Washington state lawmakers should let stadium taxes expire
State lawmakers in Olympia forget their promise to retire Safeco Field taxes once the bonds are paid off. It's a terrible promise to break. The taxes should expire later this year.
OF all the afflictions to hit state lawmakers in Olympia this year, one of the most troubling is a rampant outbreak of amnesia.
Lawmakers promised 15 years ago to end stadium taxes once the bonds on Safeco Field were paid. The bonds are expected to be retired later this year. The promise was not subtle. It was written clearly into the legislation and touted as one reason taxpayers should not worry about the stadium plan.
The legislation says: "The taxes imposed under this section shall expire when the bonds issued for the construction of the baseball stadium are retired, but not later than twenty years after the taxes are first collected."
In simple legislative-ese, that means the 0.5 percent restaurant sales tax and the 2 percent car-rental tax should end.
But in the fog of budgeting, memories have gone blank. Lawmakers either do not remember or do not respect what King County taxpayers were told.
Along comes state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, with House Bill 1997, which abandons the earlier pledge and attempts to continue some Safeco taxes. The bill would extend the restaurant tax through 2015 and the car-rental tax indefinitely.
The legislation turns the Safeco tax package into a piñata for lawmakers to smash and dole out to a grab bag of projects: expansion of the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, low-income housing, a favorite of House Speaker Frank Chopp, and the arts.
The restaurant industry, which originally wanted the taxes to sunset, has agreed to go along with the food and beverage tax extension. But that was only part of the equation.
The legislation breaks a vow with people paying the taxes who were told in plain English that the taxes would go away when the stadium was paid for. This is no time to be assigning that money to the next pending desire.
Pass the smelling salts. Lawmakers need to snap to their senses and allow the taxes to expire, as promised.