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Winless Washington Seeks $150 Million

2009 March 9
by Skip Sauer

Husky stadium is old and renovation is in the cards. But $300 million is a load of money to spend, especially for a winless, directionless program. So the UW is asking for $150m in “tourist tax” funding from the state. Perhaps the basketball team’s first outright Pac 10 Championship casts a warm glow over the proposal?

In the Huskies’ favor — at least from the perspective of getting legislation passed — they are proposing an extension of a tax that is set to expire in 2014, and that most locals don’t pay. The tax is on rental cars and hotel rooms, and is directed towards paying off the public debt incurred in building Seattle’s pro baseball and football stadiums.

But the loss of the Sonics to Oklahoma over the issue of funding for a new Arena suggests that Washington voters have had their fill of financing sports palaces, at least for a while. With the state of Washington facing a $6 billion deficit, appetite for this tax-financed expenditure must surely be limited, especially among that chunk of the state that call themselves Cougars.

An economic impact analysis of Husky Sports is here. UW’s pitch for the subsidy is here. The university notes that “Most of the public funding we are requesting would come from taxes paid by tourists visiting King County, so very little of the burden would fall on Washington state residents. Also, we believe some taxpayer investment in Husky Stadium is important for helping it continue to serve as an asset for the general public, not just the UW.” But as the impact study notes, 74% of attendance at Husky sporting events is local. Hence, this is a simple cost-shifting move of the traditional pork-barrel variety. As a Husky myself, this is really kind of shameful.

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