Stepping up to fight UW's brazen money grab

AS A TAXPAYER AND DEVOUT Cougar fan, Mike Bernard is appalled at the brazen attempt by the University of Washington to raid the state treasury to remodel Husky Stadium. So he and a group of a like-minded WSU graduates are doing something about it. This week they started an email campaign to mobilize concerned citizens against the Dawgs' $150 million money grab.

In a note sent Thursday evening to every Cougar in the address books of the movement's organizers, Bernard wrote, "College athletics -- particularly in the Pac-10 -- is incredibly competitive. Great facilities are necessary to stay in the game. We can't let the UW gain an unfair advantage by pilfering millions of our state tax dollars to build an even grander monument to athletic ineptitude on Lake Washington. The State has better things to do with our money."

By contrast, he notes, WSU is funding the renovation of Martin Stadium the proper way: via private dollars raised through alums and friends.

Bernard and his group are asking fellow Cougs to write their state legislators in opposition to the UW's proposal, which is contained in Senate Bill 6848, introduced by a bi-partisan group that includes Republican Whip Dale Brandland of Skagit County and Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Ed Murray of Seattle.

The UW is asking the Legislature to extend and then "re-purpose" the King County restaurant, hotel and rental car tax which is being used to pay the public debt portions of Safeco and Qwest fields. The UW wants to continue the tax after the bonds on those two stadiums are retired and then direct the revenues toward Husky Stadium. The UW also is requesting that sales tax on the construction portions of the stadium renovation be deferred, interest-free, for five years.

"This isn't an appropriate use of state dollars, Bernard told CF.C today. "If this tax is going to be continued, it should be directed to affordable housing, education, traffic congestion or perhaps Seattle Center in light of the Sonics' departure."

Bernard, who notes that WSU itself is in no way connected to his group, is a 1979 Washington State graduate and Bellevue tax consultant. He knows state politics well from his many years on the board of the Association of Washington Business. As such, the email he sent out is no seat-of-the-pants rant. Attached to it is a well-crafted sample letter that concerned taxpayers can use as their guide when writing to their representatives in Olympia.

"When the Legislature voted to pass the financing package for the Mariners' facility back in 1995, and for Seahawks' stadium several years later, the legislators promised that once the the debt was paid off the taxes for it would go away," states the sample letter intended for legislators. "Prolonging the tax burden to people of King County residences, visitors and businesses is counter productive to what Washington is doing to stimulate the economy in these economic times ... when King County restaurants, along with its retailers, are feeling the effects of the downturn in the economy. A prolonged tax will only make matters worse."

Another aspect to Bernard's argument is that the University of Washington is awash in resources.

Among the UW's largesse that could be leveraged for Husky Stadium:

• The University of Washington Foundation has an endowment of more $2.3 Billion.
• The school just concluded a capital campaign that raised $2.7 Billion.
• The school owns considerable land in downtown Seattle that produces a large revenue stream. Selling the land or diverting the revenues could be just what Husky Stadium needs.

Moreover, says Bernard, the UW's proposed stadium upgrade is extravagant. On top of the $150 million wanted from taxpayers, the school needs to raise another $200 million to fulfill its plans. That's a $350 million upgrade, which would make it the highest price tag ever for either a new college stadium or renovated college stadium.

"Not only is the price too high, but major portions of the renovation -- Club seats, Sky boxes, Loges, Suites and fancy private concessionaires restaurant facilities -- are for Husky elite, and are not even arguably public," states the sample letter.

If the tax is extended and re-directed in this way, then all state colleges should benefit from it, says Bernard.

"As a good Coug I'm sure you realize that we have been pounding the Dawgs on the athletic field for several years. Seven consecutive victories in basketball, three of the last four Apple Cups and multiple other sports," he said in his email. "Even in fundraising – outnumbered by Dawg alums 4-to-1 –- the Space Needle ended up painted Crimson & Gray. Now our beaten and battered Dawg friends have come up with a novel way to try and compete -- grab our tax dollars for their stadium!

"We CAN'T let this happen!" he says.

To join Bernard's campaign against SB 6848, write to him at

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