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May 24, 2011 at 9:45 PM

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State Senate passes arts bill without controversial stadium tax extensions

Posted by Jim Brunner

The state Senate on Tuesday revived a measure to fund King County arts and heritage groups on the edge of a financial crevasse.

The latest proposal passed the state Senate on a 33-8 vote Tuesday. It would redirect some King County hotel taxes to the arts and heritage groups. Some money would also be available to workforce housing projects and services to homeless youth.

However, the latest version of the bill would not extend the life of more controversial car-rental and restaurant taxes due to expire after once Safeco Field is paid off this year.

A host of labor and other groups have pushed for the extension of those taxes to pay for other projects, including an expansion of the Washington State Convention Center.

Unlike the car rental and restaurant taxes, the hotel tax is not scheduled to expire and is also used by counties across the state for local projects that enhance tourism. In King County, arts and heritage groups get some of the hotel tax now, but stand to lose their share next year to retire the debt on the Kingdome.

Without legislative action, many King County history museums, community theaters and other small arts organizations would face major budget cuts. 4Culture, the county arts agency, would essentially shut down.

Most King County lawmakers have supported broader bills that would pay for the convention center expansion and other projects, in addition to the arts. They argue the taxes are minimal and that the spending, particularly on the convention center, would create thousands of jobs.

But they have been outvoted by other legislators who argue extending the taxes would wrongly break a promise made to the public in 1995, when lawmakers approved tax money for a new Mariners stadium despite a public vote that narrowly rejected an earlier stadium-tax plan.

Despite the movement of the arts bill, it's not clear it will pass before the Legislature adjourns. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said as of Tuesday afternoon he wasn't sure the House will accept the latest proposal.

Still, Murray and Sen. Scott White, D-Seattle, issued a triumphant news release Tuesday night touting their "rescue" of arts and cultural programs "from the chopping block."

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Jim Brunner
Covers politics.

Keith Ervin
Covers the Eastside.

Andrew Garber
Covers politics and state government from Olympia.

Emily Heffter
Covers local government.

Mike Lindblom
Covers transportation.

Kyung Song
Covers politics and regional issues from Washington, D.C.

Lynn Thompson
Covers Seattle City Hall.

Bob Young
Covers King County and urban affairs.