In all the reporting about the Sonics decision, we tend to overlook the intense clamoring over a taxing source, the so-called "stadium taxes," that bedevils the politics. A lot of groups want to lay claim to those taxes, which are supposed to go away after the Kingdome, Safeco Field, and Qwest Field are paid off, but are really catnip to politicians for their pet causes. The taxes have two attractions: they are not really an "increase" if you just extend their life, and they fall mostly on visitors, who don't vote locally.
One of the main supplicants is the arts. Thereby hangs an interesting story.
This region is very miserly when it comes to public funding of the arts, lagging far behind cities such as San Francisco and Denver. But King County, not wanting to spend money itself, has worked a good deal in tapping state funds, the very same stadium taxes. As those funds come up for grabs across the next decade, 4Culture, the King County organization that funds local arts and heritage groups, has tried to hold its prime place in line. In some sessions of the Legislature, 4Culture joined lobbying forces with the Sonics; last session it went solo. It gets good pats on the head and noble promises, and in the last session it got its long-term funding proposal approved, but with a sinister twist imposed by House Speaker Frank Chopp. The funding sunsets in 2009. Gee. thanks!
Chopp, an inveterate dealmaker, wants to line up all the supplicants for a grand pie-cutting in the 2009 session. Among those invited to the party: Husky stadium renovations (now joined by hungry WSU Cougars), low-income housing (a Chopp priority), Seattle Center and KeyArena, repairs or the Safeco Field roof, youth sports, Puget Sound clean-up, and the arts. The list is getting rather long, and the tourist industry, who pays the taxes, is starting to rebel at recipients that have little to do with filling hotel rooms and restaurants.
Meanwhile, Seattle arts groups are sliding toward financial problems, though they rarely mention them in public. Our major theaters are struggling with past debts or now running deficits. Some majors like the Seattle Art Museum or thriving; others, like the Symphony, have structural deficits of about $2 million a year to wrestle with. We built expensive new facilities during the booming 1990s, hoping that new sources would cover the higher costs and longer seasons. But corporate headquarters are moving away or being bought up, and the new economy is not as directed toward giving to the arts as the old wealth. both ArtsFund and PONCHO fell short of their fundraising goals in the past year, according to