135 million in welfare and something I argued for earlier this month, did not pass. There was an amendment on the table that would require the Mariners to split some of the revenue accrued from a new naming rights deal. That could pull in around $100 million to $300 million reportedly. Under that amendment, the Mariners would keep the first $50 million and then, after that, would split all the money after that with the taxpayers. That amendment also didn’t pass. All of these votes ended in a 5-4 vote against the amendments.
One notable moment was when Council Member Pete von Reichbauer accidentally gave an affirmative vote to one such amendment. His colleague, Council Member Reagan Dunn looked down the line at him.
“Pete,” Dunn said. “You meant to vote no.”
Von Reichbauer, flustered, quickly changed his vote.
This coalition, the majority, were not swayed by any public testimony nor their colleagues beseeching attempts to at least get a delay on the vote until next week. It continued today as planned and the legislation passed: The King County Council will give $135 million to the Mariners.
“I am profoundly disappointed,” Dembowski said. “The foundation of this legislation was put together in a room behind closed doors and rolled out in the middle of a hearing without any opportunity for public comment. We had a dozen other amendments shared for the first time while we were on this dias. I think it says something about what’s going on with the ultimate result. It’s not the best product that we are delivering. I will be proudly voting no.”
Kohl-Welles felt similarly. There was also a foreboding feeling among the dissenters; this will not play out well with voters in the future. To them, this decision will whittle down the trust of the taxpayer and the council will see it the next time they need to pass legislation.
“I predict that people who are voting for this today are going to regret it,” Kohl-Welles said. “This is not going to be received well I anticipate with our taxpayers, with our voters. It certainly not sitting well with me. Be that as it may, it looks like it is a done deal and we’ll have to live with the consequences.”
And it looks like the Mariners will have to live with having another $135 million in taxpayer funds to pad their bottom line.