King County's long quest (seven years) to assure funding for 4Culture, the arts and heritage agency, has finally succeeded. In a last-minute rescue of the damsel on the railroad tracks, the Legislature passed S.B. 5834, dedicating a hefty portion of the local hotel-motel tax to 4 Culture. That means the current level of arts and heritage funding in King County, about $6 million a year, will be sustained, and that starting in 2021, the funding, presumably in perpetuity, will jump to somewhere north of $10 million a year.
4Culture's executive director Jim Kelly is elated. "Seven years!" he says. "During which time my hair turned grey."
Sen. Ed Murray was the key legislator in saving 4Culture's bacon. He realized that the broader bill, with money to accelerate the expansion of the Convention Center, was going to be blocked by Republicans in the Senate, who were bowing to the argument about letting restaurant and car-rental taxes for stadiums expire, as once promised.
Murray pivoted to saving the 4Culture funding as well as funding for affordable workforce housing (to satisfy Speaker Frank Chopp's demand). King County Executive Dow Constantine then played his pivotal role in supporting the reduced package, and Speaker Chopp honored his word and ran the bill in the House. It passed the Senate 33-8 and the House 62-34 — striking margins for supporting the arts in tough economic times.
The lodging tax money doesn't come to 4Culture and housing until it first pays off the Kingdome ceiling-tiles repair and Qwest Field bonds from now to 2021. But the assured funding for the arts and heritage means that 4Culture can now draw down its $42 million "endowment" that it has salted away in the past seven years in order to survive the 2012-21 period when it would get no lodging taxes. After 2012, 4 Culture and workforce housing will each get 37.5 percent of the lodging taxes, with the remaining 25 percent going to promote tourism, or tourism-related facilities, in King County.
Passage of the 4 Culture bill might finally clear the way for another arts-funding measure that made some small progress this year. This idea, modeled on a program in Denver, allows a county or a combination of counties to create an Education and Arts Access District, voting a local-option tax to fund the arts and cultural institutions like zoos and science centers. That approach could generate significant public dollars for the arts, particularly to help students gain more access to the arts. It fared poorly while legislators were taking hard votes for the arts and 4Culture. It would face an uphill battle in King County, with pressing levy needs for parks, veterans, and public health.