Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, January 25, 2008

Huck The Fuskies

Compared with what I read in the paper this last week, those man-bites-dog stories are nothing. How about a dog that orders a man to roll over – and the man does as he’s told? I don’t know what part of the story was more remarkable – that the University of Washington had the chutzpah to ask Washington taxpayers to fork over $150 million dollars to help renovate Husky Stadium, or that legislative leaders received the request so warmly.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown D-Spokane indicated that Democrats would probably shower the money on the Huskies as requested.
“I believe that the Huskies will always be here,” she said. "I don't know that you can necessarily say that about a professional sports team, but I don't think the Huskies or the Cougars are going anywhere.”
Well, it’s not as though universities have the option of threatening a move to Oklahoma City should the taxpayers fail to build them a new playground, as the Seattle Supersonics are threatening to do if they are not given a new or remodeled arena.
But it’s funny that she should mention the Cougars. Because, just down the road a short piece from her Spokane district, Washington State University is renovating its stadium. But WSU’s doing it without a dime of taxpayers’ money: “We've always worked under the premise that state funds were not available for athletic facilities,” said Washington State University’s Athletic Director, Jim Sterk.
And so the Martin Stadium renovation is being underwritten entirely from contributions. Huskies were never forced to pitch anything into the pot. But Cougs will not be excused from dropping change into the Huskies’ tip jar.
It makes sense that Jim Sterk would have been working under the assumption that funding the Martin Stadium renovation was the Cougs’ problem, because it’s not an assumption at all. About a quarter century ago the legislature let it be known that university athletic departments would not be receiving any taxpayer funds and should plan to operate as completely self-supporting programs.
Huskies Interim Athletic Director Scott Woodward apparently did not get that memo and argued that, “We are a public institution, and we have a right to these funds.”
And it seems that the current crop of lawmakers have forgotten about the memo as there seems to be little opposition to the subsidy.
Woodward’s curious reasoning was echoed by Representative Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, whose district includes the University of Washington: “I'm open to talking to the university about it because it's obviously a public facility,” Chopp said.
“It can be used for a lot more than just Husky football. They are talking about a series of high school football games. If you have ever been to Memorial Stadium in Seattle, it's in pretty bad shape. (Husky stadium) is not professional, it's not for profit and the players make nothing.”
So, because public universities exploit their athletes so cynically, their athletic programs are entitled to taxpayer subsidies, provided the athletic program is also named the University of Washington.
And as everyone knows, the state has no other priorities where that $150 million might be squandered that matter more than Husky football. It’s not as though there are any crumbling roads or bridges that could use a little upkeep.
But of course, UW argued that the stadium actually makes money for the state as Husky football supposedly generates $211 million in sales for state businesses, and $83 million in labor income. Put all this together and Husky football pours almost $13 million into tax coffers annually, meaning that the stadium will pay for itself in about 12 years or so, except that entertainment dollars tend to draw from other parts of the economy and really doesn’t generate wealth as much as it redistributes it. If people didn’t spend $211 million on tickets, parking, booze, kielbasa and Chinese-made Husky sweatshirts, that money would be spent elsewhere in the Washington economy and would generate just as much tax revenue and probably create more jobs.
We only elect those who are wiser and more intelligent that ourselves. So why does a $150 million request for taxpayer cash get such a warm reception from the legislature? Well, you can see Husky Stadium from the Space Needle, the test frequently given to setting legislative spending priorities. And a pro-westside bias qualifies as a real dog-bites-man story.


Barenjager said...

From today's edition of the Seattle Times

Outlook dims for UW to get stadium funds
By Ralph Thomas

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — The University of Washington's request for public money to help renovate and upgrade Husky Stadium appears dead for this year.

A week after saying he was willing to consider the proposal, House Speaker Frank Chopp said Thursday it appears to have little support in the Legislature and most likely will not be approved this session.

"All I said was that I'd consider it," said Chopp, D-Seattle. "Nobody is asking for it, so that pretty much sums it up, doesn't it."

But former Gov. Dan Evans, who heads the UW committee that crafted the stadium proposal, said he isn't ready to give up.

"I will talk to him and will encourage him to give it a hearing," Evans said. "It's not an easy sell, but it's not impossible. And it's critically important as far as we're concerned."

Meanwhile, the head of the Senate budget committee said she plans to keep pushing the UW's proposal and will likely hold a hearing on it early next month.

Evans said he believes the proposal could get traction in Olympia "if it gets a chance."

The UW Board of Regents was briefed last week on a plan to ask the Legislature for authority to raise about $150 million for the stadium project by tapping into an assortment of restaurant, hotel and rental-car taxes. Those taxes, collected only in King County, are now being used to retire debt on Seattle's professional-sports stadiums.

The university would finance the rest of the $300 million project with donations and revenue from premium seating.

Evans met with Chopp recently to brief him on the proposal. The university is within Chopp's legislative district.

Chopp, who for the past three years was adamantly opposed to a similar funding proposal for a new Seattle Sonics arena, initially sounded optimistic about the UW proposal.

He said last week that fixing up Husky Stadium was "by light years" a more legitimate use of public money than building a new arena for the Sonics.
But Chopp said Thursday that, since his meeting with Evans, not a single lawmaker has shown much interest in the project or asked him to support it.

"So that sends a pretty strong message," Chopp said.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said she has heard concerns from some members of her caucus about whether the project should take priority over other things, such as academics. But Brown said she wasn't sure if the proposal was dead.

"It's a little hard to call," Brown said. "But it doesn't seem to be moving rapidly."

The proposal has at least one ardent fan in Olympia. Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Margarita Prentice plans to introduce the UW proposal as legislation today.

Evans said Thursday that Chopp didn't make any promises about whether the proposal would advance. But Evans does think it's a little soon for him to be pulling the plug.

"I've seen lots of legislation like this, that is dead and gets resurrected," Evans said. "It happens all the time down there."

Seattle Times reporters Andrew Garber and Yu Nakayama contributed to this story.

Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or rthomas@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

April E. Coggins said...

If it was possible to tax embarrassment, the Huskies would have my full support.

Satanic Mechanic said...

Muhahahahahaha! A nice good evil laugh for that joke April.

April E. Coggins said...

Maybe we can have a t-shirt drive to help the Huskies out. We could buy 50 cent t-shirts and print them up with "The Huskies are Embarrassing" and sell them for twenty dollars.